Microsoft: We're doing a lot more listening

Microsoft VP Paul Flessner talks to SearchWin2000.com about how integration is changing the big picture at Microsoft. He also talks about how the company is trying to fix its fractured relationships with customers.

Microsoft: We're doing a lot more listening


By Margie Semilof, Senior News Writer
09 Oct 2002, SearchWin2000.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Microsoft has had a large portfolio of communications and collaboration technologies but until now didn't have a clear, overarching vision. At MEC 2002 in Anaheim, Calif., the software company gave some glimpses into how that will change. Microsoft unveiled Jupiter, a bundle that will consolidate the work of three e-business servers; offered news about its presence server, code-named Greenwich; and talked up the next version of Exchange. Paul Flessner, Microsoft's senior vice president of the .NET Servers division, is responsible for the company's e-business, database and collaboration technologies. Flessner provided some insight into the shifting sands of Microsoft.

Two years ago, all the talk was about Exchange being the collaboration tool. How has this changed?

Paul Flessner: I think Exchange is still a collaboration tool. All we are doing is putting the plumbing where the plumbing belongs -- in the OS. Mail used to be a directory service, a protocol group, a storage system, and then we had 20 guys working on mail. We've actually reduced the head count overall in Exchange and increased the headcount of people working on value-add for mail.


Your message is one of [total cost of ownership] and of reduced complexity, but products like Jupiter, which morph several platforms into one, seem to indicate greater complexity. How does this help customers with cost cutting?

Paul Flessner: We hope it won't [be more complex]. We have three products: Content Management Server, Commerce Server and BizTalk Server that all work together to connect customers and their partners. What we want to do, rather than have customers do the integration, is integrate it by design up front. That's what spawned the thinking around Jupiter. Rather than have systems integrators integrate the product after we sell the product, we are trying to reduce complexity, reduce number of products from three to one, and have a simpler, more integrated product that we believe will have a lower total cost of ownership and higher value to the customer out of the box.


Is there anywhere else across your product line where a similar integration could occur?

Paul Flessner: We will probably do something similar in management. There is a lot of opportunity with MOMS, SMS and App Center. I can see a time when maybe two will come together -- client and a server. Something like that. There is no formal plan at this point, but it's ripe for opportunity.


Why should a network administrator care about Web services today?

Paul Flessner: The network administrator has to care about the extranet and security. They should be interested in Web services because they are going to see a lot more traffic going through the firewall. It will be heavy traffic because it's text-based protocols.


Will network administrators need to learn more about development?

Paul Flessner: No. All they need to know is to make sure they get good security assignments through the firewall and how they want to set up their domains, which is what they struggle with today. As you get customers and partners connected, you need to think more about extranets and e-commerce, which open up a myriad of opportunity for disaster if you don't do it with best practices. But if I'm an administrator, I'm excited about this. There is more focus on me, more interest in me, and maybe more budget for me and an opportunity to add more value to the business.


What can you tell people about Microsoft today that will keep them from looking at Linux?

Paul Flessner: We look at the problem holistically. Customers don't want to buy a database, an integration server or an operating system. They want to buy a platform that has great tool support. We have more than 50% of developers in the world today focused on our platform. We have more than 50% installed base. We are one of the two full-platform vendors -- IBM being the other. So we can look at the problem with the idea of reducing complexity and lowering cost of ownership -- better service, manageability and security. We have to add more value than the guy just slapping down bits to manage I/O, memory and CPU. We have to think [about the] big picture if we want our software to be never seen or heard. Our customers' apps have to shine. We have to provide a platform that is a cost of ownership play, not cost of acquisition. Any savvy IT professional knows that acquisition is only 5% of the total cost of a system over its lifetime. Nothing is free. You have to have an infrastructure for it; you have to integrate it. I don't think any IT professional I've ever met wants to have their IT people patching operating systems. You've got to think about the bigger picture.


Can you cite some examples where Microsoft is working to be a more customer-centric company?

Paul Flessner: Our integration of products is one example. Jupiter is a direct result of customer feedback. We've learned about licensing -- and what not to do -- from some of our licensing stumbles. We have a much deeper understanding about what it takes to change licensing and how customers are wound around their budget cycles. Lots of customers benefited from Licensing 6.0. It wasn't a revenue play. We were trying to simplify it. But for certain sectors of the market, it was an increase. We hadn't studied that closely enough. We are making some changes to support lifecycles to our products. You will see them in a matter of weeks. We've been implementing aggressive changes in how quickly we escalate support incidents into our engineering organization. We've seen about a 20% increase in our ability to get customers' problems resolved in seven days, which is the time we've set out for ourselves. Overall customer satisfaction around our support wasn't strong. Strong compared to some others in the industry, but not as strong as others. Our turnaround time wasn't as fast as customers would like to see it. We've been investing a lot to get that down. Services, product and licensing are pretty much the business. I'm spending more time in the field this year. There is a lot more listening.


Did Microsoft recognize deterioration in its relationships with customers?

Paul Flessner: Yes. I think customers were telling us they love our products, but they didn't like the relationship they had with Microsoft. We are a big company. We just didn't know how to do it, and we are working hard to fix that.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Paul Flessner outlines the Jupiter e-business initiative in his MEC 2002 keynote speech

Microsoft to beat upgrade drum at MEC 2002

Microsoft's Mike Nash talks about putting the "trust" in "Trustworthy Computing."

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