When I saw Doug Burgum at the Microsoft World Partners Conference last summer, there was an air of the short-timer about him. Not the kind who mails it in every morning with his feet on his desk, but more the short-timer who's done all he can and is waiting to move on to the next great thing. The other notable feature of his appearance on stage at the conference was how many times he mentioned his pride and joy - Great Plains, aka Dynamics GP -- during his address to the analysts and press: exactly none. As this was yet another Microsoft event that further cemented the flagship status of Dynamics AX -- the former Axapta -- it was obvious that Doug was soon to be heading for the exits. As so he has.
His departure comes at a time when Dynamics is finally getting the attention at Microsoft that Doug struggled to win since the purchase of Great Plains in late 2000. Balmer's muscular embrace of Dynamics at the Partner Conference said it all: Dynamics had arrived, Steve was on board, and, to a certain extent, Doug's job was done. The fact that it was AX that Balmer was touting and not GP must have been a little unsettling, but that's the price one has to pay for playing in the Microsoft sandbox.
I think his legacy will be seen in four main ways: the first is that he brought the promised land of enterprise apps to a reluctant Microsoft, and stayed the course despite the ambivalence with which this purchase was first met. The second is that he gave hope and promise to VCs and entrepreneurs everywhere who saw the $1 billion price for Great Plains as their ticket to the ball. And the third is that he managed to remain the aw-shucks, upper-Midwestern, history-buff that he was despite (or maybe because of) his exposure to a more rafish Microsoft culture. Finally, he showed incredible patience in the face of the near-destruction of the partner channel he built up at Great Plains as Microsoft stumbled its way through acquisitions, new product introductions, and other strategic efforts that undermined Burgum's much vaunted channel.
The stage was already set for Microsoft's next moves with Dynamics, so the net impact of Burgum's departure will be minimal. But don't discount the importance of the moment: when we look back ten years from now at Microsoft, the Burgum tenure wil be one of the seminal moments in the company's evolution. Whatever that turns out to be.