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There is something new in the air at Microsoft; a different methodology in a company renowned for its market dominance and belief in its own way of doing things.
For corporate whizzkid Eric Rudder the way ahead is all about discovering what customers want and creating the right partnerships to provide solutions which meet universal needs to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
Yet some rivalries run deep – discussions about working with others and reaching communities through partners is hardly likely to include old rival Oracle or the competing open source architecture from Linux.
As Microsoft’s senior vice president for Server and Tools, Mr Rudder based himself in Paris last August and has spent nearly a year travelling around Europe and beyond.
Quite why Microsoft would send so senior a member of its hierarchy abroad for so long was a question Mr Rudder explained away by emphasising the need to reach out.
The rationale was apparently to discover how the company works with partners and in the community.“There is a lot we can do with partners to enable and invest in their development,” he says.
“Partners are very important especially at the high end. We co-operate with Sun and have close relationships with SAP and Siebel – our customers decided they wanted to use Office as the front end to SAP products.
“The future is to unlock the value of data, the information is there but may not be accessible when and where it is wanted. The challenge is to get the best end user and front end software integrated to the back end systems,” he says.
“Interoperability is essential and the key to integration is to embrace web services standards. The task is to merge the best of Windows with the best of the web to create a ‘click once to play’.”
That merger is enabled by creating a link between developers and IT professionals and making it easier for them to create business applications. Systems need to be simplified suggests Mr Rudder, and the computing environment made more open to give users the freedom to play without putting PCs at risk.
In the high end server market, few want to be locked into one supplier; they want a quick, demonstrable return on investment and clear business benefits.
In the digital world, downward pressure on margins is forcing customers to reduce costs by integrating and rationalising their systems to create single platforms.
Denying he might be in line for a step up in the company or a move into a policy-making role, Mr Rudder confesses to loving the power of software and the technical side of the enterprise.
Under his leadership Microsoft’s server unit has grown between 15 and 20 per cent each year and records annual sales of $10bn – third quarter revenue growth was up 12 per cent over the same period last year.
His ambition is to solve the long term problems of handling and storing digital data and to cut costs without compromising performance; to develop products at low entry barriers which are easy to get up and running and to deploy. Mr Rudder describes Microsoft as a ‘low priced high volume’, customer centric company which delivers enterprise computing needs at 50 per cent less than competitors and which is already able to reduce the number of enterprise servers by 30 per cent or more.
Microsoft has what it describes as a vision for empowering information workers in what it calls ‘The New World of Work’.
The programme aims to change the ways in which IT professionals define and implement infrastructure and give them the tools to deliver the applications needed by their business.
This is about freeing up the time of chief information officers and IT staff, 70 per cent of which is spent on maintaining existing systems rather than creating new ones.
Systems should support the way business and its people work, where decisions are made on logical policy grounds rather than being circumscribed by the physical limitations of the computing platform, he says Completely secure access anywhere and at anytime is a given. Automating routine task management functions takes some of the costs out of the department.
Creating systems to make it easier for desktop users to solve routine problems eliminates 50 per cent of requests into the help desk thereby freeing staff to handle more complex issues.
Included in the new systems are Longhorn – the next version of Windows, a new Office 12 and Exchange Server together with multiple systems to support mobile devices, security, and integration.
Recognising demand for integrated security, Microsoft is in the final stages of buying American software developer Sybari which has created a system to protect messaging and collaboration servers. The Antigen software uses eight different anti-virus agents to identify and isolate viruses, worms and spam, 90 per cent of which are estimated to be delivered by email. Although the plans are not yet final, the goal is to integrate Sybari software into servers and deliver it to customers as fast as possible.
The ultimate message from Mr Rudder is one based on the business imperative to deliver solutions which can be integrated into legacy systems and which bring developers and IT professionals together to create innovative business applications.