How to alienate your government customers 101?

How to alienate your government customers 101?

Summary: Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. Some tech media outlet would send one of its bloodhounds on the trail that was left in the wake of Massachusetts' decision to standardize on the OpenDocument Format (ODF)for the archival and retrieval of productivity documents (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. Some tech media outlet would send one of its bloodhounds on the trail that was left in the wake of Massachusetts' decision to standardize on the OpenDocument Format (ODF)for the archival and retrieval of productivity documents (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) to see what lengths Microsoft went to in order to keep that state's Information Technology Divsion (ITD) from deciding for itself what was best for the state. 

First, a quick refresher. Back in early 2005, as a part of a larger technology blueprint known as the state's Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) , Massachusetts' ITD appeared to be on track to allow the both ODF as well as the proprietary file formats associated with Microsoft Office. But then, mid-way through the year, ITD officials had change of heart (leading Microsoft to believe it was unfairly railroaded) and told Microsoft that instead of allowing both formats, that it's preference was for Microsoft to offer support for ODF in Microosft Office. From my point of view, it was a very typical case of a customer telling one of its solution providers what it wanted and needed from that solution provider. Any customer should have the ability to make such a request of its solution providers and should also have the freedom to switch to another vendor if their request goes unanswered.

But Microsoft did answer the request. Just not in the way a solution provider typically responds to a customer request. Instead, it basically told its customer -- in this case, the state of Massachusetts -- that it was wrong to make such a request. It led me to pen another post: Microsoft vs. Mass.: What ever happened to "The customer is always right"? But Microsoft didn't stop there. Battle lines were drawn and people who probably had no business getting involved in an IT decision about file formats were sucked into the debate and suddenly, ETRM was turned into a political football. Although we in the press were at that time only exposed to anecdotal data that suggested that Microsoft was lobbying hard to turn the decision into a political one, rather than a technical one (where the state's own CIO had the authority to make the decision -- as it should be in any organization), it was pretty clear that vendors on both sides of the debate were digging their heels in in whatever way they could.

But the extent to which Microsoft was working the political knobs and levers wasn't really known until now, thanks to ComputerWorld's Carol Sliwa who has published a multi-part investigative report, the heart of which is titled How Microsoft & Massachusetts played hardball over open standards. Wrote Sliwa:

Less than a week after he became CIO of Massachusetts last February, Louis Gutierrez sensed a serious threat to his power — one that was being promoted by a seemingly unlikely source. Within a matter of days, Gutierrez confirmed that Brian Burke, Microsoft Corp.’s government affairs director for the Northeast, had been backing an amendment to an economic stimulus bill that would largely strip the Massachusetts Information Technology Division of its decision-making authority.....

....The amendment Burke was promoting had the potential to stop the ODF policy dead in its tracks by giving a government task force and the secretary of state’s office approval rights on IT standards and procurement policies....[Gutierrez] clearly was rankled by Burke’s involvement with the amendment. Yet he made no attempt to shut the door on Microsoft. On the contrary, he did the opposite...."While Brian will never be welcome in my office, Microsoft, of course, will remain so,” Gutierrez wrote to Alan Yates, a general manager in the company’s information worker product management group, in an e-mail....

The message, sent on March 3, is one of more than 300 e-mails and attached documents obtained by Computerworld under the Massachusetts Public Records Law. The e-mails provide a behind-the-scenes look at some of the hardball tactics used, compromises considered and prickly negotiations that ensued...

Although his departure was never publicly connected to the file format controversy, Gutierrez is no longer the Commonwealth's CIO. He was the second Massachusetts CIO to bite the dust in a year. That said, the ComputerWorld special report is certainly an eyebrow-raiser when it comes to revealing the lengths to which vendors might go in a government situation to politicize IT decisions that are normally the domain of an IT department.

Now that ComputerWorld has published this report and other government IT executives can see first hand the extent to which Microsoft might go to strip them of their authority if it doesn't like the way things are going, perhaps the question for Microsoft is how to convince those execs that it's a friend and not a foe. Gutierrez seemed especially forgiving when he said Microsoft was welcome in his office, but that Brian Burke was not. How many other government CIOs will now be on their guard every time someone from Microsoft comes a'knocking and of them how many will be equally as forgiving if Microsoft once again demonstrates a willingness to undermine them?

Topic: Microsoft

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17 comments
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  • It will be interesting...

    ... to see how this affects other CIOs. Will they

    a) Not notice that this ever happened, or
    b) Be scared of Microsoft doing it to them -they'll only buy MS, or
    c) Be determined to eliminate Microsoft as a potential threat by buying Op.Off.2

    Personally I would take option (c) - you cannot work with a supplier who attempts to undermine the strategy you need to fulfil your responsibilities.

    David - was Microsoft unavailable for comment?
    bportlock
  • Not "a customer" telling a vendor...

    ... but two individuals who had grabbed the authority to act against the expectations of users and even their own prior decisions. The conspiracy of those two men and the Microsoft competitors and antagonists even while Microsoft representatives stood in the room was an example of railroading which can stand with anything from the 1890's.

    And so the question is whether two runaway individuals making the decisions on the basis of ideology without regard to State interests or appropriate regard for their own authority could be stopped.

    The issue became mixed with the power struggle of a Republican Governor with an interest in the Presidency and a Democratic legislature willing to embarass the governor, and even more willing to act against an obviously egregious abuse of authority to the exclusion of anyone with an interest in effective IT.

    Eventually the issue was put aside, probably with the idea that the victory of a Democratic Governor was certain, so the real issues, real concerns, and appropriate actions could be taken quietly after he took office.

    The two instigators? They're out collecting the plaudits of their ideological brethren and receiving congratulations from believers as they recount the time they took over a State to attack an evil.

    In the meantime, the IT bond issue died for lack of time, and it, too, will be taken up when gubernatorial politics is not playing a role. Mr. Gutierrez, who attacked a private company for entirely legal lobbying efforts and promised to use the power of his office to avenge himself if Microsoft succeeded, is gone. Saying that he could best call attention to the lack of funding by the publicity of leaving office.

    The situation needed no more notoriety than it already had.

    Still, it does prove a good example to other governments that the political process can be used againt hijacking of government for a narrow ideological agenda.

    Any time government employees, elected officals, even the public at large wants a rallying cry to protest an attempted grab of power by a small cabal, Remember Massachussetts! will be available.

    Eventually, the customer is heard. Despite the best efforts of people like the MA ODF advocates.

    When all has quieted, the situation will be reviewed.
    Anton Philidor
    • What a load!

      C'mon, Anton! Even you know better than that crock you just spewed!! Railroading, my eye! M$ was told that their products had to offer ODF as a format, which would have been the same requirement MA would have demanded from any other vendor, OpenOffice...or whomever. M$ chose not to support ODF at that time, but to instead wage a political war. MA did not say M$ Office was out of play...only that it would have to support ODF. Funny thing...not much longer after M$ came out to say that adding ODF support would be costly and take time, a 3rd party add-on was already available. In essence, there's no reason they couldn't meet their customer's requirements (that's what suppliers do, by the way)...they just chose not to, for reasons that are obviously related to maintaining a monopoly. As long as supposedly savvy IT personnel like yourself choose to keep their blinders on regarding how M$ competes, the computing market will be neither free nor fair. 'Cuz you keep sending the signal that their behavior is ok. And you don't realize that you lose as a result.
      Techboy_z
      • Villainy

        I've criticized Microsoft's behaviour, but this is a case in which the company is a victim. That can happen.

        Mr. Berlind was impressed by Microsoft's presence at the meeting and ability to speak and the courtesy with which the process was conducted.

        But the Microsoft representative was probably quoting Hamlet to himself as the officials grinned at him:

        O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
        My tables,-- meet it is I set it down,
        That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
        At least, I am sure, I know it so in Massachusetts.

        [Last line adapted for the circumstances.]


        Your summary of the situation is incomplete:

        "M$ was told that their products had to offer ODF as a format, which would have been the same requirement MA would have demanded from any other vendor, OpenOffice...or whomever."

        It's a bit naive to say that a format endorsed because Microsoft could not support it without sacrifice was a neutral requirement.

        What happened was, Microsoft formats were on a preliminary list of approved formats. At the June 9th meeting, the definition of open was changed tortuously to prevent Microsoft's formats from qualifying.

        ODF would not be responsive to Microsoft's Office functionality, so Office would lose any new version advantage in persuading people to upgrade and to choose Office over the alternatives.

        It's like someone at a regulatory agency detested an ice cream company with sales based on having many exotic flavors available, so one day he decided that the only flavors to be offered in the State were vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.

        That does, admittedly, put competitors on a more equal basis. At the cost of giving customers what they might enjoy.

        The MA officials could damage Microsoft only for State government users, but made their best attempt to help competitors as much as they could.

        I admit that government abuse of position is more aggravating to me than abuses by a private company, but I don't think anyone not actively opposed to Microsoft could look at this without feeling that the officials' actions were offensive.


        So, when you write about Microsoft's response:

        "M$ chose not to support ODF at that time, but to instead wage a political war. MA did not say M$ Office was out of play...only that it would have to support ODF."

        MA said nothing.
        Perhaps two officials made a decision they were not expected to make. Those surprised included the keeper of public records, the legislature, and advocates for the disabled.
        Surprise is necessary for a small group to capture a much, much larger group.

        Those groups were so outraged that they began to complain publicly.

        Microsoft was not going to discourage this effort, but could not afford to appear very influential. Manipulating customers had to be left to the villains.

        So the company supplied information. Some of it probably a bit misleading and some not well understood, as shown by public statements from MA leaders. The response was more outrage at high-handed behavior than technical disagreement.

        The Governor, by the way, supported his staff. Which is appropriate for a Governor to do, especially when the legislature belongs to the other party. Accepting even well-established criticism, as in this case, would mean he would have many other criticisms to answer in the future.

        No doubt Microsoft wanted to wage a political war. But someone must have explained how that image would look. You accused them of doing so anyway, but at least the company maintained a defense.

        This situation presents many reasons for organizations, even governments to stay away from ODF. I'd like to think the power grab was counter-productive.
        Anton Philidor
        • Wake up Anton and smell the coffee!

          Anton said: [i]"but this is a case in which the company is a victim."[/i]

          Microsoft was a victim of its own belief that it could steamroller any customer into accepting any product it rolled out on its own terms.

          Anton said: [i]"Mr. Berlind was impressed by Microsoft's presence at the meeting and ability to speak and the courtesy with which the process was conducted."[/i]

          That's how business meetings are conducted Anton. You do not win customers over by throwing (verbal and metaphorical) axes at them.

          Anton said: [i]"ODF would not be responsive to Microsoft's Office functionality, so Office would lose any new version advantage in persuading people to upgrade and to choose Office over the alternatives."[/i]

          So what? Even if you're right - and you may be right - that is the customer's choice. It is not up to Microsoft to choose. By your logic Word should never save as .txt and Excal as .csv because functionality is lost. In spite of this Microsoft provides the filters.

          Anton said: [i]"So the company supplied information. Some of it probably a bit misleading and some not well understood, as shown by public statements from MA leaders. The response was more outrage at high-handed behavior than technical disagreement."[/i]

          And you think that supplying mis-information is a good policy for a company trying to put over its point of view?

          Anton said: [i]"This situation presents many reasons for organizations, even governments to stay away from ODF. I'd like to think the power grab was counter-productive."[/i]

          Really? By what twist of reasoning did you arrive at *that* conclusion? If anything this episode shows that Microsoft believes in giving customers what Microsoft wants and to hell with the customer's requirements.
          bportlock
          • *Agrees*

            Let's say that I create a company and I don't wish to have ANY Microsoft software in my mix. People who send WORD docs, Excel spreadsheets and powerpoint will just not get their documents read. As IT support, I see file formats coming in all of the time that we can't read (Microsoft Project?) and 90% of the users may only have WORD on their computers as Office products go. (Luckily, out Lotus Notes email has built-in viewers for many formats).

            This is NOT a new problem. Proprietary issues extend all the way back to the mainframe world where the software has to get a dose of proprietary "benefits" that make it restricted to one manufacturer and one operating system.

            We can't assume that everyone has Microsoft Office whether it is in the commercial world or the government arena. Documents are the basis for interchange of information. While some people consider Microsoft Office as some kind of standard, there are no international standards organizations, to my knowledge, that recognize this. Without some standards, we can't communicate. That is the reason for ODF in the first place.

            The big issue is why do CIOs have to feel any pressure to kiss Microsoft's butt? It's just amazing how many placate them.
            hforman9
        • You do realize that MS

          Was part of the panel that conceived and published the ODF don't you? It's not the first time that MS has publicly pushed for a given standard while in private created a competing standard or format for use in it's own products then declined to support the standard it had been pushing. I would point to DHTML as one example and the whole OS2/Windows Compatibility agreement which MS completely violated when they released 98. Basically, the MA mess seems to me to be MS doing business the way MS has always done business, screw the customer first, last and always seems to be the MS corporate slogan.
          maldain
        • MS will [b]tell you[/b] what you want

          "It's like someone at a regulatory agency detested an ice cream company with
          sales based on having many exotic flavors available, ...That does, admittedly, put
          competitors on a more equal basis. At the cost of giving customers what they
          might enjoy."

          No, it is like a restaurant that specializes in low calorie meals asking its ice cream
          supplier for low fat ice cream and being told, "No - if we allowed you to serve low
          fat ice cream your customers would not get the full ice cream experience.
          Besides, we would lose our competitive advantage."

          The point is, government IT has special needs for interoperability (in interfacing
          with the public) and archivability, and asking for features that meet these needs is
          entirely proper even if it leaves Microsoft less able to compete.
          LouS
    • RE: Not "a customer" telling a vendor...

      ROTHLMAO...

      You work for Microsoft, right?

      I did a lot of reading on this while it was happening and
      I fail to see how a closed format can be a better choice
      to maintain public documents in. Just this morning I was
      forced to use a computer running Windows so that I
      could access some of my documents online. And this
      would be a good thing because??? Maybe you would like
      to give me a logical answer to this question.

      Admittedly, the documents were not stored in a
      proprietary format. But it just goes to illustrate how MS
      locks people into their products.
      Protagonistic
    • Asinine Twisted Gobledegook

      You sound like a Microsoft Lawyer.
      There's no ligical way under the sun you (or anyone else) can justify a monopolistic monster trying to force their wares on the public, even if the public were crooks (which they are not and could no way equal Microsoft's deceptive agenda).
      Exactly what part of politics comprise software code?
      So you think Microsoft should tell their customers what they do and do not need or want?
      Too bad you don't use your otherwise obviously brilliant mind to support something other than a mafioso organization.
      Ole Man
    • It may be legal, but is it ethical???

      Yes I know all the sayings about what is fair in business, but Microsoft may be lobbying legally, but I think far from ethically.
      I am Gorby
  • Nothing New here

    I'm old enough to remember the meaning of the phrase "nobody ever lost their job by choosing IBM". If a manager was about to make a choice for a non-IBM mainframe, the IBM rep would start working up the management chain of the company in an effort to demonstrate that the decision maker was incompetent. Eventually they would suceed, but decision maker would be fired or demoted, and the helpful IBM rep would help them find a competent replacement. The replacement would, of course, select IBM as the new product vendor.
    jdaughtry9
    • An IBM Ad

      I'm sitting here reading this when I look to the immediate right, and what should be the ad in the box? An IBM ad, of course!

      Excuse me while I laugh myself silly.
      Dr. John
  • Welcome to the Commonwealth of MA

    I've lived in MA for 8 years, worked with (not for!) MSFT longer than that, and have a spouse who worked in the State House for two former governors.

    The old saying goes: "There are three major sports in MA: Baseball, politics, and revenge." Two have clearly played out here. Anyone who thinks that the ODF/MSFT debate is strictly, or even primarily, about getting the most effective technology and tools into users' hands hasn't been around MA very long.
    MGil
  • Forget the customer!!

    It seems that some people reading this blog believe that customers should have no say so in features of the products they use. I wonder how these same people would react if told they could not have a CD player in their Ford, only an AM/FM radio. When they started looking at Kia because CD players where offered in them they were lobbied against by Ford because that isn't their product.

    Not the best of analogies I know, but I think most will get my point. Customers are the ones who pay for a product and IT IS THEIR RIGHT to pick the product they feel suits THEIR needs best. No company should be able to use strong-arm tactics to make a decision for their customer on what to use.

    Besides, some upper Gov't. officials thought this guy had the ability to do the job or he wouldn't be there (most likely). Then you don't allow the person to do their job...making decisions on what technology will be most beneficial for the state to do it's job.

    I guess where Microsoft is concerned you always have to be careful what you do.

    Microsoft newest slogan: "Forget the customer!! We know what's best for them."
    Leon Wells
  • Gutierrez is naive

    It has been Microsoft's practice to use political manipulation to get what they want -- in the US, Europe, China, and, I suspect, everywhere else.

    Such manipulation, as always, includes giving various incentives to those who help them, and lessons for those who don't.

    It is naive for Gutierrez to think that Brian might not represent Microsoft in trying to remove his power, and, apparently, eventually himself.

    Such behavior is deep in Microsoft's culture, and has nothing to do with "customer first" or not.
    Carl_Liu
  • Doesn't IP fit into this argument?

    Anton said: "ODF would not be responsive to Microsoft's Office functionality, so Office would lose any new version advantage in persuading people to upgrade and to choose Office over the alternatives."

    As far as I know, Microsoft code is protected Intellectual Property. ODF apps may have been sued for using M$ code.
    Open Source code is open to be freely modified (as I understand it), which would allow M$ to add support for it easily.

    Having support for ODF would be a marketing ploy for M$ to try to pursuade people to "upgrade and to choose Office over the alternatives". Sounds alot better than "Buy my product even though it doesn't work with ODF."
    John_Doe69