Once you strip away the financial, strategy and ad prospects for Microsoft's 10-year search partnership with Yahoo you're left with a lot of information technology integration heavy lifting.
Make no mistake about it: The Microsoft-Yahoo search pact will flop if it doesn't have some good old fashioned IT project management. Sure, the first day headlines are about chasing Google and regulatory approval (Techmeme), but in the end we're talking technology management. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz can talk about a more focused content company. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer can yap about search scale. In the end, the real work will be the 24 month technology integration once the deal closes in early 2010.
First the timeline:
- Regulators approve Microsoft-Yahoo pact in early 2010 (best case).
- Yahoo migrates major market to Bing search three to six months after deal closes.
- Migration from Yahoo's Panama ad system to Microsoft's AdCenter completed 12 months after deal closes.
- Total integration in 24 months.
In between that rough timeline there will be data sharing processes, APIs to be determined, privacy rules to adhere to and engineers moving from Yahoo to Microsoft. Meanwhile, the Microsoft-Yahoo search pact doesn't cover everything. Search in Mail and instant messaging will stay with Yahoo.
Here are some of the potential landmines that the Microsoft-Yahoo deal will face on the integration front:
People: Project management always comes down to people. Ballmer said that "some Yahoo engineers may move to Microsoft" as the search giant ramps up its technology and integration with Yahoo. The big question will revolve around culture and whether Yahoo will suffer a flight of engineers to other companies rather than jumping to Microsoft. Two years is a long time for a project and brain drain will be a risk.
Data sharing processes: The team of Microsoft-Yahoo will be at a key disadvantage against Google. Google doesn't have to share customer data with others. Microsoft and Yahoo have to share data in a way that's seamless, respects privacy and is efficient enough to match Google's relevance.
The way this deal is constructed we can have the same ability to innovate around search as the other company can and we can treat our respective users properly with the privacy they expect. You have to say what data gets shared and how it gets shared.
Big projects are difficult: There's a reason that big multi-year projects are out of favor---they eat up capital and don't work. Microsoft and Yahoo will have to break this integration up into digestible chunks.
Systems integration: The biggest migration on the collective plate will be the migration from Yahoo's Panama ad system to Microsoft's AdCenter platform. The risk here is obvious as there could be advertiser disruptions. Bartz, however, noted that Yahoo has already migrated systems before when it moved from Overture to Panama.
Culture: To their credit, Microsoft and Yahoo appear to have focused a good bit on potential operations hitches. Nevertheless, the companies have different cultures that could clash. Bridging project management styles will be key. In fact, Ballmer and Bartz will have little impact on whether the integration fails or succeeds. The managers sitting around a conference table will decide the fate of Microhoo.
Simply put, this project will be among the more interesting ones to monitor over the next two years.