Microsoft Working to Industrialize Project Software

CEOs are now concerned about creating new value rather than cost reductions, Ballmer says.

SEATTLE—The area between personal productivity and line of business applications offers the greatest opportunities for innovation today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the hundreds of attendees at the Office Project Conference here Oct. 30.

"How does a business deal with exceptions, like a bad invoice, or issues with mission-critical applications? Resolving that is all about collaborating and communicating and scheduling and using available resources to find out what the issue is, so thats the area we are talking about," he said.

Microsoft is also trying to make sure it can do more to industrialize Project to run enterprise applications so that everyone in an organization can participate in ways they understand, as they do with Excel and Outlook, in mission-critical areas of the business, Ballmer said in an address entitled "The Next Wave of Work Management."

CEOs were now concerned about creating new value rather than cost reductions, as had been the case several years ago. "Big change drives value, and project management is key to big change projects and doing them well," Ballmer said.


Read more here about how Microsoft Project is expanding its reach.

As such, Microsoft will be pushing Project beyond the traditional individual project manager user base and into the depth vertical markets as well, which will allow a far broader set of people to participate in the information work flow where they need to, Ballmer said.

Microsoft itself uses the products in the Project family, including in its Human Resources department, Microsoft IT, Microsoft services and in development, he said.

In a demonstration of some of the early code for the next version of Project, dubbed Project Next, attendees saw how the flexibility of Excel can be married to the power of Project, including giving users the flexibility to put in any start and end dates they want or, even, no date if they are not sure of that.

The next version of Project will use the Ribbon user interface found in Office 2007 to make building reports easier and to include the components/instructions they use the most often, making it easier for a new project manager to get started and helping an experienced one become more efficient.

Project Next will also have a timeline view, which could be used to show the team any upcoming deadlines and let users share where the project is at any given point in time, a feature that received loud applause from the audience.


To read more about why work management is undergoing a sea change, click here.

This Project timeline can also be copied and pasted into a PowerPoint presentation, and is not made up of static data points, but active ones that can be changed.

In the next version of Project, users will also be able to edit the project online, through Project Web Access, where changes can also be highlighted and undone.

Ballmer also called on attendees to attend the hands-on usability lab at the show where this new code is being shown, so that they could give the development team direct feedback and let them know what their specific needs are.

He then turned to Microsofts new software plus services model, which brings together the best of the desktop, the enterprise, the Web and all the device form factors and the mobility they allow.

"Applying this to the work and project management experiences is very important to us and we are working hard on this," Ballmer said.

Microsoft is different from other companies in that it has great people, is focused on the broadest sets of business models in the industry and is embracing key models of disruption like software plus services, he said. "If you are a partner or customer, we want to take you along with us down that road," Ballmer concluded.


To read more about how Microsoft bolstered its Project management tools, click here.

In a question-and-answer session, Ballmer was asked if there would be a version of Project for the Macintosh or Windows Mobile. While there are no plans to do anything on the Mac front, he said the development team is brainstorming about an offering that encompasses those aspects of Project that people want to take with them and have available on their phones.

A timesheet application is already available today, and an effort is underway to let users check off tasks from their mobile devices, he said.

Another attendee asked what the definitive date is for Project 2007 SP1. Ballmer said the final SP1 code is being shown in the usability lab at the conference, and a final shipping date will be announced in the next two weeks, but this will be before March 2008.


Ballmer has urged partners to embrace software plus services. Click here to read more.

The company has also not been perfect in its dealings with customers and partners, he admitted, noting that, "as we have invested more in becoming an enterprise business, we have also invested in working more closely with partners and customers big and small. But we are not infinitely flexible as that helps us keep the cost model down. This is a balance we care a lot about," he said.

Asked what percentage of enterprise project management solutions would be hosted by Microsoft, by its partners, and on-site, in five years time, Ballmer said he expected 50 percent would be in the cloud and 50 percent on premise by then.


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