can't afford to stall corporate software evolution
by Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First
published in Business
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
, Canadian product manager for Microsoft Office. He
accompanied by Kathryn
and Michele Coulter
executive headhunters Ray
and sales strategist Les
. Their message: as the boomer generation moves
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
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 microsoft.ca/office/evolve.
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 OpenOffice.org, 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.