Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Companies can't afford to stall corporate software evolution

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver April 26-May 2, 2005; issue 809

    High Tech Office column

    At the height of the Cold War, western governments made use of specialists who tried to understand what was going on behind closed government doors in Moscow by deciphering clues like who was on the podium viewing this year's May Day parade.

    Out-of-work Kremlinologists might want to consider moving to Redmond, Washington, home of software-giant Microsoft. Like the Soviet Union of old, it's sometimes a puzzle trying to understand what Microsoft is saying.

    Last year, for example, I was invited to meet Microsoft's Alex Taylor, to "get the facts" about computer security and cost of ownership. Reading between the lines: Microsoft was increasingly worried about competition from open-source Linux in the lucrative market for corporate network servers.

    This time around, I met with Michael Bulmer, Canadian product manager for Microsoft Office. He was accompanied by Kathryn Young and Michele Coulter of executive headhunters Ray & Berndtson and sales strategist Les Faber. Their message: as the boomer generation moves toward retirement, companies need to prepare for a wave of younger employees. This new generation is tech-savvy and expects 24-7 access to information both at work and at home. Workers in the 35- to 44-year-old demographic to replace retiring boomers will be in short supply. Young suggests there are 15 per cent fewer of them than the older employees they will be replacing. As a result, companies will need to be competitive in providing a working environment that will attract younger employees, who will be looking at salary, a balance between work and the rest of their lives and the tools available to help them do their job.

    Faber, who describes himself as an expert on helping companies "bring sales up to the next level," suggested that successful companies have people at the top with a vision of how technology will be used in their company. We've gotten beyond technology's "wow factor," he suggested. Now we're buying tools that make employees more efficient and provide mobile, effective access to information.

    There is a need for information technology and human resource departments to work together. Technology tools, they suggest, play a key factor in hiring and retaining the best employees. They pointed to a recent Ipsos-Reid survey suggesting that 75 per cent of Canadians see "technology tools and software as an important consideration" when choosing a place to work.

    OK. I can buy that. But where's the Microsoft (and particularly the Microsoft Office) connection?

    The answer to the puzzle came clearer when I saw a series of ads for Microsoft Office that is appearing in many of our daily newspapers. A sad-looking triceratops in a wrinkled business suit sits in an airport lounge. The title reads, "The ‘I'm out of the office and out of the loop' era is over." Below, another dinosaur says, "It's time to upgrade our Office 97." The ad claims: "Microsoft Office has evolved. Have you?" and points readers to

    Aha! There's the sub-text.

    Microsoft Office 2003, the most recent Windows version, didn't really include dramatic changes in the basic tools: Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

    Instead, it offered improved ways to share documents among workgroups, but only for workplaces that, along with upgrading to Office 2003, also invested in Microsoft's SharePoint server software.

    So Microsoft's message is that too many businesses have not yet dumped their installations of Office 97 or 2000 for the newer versions. Microsoft would like us to consider them stuck in the Jurassic era, and would suggest that they will not be offering the tools that a new generation of employees will be demanding.

    While Microsoft keeps an eye on alternative Office suites like Corel Word Perfect, Sun's Star Office and the open-source, its biggest competition is older versions of Microsoft Office, products that still do the job in the eyes of many customers. Microsoft is now telling us, it's not just a software upgrade; it's time to evolve or risk being left behind in the race to keep new hires happy.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan