Beyond Business Intelligence: Delivering a Comprehensive Approach to Enterprise Information Management
Published: May 17, 2006
This week, more than 100 CEOs representing many of the world's leading companies are meeting in Redmond, Washington, to discuss technology trends that promise to reshape the corporate landscape. The occasion is the Microsoft CEO Summit, an annual event that we've been hosting since 1997.
In the decade since that first CEO Summit, technology has transformed the world of business in profound ways. Back then, e-mail was just emerging as a preferred medium for business communication. E-commerce was in its infancy. Most companies still relied on faxes and phone calls to conduct business.
Today, we communicate and collaborate instantly with colleagues, customers and partners around the world. Global supply chains speed the flow of products from factory floor to store shelf. Cell phones are ubiquitous. Mobile access to e-mail is rapidly becoming the norm.
The impact on the workforce is remarkable. Productivity is higher than it's ever been. Buyers can shop the entire world without leaving their desk. Sellers have access to markets that were once beyond reach. The amount of information collected about customers, competitors and markets is unprecedented.
But there are times when it feels like all of these changes have overwhelmed the tools we use to do our day-to-day jobs. I wanted to share my thoughts on this important issue with you and other business decision makers and IT professionals.
The problem, really, is twofold. The first is information overload. Faced with the endless deluge of data that is generated every second of every day, how can we hope to keep up? And in the struggle to keep up, how can we stay focused on the tasks that are most important and deliver the greatest value?
The other problem is something I call information underload. We're flooded with information, but that doesn't mean we have tools that let us use the information effectively.
Companies pay a high price for information overload and underload. Estimates are that information workers spend as much as 30 percent of their time searching for information, at a cost of $18,000 each year per employee in lost productivity. Meanwhile, the University of California, Berkeley predicts that the volume of digital data we store will nearly double in the next two years.
That makes solving information overload/underload a critical task. Fortunately, a new generation of technology innovations is opening the door to solutions that will make it dramatically easier to find relevant information quickly; to use that information to drive intelligent decision-making; and to instantly share the knowledge that results across the enterprise and beyond. Resolving the information overload and underload problem will take more than just better search tools. What's required is a comprehensive approach to enterprise information management that spans information creation, collection and use and helps ensure that organizations can unlock the full value of their investments in both information and people.
As these solutions enter the mainstream, we will expect dramatic improvements across the key drivers of business success. Software that streamlines how we find, use and share business information will enable us to strengthen relationships with customers, speed innovation, improve operations and create more flexible connections to partners and suppliers.
The End of Information Underload/Overload
To deliver on the promise of this new generation of solutions, Microsoft is focused on creating software that addresses specific businesses priorities:
Productivity: Information fatigue is one inevitable result of information overload. We are working to develop tools that help information workers prioritize their work and focus on the tasks that are truly important. At the same time, we are working to create unified communication solutions that provide a single entry point to all of the tools we use to communicate with coworkers and customers.
Collaboration: New meeting technologies will make distributed meetings simple and cost effective, and provide rich tools that enable team members to work together to create documents and plans. In addition, companies will be able to capture all of the interaction in meetings and preserve institutional knowledge that is often lost today.
Business intelligence: Powerful yet intuitive software that supports advanced visualization and modeling of information will be used every day by information workers to find meaningful patterns in the vast sea of data they collect. This software will also help employees use the insight they gain to trigger processes that enable organizations to respond quickly as business conditions change.
Workflow optimization: Smarter workflow software will eliminate friction points that hamper organizational agility. These tools will automate the movement of approvals, alerts and exceptions. They will also have the intelligence to recognize inefficiencies in existing processes and make improvements.
Microsoft is also devoting particular attention to the problem of enterprise information access. In a world where information can be stored on the desktop, the intranet or out on the Web, and where the right people may be located in an office halfway around the world, enabling seamless access to enterprise information is a complex problem.
An important starting point is to move beyond the traditional search tools that people use today to find information on the Web and elsewhere. Instead, software needs to be tuned to better match the way information is created and stored in the enterprise so that it is capable of searching all types of structured and unstructured business content, from emails to information stored in line of business applications to data stored in corporate databases. This software needs to be built on a search engine that utilizes algorithms and incorporates features that are designed specifically to deal with business content so that relevance and ranking results meet the needs of business users.
Enterprise-enabled search is just one aspect of the solution. One of the biggest barriers to information access in the enterprise is the fact that data is often stored in so many different repositories. This leads to painfully inefficient processes that force information workers to leave one application, logon to another, find a single piece of data and write it on a piece of paper, and then return to their original application, just to complete a simple task like sending an email to a customer. This is a significant drag on productivity. Microsoft's goal is to deliver enterprise information access solutions that present information workers with a single, unified way to get at the information they need no matter where it resides without leaving the application they are currently working in so they can make smart decisions and take action with greater speed.
In addition, finding ways to take full advantage of the knowledge that employees possess remains a challenge in all organizations. According to some estimates, 80 percent of the expertise within the average organizations is "tacit knowledge" that is undocumented and difficult to locate. Next-generation solutions will enable information workers to tap into social networks to find subject matter experts who can provide the support they need to accomplish specific tasks.
Looking Ahead to the Next 10 Years
To solve the problem of enterprise information access, we've made significant R&D investments. As a result, over the next 12 months we intend to roll out a wide range of new technologies that will transform the way people find, use and share information in the workplace. Products like Windows Vista and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 in the 2007 Office System will bridge the gap between information workers and the information they need to be more effective.
Another new technology aimed at streamlining information access that should be available in the near future is an enhanced search tool called Knowledge Network for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. This add-on will track expertise and relationships in an organization so information workers can quickly connect to people with the right skills and knowledge. We also plan to introduce a test version of Windows Live Search, a one-stop entry point for finding information on the desktop, the intranet and the Web.
In my first CEO Summit keynote speech in 1997, I looked ahead 10 years to a time when bandwidth would be vastly improved, the majority of adults would use e-mail and the Web would be integral to the way we plan trips, make purchases and coordinate with friends. Not all of my predictions have come true yet--I also said using speech to interface with computers would be the norm by now. But that is coming soon.
The theme of this year's CEO Summit is "The Next 10 Years." So where will we be 10 years from now? As I said back in 1997, there's a tendency to overestimate how much things will change in two years and underestimate how much change will occur over 10 years. But I think there are some things we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty.
During the next 10 years, networks will get faster, computer processing will continue to increase in accordance with Moore's Law, and data storage will continue to fall in price. Meanwhile, high-definition screens will be cheaper, lighter and more portable. Mobile phones will rival today's desktop PCs for power and storage. Most important, the software that ties it all together will become increasingly sophisticated in its ability to understand the way you work, and increasingly streamlined and intuitive in the ways you use it.
During the next 10 years, the idea of "search" will give way to a notion of seamless access to knowledge as people begin to utilize tools that let them interact with their computers using plain English--or plain Spanish, French, Chinese or Russian--to instantly link to the information or people they need. In this New World of Work, repetitive, uninteresting tasks like moving data from one system to another will be automated and employees will focus much more of their time and creative energy on work that generates real value and growth.
In 1997, the theme of CEO Summit was "Corporate Transformation for Friction Free Capitalism." Today, in a world where we have access to virtually unlimited information at our fingertips, global supply chains, international markets that operate 24 hours a day and communication tools that enable us to move data around the world instantly have brought us a lot closer to a world of friction free-capitalism than many people thought possible back then.
As we look ahead to the next 10 years and the promise of the New World of Work, I believe we are on the verge of an idea that is even more powerful: the age of friction-free innovation.