How do you succeed as a partner in the Microsoft Dynamics world? Skip the infrastructure wars and go right to the desktop. This is the message from Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, now in session in Boston, and it's an importantly simple one: focus on selling Vista, Sharepoint, and Office 2007, and stay out of the infrastructure morass. It's an interesting approach to the ecosystem wars that are driving the enterprise software market today, though not really much of a surprise, considering that desktop software is the cultural and fiscal foundation of Microsoft's business.
Nonetheless, it's interesting because Microsoft's erstwhile ecosystem competitors -- Oracle, SAP, and IBM -- are largely selling infrastructure as a specific competitive advantage. So it's highly significant to hear Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer shout his way through two consecutive presentations on the advantages that Microsoft brings to its partners and customers, and never mention the word infrastructure. Web services crept into his first talk, a kick-off for Dynamics AX 4.0, but the notion that success in the Microsoft world is predicated on adopting the technology infrastructure of .Net and the rest of the Microsoft stack was significantly absent from Ballmer's high-volume pitches.
Of course, to do Vista, Office 2007, Sharepoint, and, when it becomes available, Longhorn, is to solidly embrace the Microsoft infrastructure strategy, no less so than Oracle's Fusion requires Fusion Middleware or SAP's MySAP Business Suite requires NetWeaver. But if you take the message from Microsoft's Partner Conference at face value, infrastructure isn't an issue. Nice way to bury the complexity of what everyone admits is a difficult infrastructure sale, and go straight to the (perceived) value of fusing the desktop to the enterprise software stack.
Of course, customers are definitely going to find that infrastructure adoption will be impossible to avoid -- even those that are deep into the Microsoft technology stack today will find themselves working hard to get on board with Vista, Sharepoint, Office 2007, Longhorn, and everything else that is needed to actually make the Dynamics family as strong a competitor against Oracle and SAP as Microsoft would like. But there's something singularly brilliant about avoiding the infrastructure battle, at least for now. Better to hook the customer on value and then stick them with the infrastructure burden, than the other way around. Maybe Microsoft is on to something here.