As the trial over the services of former Microsoft executive Kai Fu Lee proceeds in Seattle, Bill Gates was at the Microsoft Conference Center on campus talking about what he termed a coming revolution for mid-size companies. It's really an evolution, as I wrote about yesterday in my post about the newly christened Dynamics product line. Gates made it clear that tailoring the software to users' needs using a role-based model from the tens of millions of lines of Windows, Office and Dynamics code is the top priority.
It's a Microsoft and industry Holy Grail--radically reducing the number of screens, clicks and complexity to accomplish a business task, such as filing an expense report, managing a customer relationship or supply chain from a combination of Office, Dynamics products and the Windows foundation. Gates called it a "vision of bringing the three together." For Microsoft, the vision won't be realized until the end of the decade, 2008 and beyond, Gates said. Competitors like SAP and Oracle have similar visions, but not focused on Windows.
Of course, this is what you would expect from Microsoft. The company totally controls its own environment, and hasn't delivered the seamless, user programmable, personalized work environment. "We made a huge investment, and it's the foundation we build on to really revolutionize this space. We take the idea that the standards that people learn and use and drive the pervasiveness of applications to a high level," Gates said during his keynote today. "By taking business processes and making them very visual and explicit, we can do something quite different than ever done before."
I think what he means is that 400 million people use Office and if Microsoft can leverage the familiarity with the software and create a simple way to model business processes that match how people work, it's a big win. Gates said that the Dynamics line would start with 50 role "pages" that can be edited and combined with a simple interface.
Role-based Dynamics GP screen
Gates said that Office 12 [due at the end of next year] is a foundation for many of the new dynamic capabilities. "I've never been more excited about a new release of Office, particularly around SharePoint and the workflow engine. Business intelligence is built-in, and you have the ability to have Excel be a server product and accessible through a browser. You can see things like presence information about users exposed throughout the software." The roll-out of Dynamics was sketched out as follows:
Wave One: 2005-2007
- 50 roles identical across product line
- Sharepoint-based portal an workflow
- SQL-based contextual business intelligence
- Web services composition and interface
Wave Two: 2008+
- Modular process configuration
- Enhanced Visual Studio.Net tools
- Exchange user experience
- 'Best of' process library
The roles will first make an appearance in the October release of Microsoft CRM, which will include 20 of the roles and support for RSS. If Microsoft can get this user experience and capabilities right, the simplification work could be applied to larger enterprises and smaller companies. The question is whether Microsoft's view of the world of work, software monoculture and cost structure will resonate with users when the products finally ship. After watching a few demos, it's looks like a good step forward for the Microsoft world, but it's a long way to 2008...