The Productivity Frontier
Published: October 13, 2003
In offices 20 years ago, typewriters, handwritten financial spreadsheets and slide carousels all seemed good enough to get the work done. These tools made workers more productive and enabled them to understand and share information, which is crucial to every organization's success.
Since then, we've seen remarkable advances through innovation and the widespread adoption of productivity software that has fundamentally transformed the way hundreds of millions of people around the globe create, use, share and communicate information in their jobs.
As Group Vice President of Microsoft's Productivity and Business Services Group, I spend a lot of time meeting with customers to better understand how they use technology to be productive today, and how new technologies can help them be more effective and efficient tomorrow.
Consistently, customers tell me that while computers have dramatically increased their productivity and their ability to gather, analyze, share and act on information, their needs are continuing to evolve. They want innovations that can help reduce information overload and impart new, competitive advantages.
I know from my own experience that even with the advances of the last two decades, there are still too many documents, too many papers and emails, and all of it is too hard to search through when something is needed quickly. I'm sure you've tried to find information that you know exists...somewhere...in some file folder or cranny of your PC or network.
Information technology today also must evolve to keep pace with the needs of a more mobile workforce, and the increasingly collaborative nature of information work. Companies want people and information to come together more naturally and effectively--just a few mouse clicks away. They want simple communication and collaboration.
Customers also want to be able to build end-to-end solutions on a foundation of easy-to-use, inexpensive commercial software. For example, they want to easily and reliably comply with increasing government regulation, such as new corporate financial reporting requirements. And they are concerned about the security of software and of the communication networks that now tie the world together.
Most of all, companies want technologies that work together and pay for themselves. Any new technology investments must show a positive return, not in five years, but five months--or better yet, five weeks.
Over the last 22 years, Microsoft has invested in improving information worker productivity with the Microsoft Office products that you've likely heard of, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
Our foundation for meeting the needs of information workers going forward is the new Microsoft Office System, which launches later this month. It embraces several core productivity applications--some familiar and some new--presented as a comprehensive and integrated set of client and server offerings. It includes services delivered over the Internet, and "accelerators" that can be used by Microsoft partners and customers to speed their development of Office-based solutions.
Our goal is ambitious--to improve personal, team and organizational productivity by addressing a broad array of business processes. We're both excited by the opportunity and pleased with the results to date. I won't try to describe all of the important new capabilities in the Office System, but I'd like to share my thoughts--and my enthusiasm -- for how these new products, services and solutions can once again surprise people by truly unleashing a new wave of productivity and creativity. Let me just mention a couple of innovations that illustrate their power and range.
Effective Virtual Teams
Information work today is increasingly collaborative, requiring rich and continuous communication and interaction within work teams, which are often widely dispersed geographically. A lot of workplace collaboration takes place via email, which is a big improvement, but not good enough.
To help, we recently introduced Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003 and the Microsoft Office Live Meeting service, which enable online collaboration between as few as two people and as many as 2,000. With Live Meeting, participants use their telephones and PCs to share information, view presentations and review documents--or even to review an archived meeting later.
We're also devising new ways for teams to collaborate. For example, at Microsoft, employees are rapidly moving away from using the traditional PC file system to store documents that are of interest to more than one person. Instead, we're using SharePoint workspaces, intranet sites where documents and other data can be centrally located and accessed--whether team members are across the room or across the world. These capabilities have been extremely popular with Microsoft employees, who in just a few months have created more than 50,000 SharePoint sites to support their own collaboration.
Other companies report similar successes. Stevens Healthcare, a leading medical services provider in Washington State, says that using SharePoint Portal Server has reduced by 75 percent the amount of time needed for meetings to comply with new federal privacy regulations. Nordea Banking Group, one of the largest financial services providers in Scandinavia, expects to cut travel by 15 percent using SharePoint collaboration as an alternative to in-person meetings.
Meetings remain important for collaboration, of course, and in meetings at Microsoft, many people are now using a new application that helps them organize, access and act on their notes, in whatever form they take. It's called Microsoft Office OneNote 2003. Users can store and search years of notes simply by typing or writing a word, which brings up all the documents that contain that word. By recording meetings with a PC's microphone, OneNote users can later hear what was said in the room at the moment they wrote a particular sentence--a great way to jog the memory. With a Tablet PC, OneNote even stores, organizes and retrieves handwritten notes.
More Than Meets the Eye
Many of the advances in Office System will be obvious to users, but one of the most profound changes isn't as apparent. The programs in the professional edition of Office System support Extensible Markup Language (XML), a powerful standardized "language" for describing data. XML is increasingly used to help analyze and exchange business information on the Web, sidestepping worries about incompatible programs, computer networks, data structures and operating systems.
To date, the use of XML has been mostly limited to exchanging data among corporate data servers. But with our new desktop applications, information workers will be able to save, organize and share new data as XML. It will be a lot easier to fill out forms, for example, or to find and reuse text or other data without re-entering it. Productive solutions will be built much more rapidly.
Guidant Medical, a leader in cardiovascular medical products, has tested the Office System's XML capability to integrate its financial reports on a backend database, cutting the time needed to figure bids on new contracts by 75 percent. Hewlett-Packard's test of the Office System's XML capabilities has allowed it to create product sales guides in just under half the time it used to take. And soon, almost any company or partner will be able to develop solutions based on XML, thanks to new solution accelerators, tools for developing applications that support specific business processes, under development at Microsoft.
Productivity: A Glass Half Full
In the months and years ahead, our aim is to advance Office System even further by creating powerful new solutions and adding Web services for increased collaboration and richer communications.
We're working closely with other industry leaders to stimulate further innovation that will accelerate productivity, competitiveness and agility. For example, we've established the Center for Information Work to examine and demonstrate how the workplace will function in the years ahead, and we've worked with a number of companies to form the Information Work Productivity Council, which brings together top economists and other academics to examine trends in productivity and to understand their impact.
We're investing in R&D--more than $6 billion company-wide this year--on advanced technologies. With industry partners, for example, we're developing a new kind of PC that integrates voice, video and text messaging to provide much richer capabilities for communication and collaboration.
In short, the end of innovation is nowhere near. This is not to say it's not a big challenge. Individuals and businesses all have different needs and different ways they work. But they all share a common goal: they want to leverage technology to help them understand, act on, share and communicate information--the most precious commodity in the world today.
I've had the privilege of being part of the technology revolution that has taken us a long way in the past two decades. But it's the next 20 years that really excite me. Microsoft is investing for the long term in innovative products to help people work smarter and better, and enable businesses to be more profitable.