As Wikipedia cites, an IT department would buy technically inferior software because upper management was more likely to recognize the brand.Back in the days when Microsoft could just behave as a monopolist without the legal consequences thereof, the acronym FUD was tossed around (meaning fear, uncertainty and doubt): Merely by intimating that their competitors' products were sub-par, they could lock folks into their own regardless of the technical merits or even that newer versions of their products had yet to be created.
To be fair, FUD has been around long before PC DOS, and was made popular by the mainframers such as Amdahl and IBM before Microsoft adopted it as its own. But perhaps things are changing out in Redmond. A presentation that Mary Jo Foley of ZDnet published here shows a new mantra: Engage, Evolve, Evaluate and Execute, the four E's of enterprise innovation. Let's look at what they are talking about:
- Engage means to feed the idea pipeline, to add discussions, social computing, new idea teams and other inputs into the mix,
- Evolve means using collaborative business processes and process automation and documentation, using a variety of social media tools that are now proliferating,
- Evaluate your entire idea portfolio and analyze for strategic fits and risk mitigation, and finally
- Execute and accelerate the concepts that have made it through the pipeline and launch these innovations into production.
Foley summarized all of this: "Microsoft officials believe they can use technology and process improvements to make innovation happen more rapidly and repeatedly."
We have focused our coverage particularly on the first two E's: there are tons of tools out there, like Yammer and SocialText, that can be used to stimulate and manage the idea pipelines. The hard part is the second two - being able to evaluate and execute on them. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but fostering a culture of rewarding people for taking chances and stepping forward isn't done necessarily with a bunch of software programs, but a culture that fosters and encourages innovation and risk taking.
But really is any evidence that this actually happening? The big home runs (at least from a revenue or market share standpoint) were all technologies that Microsoft bought their way into, not really invented: Windows, virtualization, search, various server products, even the Internet Explorer was created by the Mosaic team in Urbana and eventually licensed to Microsoft, not that the smart money cares about IE any longer.
For Microsoft to succeed at its own 4E methods of innovation, they have to undo the huge bureaucracy that they have invested in over the past two decades: they now have more layers of middle managers than IBM, not a statistic that you want to be proud of. Yes, they have a bunch of fast-track methods to commercialize technologies, but according to the presentation Foley cited these still take at least two years to get out of the labs and into the hands of real paying customers. Yes, Microsoft Research has a budget that is larger than the GNP of many small countries, but what good does it do to have an OS that still requires weekly patches and is the bot-net desktop of choice?