Why Microsoft's Elop isn't afraid of Google

The Business Division president discusses Office 2010, hosted apps and the link between them

Microsoft's Business Division oversees one of its most successful products, the Office productivity suite, as well as the company's lucrative server and enterprise software businesses. However, like the rest of the company, the division has not been immune to the pressure of the recession, and revenue fell 13 per cent in the quarter ending in June.

Business Division President Stephen Elop, however, said in an interview with the IDG News Service that he's confident the unit can overcome the pressures that face the business. These include not only the economy but also competition in the productivity and collaboration software market from Web-based applications from Google and others.

To answer this challenge, Microsoft is set to offer Web-based versions of its Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote software as part of the Office 2010 launch early next year.

Those applications are part of Microsoft's general transition to "software plus services" with its Business Productivity Online Suite -- which includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting and Office Communications Online -- a product and transition Elop's division also oversees.

In an interview with IDG News Service Senior Writer Elizabeth Montalbano, Elop said he's confident Office 2010 has enough new features, including integration with Microsoft's Web-based applications, to convince businesses and consumers to stick with Microsoft for their productivity and collaboration needs.

He also noted bright spots in the division's portfolio -- its SharePoint and CRM (customer relationship management) products -- and discussed how Microsoft itself, not Google, remains the company's biggest competitor in the productivity market. Below is an edited version of the conversation.

IDGNS: What trends did you see with Business Division customers during the recession?

Elop: To understand it best you have to break the division down a little bit in terms of the customers we serve. Sixty percent of our revenue is derived from medium and large enterprises, who tend to make longer-term strategic decisions about the technology they're going to buy.

About 20 percent of our business are smaller businesses, small and lower mid-sized businesses who tend to buy new PCs when they hire a new employee or they make do on an upgrade cycle. And our third category of customers are consumers, so people buying for home use or perhaps they're running a small business out of their home.

If you look at each of those three categories, very different things were going on. Consumers generally were buying far fewer traditional PCs. They're buying fewer PCs, they're buying fewer copies of Windows, fewer copies of Office. ...That led to a decline in revenue in the consumer segment.

Small-to-medium businesses -- a very similar situation where the number of PCs that are being purchased by small businesses dropped quite a lot, translating into a decline in our revenue in that segment that was north of 30 percent, which is a significant decline. ...There's fewer small businesses starting up, so there's fewer companies saying, "Hey, I need three PCs or five PCs to get my business going."

Now the enterprise segment year over year was a very different story. It was modest growth. It wasn't exciting growth -- it was modest growth. Really what's going on there is customers continue to make decisions about the long term about what they want to invest in, combined with the fact that we have a number of products in the enterprise that even with tough economic times are growing very aggressively.

So SharePoint for collaboration, document management and other workloads like that -- the SharePoint product is north of a billion dollars and it's growing at double-digit rates during the worst economic calamity we've ever seen.

IDGNS: Why do you think that's true?

Elop: A key reason for that is it helps businesses even if they're contracting to figure out how to save money, how to get people communicating and collaborating more effectively. Another example is around unified communications -- things like e-mail and instant messaging, voice, video conferencing. In tough economic times when a company says "look, we've got to reduce our travel expenses," what do people do? Well I still have to talk to them, I still have to get around to the team around the world.

How do I do that? They turn to our product. Well our OCS product, our Office Communications Server product -- double-digit growth year on year during the worst economic circumstances we've all faced. Dynamics CRM -- customer relationship management. We may be contracting as an industry in a particular business, but you say, "I have to get closer to my customer, I have to manage every lead for a sales opportunity tighter than I did before." So it's growing very substantially as well.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

IDG News Service
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