IT departments are having a hard time determining how much they should invest in new technologies to help their information workers do their jobs effectively, Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said Wednesday in a keynote address to more than 100 business leaders from around the world at the seventh annual Microsoft CEO Summit.
In a talk titled “The Agile Business: Balancing Strategy and Execution,” Gates told the CEOs gathered at Microsofts Redmond, Wash., campus that it is a “very big challenge for IT departments to step up to these new things.
“Historically, the IT department knew that its equipment was all in the glass house and understood how to deal with that. Today, its cell phones that people are carrying around and downloading information to. Its portable devices, its spreadsheets that people have on different desktops, and in a sense, the scope of their responsibility and how much they should invest in making those people more effective is something that a lot of companies have had a hard time seeing exactly what that level should look like.” he said.
The idea of enterprise applications as the panacea that will allow users to really dive into data in a way that is meaningful to manage, or to run complex processes like sales analysis and forecasting in the most effective fashion has not yet been realized, Gates said.
“And so many people looking at these harsh realities sometimes say, well, this IT stuff, its messy. Lets outsource all of this. Lets get somebody else to do it. They can get the benefit of Moores Law, and well just sign a five-year or 10-year contract that drives that outside,” he said.
While there is validity in that type of approach for those parts of IT that are very measurable and for repeatable type things, Microsoft is from the camp that feels when it comes to defining new applications and thinking about business processes “IT is so central to the way work gets done and the quality of that work, and there are so many opportunities to do that better, that staying in control of this to have it as part of the overall business strategy is very, very important,” he said.
The products coming out this year and the next will reflect how the industry has responded to the issues of reliability, cost of ownership and security by making investments to deal with them, he said.
“And this is where I think in some ways people are really underestimating what can be done. Its kind of natural if you overestimate what an industry can deliver and then that you cycle back to where you underestimate those things. But I think were on the verge of particular software advances that really address these harsh realities,” Gates said.
One example Gates cited was e-commerce and XML Web services, the infrastructure that allows companies to exchange information for buying and selling and collaborating without their IT departments having to build special applications that only relate to that one particular relationship.
“The idea that when you have these Web services, that you can capture the full richness of whats going on with complete visibility to the knowledge workers, to update those things and be notified appropriately of things, that is where you get real benefit of saying that the paper approach really is completely obsolete,” Gates said.
Microsoft “bet our company on it in the year 2000, calling it our .Net strategy, and theres been great progress on that, in fact, lots of interoperability between the different software stacks, the key specifications all put together, and now we have pioneering customers doing very well with that,” he said.
Another issue is managing all these things, as the software needs to automatically keep things up-to-date, and “if you say apply this new version for all of these workers the software, the network should make that happen,” Gates said.
But that took a new generation of software as it did not exist on earlier systems because the numbers just were not large enough, he said, showing a demonstration of PlaceWare, “a Web-conferencing application being used to basically take any Web browser and telephone to have meetings online.
“And when we talk about meetings online, were talking about meetings with remote colleagues, with customers, and also with partners. And when I say meetings, Im not talking about just the small one-on-one group meetings that are out there, but also huge group meetings. So were talking about meetings of up to 2,000 people. So a lot of times those would be meetings of a whole division,” he said.
There are a lot of breakthroughs coming in the ease of developing applications for corporations. “The idea of being able to navigate business data in terms that you understand, by division, to really have schemas that let you navigate not just at the cells of the spreadsheet, but the terminology that makes sense to you.
“There are some big software breakthroughs coming on that will turn this into sort of a low-volume specialized market, where every worker has these rich views of profitability and sales and things like that,” he said.
Speech is coming along and, while it is not mature like handwriting, it is within a few years of that, so that giving commands and navigating with speech will be possible, said Gates. The connection of the phone and the PC is another area where users will see “some dramatic thing,” because the phone is currently a challenge for IT departments to manage as people are downloading information into it. “By doing integration we can allow that scenario, but still have the connectivity that people expect,” Gates said.
In conclusion, Gates told the CEOs that there is much that can be done through empowerment and that as long as breakthroughs are happening, it is worth giving their staff the best tools.
“So were pretty excited, obviously we must be, were still increasing our R&D budget, up from the $5 billion level, and I think that will be fully justified. So we look forward to working with you on putting some of these things into practice,” he said.
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