• United States
by Shelley Solheim

Microsoft’s Ballmer talks up business tools

Mar 16, 20064 mins
Collaboration SoftwareCRM SystemsEnterprise Applications

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Thursday showcased some of the software giant’s forthcoming technologies for business users and kicked off a new marketing campaign at an event in New York.

Microsoft’s new marketing campaign centers around what it calls the “people-ready” business vision.

“People drive outcomes, people develop customer relationships, people drive innovations in processes and services, people build connections with business partners and people improve operations,” Ballmer said.

Microsoft, of course, is hoping to provide those people its next-generation software as the central hub from which they will drive those processes.

“We want to support people from the human interface into the data center and on into the Internet by providing software that links that all together,” Ballmer said.

The new marketing slogan is also Microsoft’s effort to differentiate itself from its competitors, chiefly IBM, which is driving up its efforts to provide increased services around its software to help businesses use technology to grow.

“We are not a services company at all,” said Chris Capossela, vice president of the information worker product management group at Microsoft, in an interview at the event. “We think we should focus on what we do best, developing software, and to encourage a rich ecosystem of partners.”

Ballmer said that while businesses have been talking a lot about moving beyond cutting costs to driving growth for the past couple years, the innovation in technology has not been available to help them do that until now.

“Frankly, there has not been all that much out there in the last couple years to drive business growth,” Ballmer said.

On the software-as-a-service front, Ballmer said that the company’s focus in that area will target mainly smaller businesses with its Windows and Office Live products.

“For most larger business customers, most of what people do they will instance themselves on their own network,” Ballmer said.

At the event, Microsoft highlighted some of the upcoming technological advances in its products in the areas of communication and collaboration, search, mobility, CRM (customer relationship management), business intelligence and security.

On the mobility front, Microsoft showed how, through capabilities in Exchange Server 12, set to launch by early next year, a user could use a phone to access and control e-mail and calendar information via voice recognition technologies.

On the communication and collaboration side, Microsoft demonstrated how in the next version of its Outlook e-mail client a user could reply to an e-mail with an instant message or view a history of instant message conversations.

“In the past we’ve really played only in e-mail, not through these other new features, like e-mail, voice, IM, presence, and mobility. Communication and collaboration alone is a huge growth area for us, first amongst businesses and perhaps down the road also among consumers. The same could be said about search and BI,” Ballmer said.

Microsoft also showed off some features of SharePoint Server 2007, also set to launch this year, which enables users to build internal and external Web sites and search e-mail, directories and various back-end systems. It also includes other content management and workflow capabilities. On the search side, Microsoft gave a demonstration of how a user could search for co-workers based on level of relationship or on area of expertise.

The company also highlighted how the peer-to-peer technology it acquired from Groove Networks could be used by businesses to more easily share information with external partners via shared workspaces across companies. So instead of sending e-mails or documents back and forth, users could just update files on the shared workspace. Microsoft is set to release Microsoft Office Groove 2007 in the second half of this year.

For its forthcoming Office 2007 suite, also set for release in the second quarter, the company touted among other things a feature called Document Inspector that will automatically check documents for notes or comments and erase them before a document is sent out.

On the business intelligence front, Microsoft said it was planning to enhance its Business Scorecard Manager application to make it easier to use and more integrated with SharePoint.

At the event, Tim Huval, CIO of Bank of America, described a project that uses Microsoft’s SharePoint technology and is aimed to arm customer representatives with more information about clients in order to improve service and increase sales.

“Our Client Connections project will enable our associates to provide an end-to-end, seamless experience,” Huval said. “If someone calls and they want a record, it’s that person who decides ‘Can I sell this person something?'”