The bad news is that it's not a blog when it should have been. Microsoft's Information Worker Business group vice president Jeff Raikes had?a golden opportunity to prove that he and Microsoft "get it" by joining the ranks of tech executives who blog. Instead, he?chose the more anitquated (I can't believe I'm saying this) Web publishing paradigm to distribute his story about how Microsoft eats its own dog food, and saves a ton of money in the process.
I was stunned to receive the notification from a Microsoft spokesperson regarding "a new Office Online column from Jeff Raikes on real-time collaboration," only to learn that there was no way for me to subscribe to Raikes'?musings via RSS. Instead, I guess I'll have to remember to check Microsoft's site on a regular basis for anything new, or wait for the next e-mail.?How inefficient!
Speaking of efficiency, perhaps that's the silver lining to this cloud. Raikes' note describes how Microsoft, being the large international company that it is, has been a pretty good proving ground for how its enterprise collaboration tools (Communicator, Live Communications Server, and Live Meeting) can grease the wheels of group productivity while saving the company money. Against a backdrop of presence detection and management and context-sensitive communications, Raikes says, "At Microsoft, we have more than 35,000 people using Live Communication Server-based IM and we send roughly 7.5 million instant messages per month." Using the financial returns as another proof point, Raikes writes, "Live Meeting is used extensively within Microsoft and it provided immediate returns. At Microsoft in FY04, Live Meeting replaced 1 in 5 business trips and saved the company over $40 million U.S.; in FY05, that savings is expected to top $70 million."
Though we can't know for sure how accurate his ROI analysis is (for example, had the Microsoft collaboration tools not existed, would travel have been the only other option?), the business trip example does provide an interesting boilerplate datapoint for how to measure, in dollars, the success of a?collaborative infrastructure. As it stands right now, I like his treatise as a pitch of how a more advanced collaborative infrastructure can make an organization more efficient at what it does. Looking back over the recent years where IT investment was at an all time low and, lacking justification, implementations like these were slotted as nice-to-haves and fell by the wayside, there are plenty of companies that are still operating in relatively prehistoric technology environments. (It brings to mind the old-fashioned organizations that stuck with sneakernet while the rest of the world went with NetWare in the late 80s and early 90s). But what I don't see in Raikes' pitch is an honest calculation of how much of that ROI is attributable to the fabric that ties Microsoft's collaborative tools together. For example, could $40 million been saved with WebEx as well, or was the aforementioned fabric responsible for some percentage of the $40 million?
To me, those finer details are where the rubber meets the road. I'm already convinced that if I take the time to learn and use collaborative tools like IM, conferencing software, e-mail, etc., I'll be more efficient at what I do, perhaps even save my company some money. Today, because so many of the people with whom I collaborate are outside my company, I run AOL IM, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and MSN Messenger. Because our e-mail sometimes goes down or becomes inaccessbile, I'm not just on Outlook/Exchange Server, but also GMail and Yahoo Mail. For Web conferences, not only do I participate in conferences hosted by other people, I've been known to host a conference or two myself (all without owning any of Microsoft's collaborative tools). So, the tough job for Microsoft, IBM, or any other company selling collaboration isn't in proving the value of collaboration, but rather the ROI of the glue that binds their tools. Longer term, vendor-specific fabrics are going to become more difficult to sell as the world moves towards more openly available technologies that are adaptable to collaboration with third parties?(such as WebDAV and RSS, the latter of which Raikes should be using to more efficiently collaborate with his constituents), particularly those from the open source world, providing some of the more innovative glue.