PCR talks to Microsoft's partner group manager, Simon Aldous

Microsoft’s new vision

UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, Microsoft has released a statement to PCR refuting some of the claims made below. Click here to read it.

This (partner conference in Wembley Stadium) is the biggest Microsoft partner event for five years in the UK – what are the main things you want to achieve with it?

Over the years we’ve not done enough to connect with out partner communities. I think Scott (Dodds, Microsoft’s general manager for small to medium enterprises) used the words cumbersome, large and complex. I’d echo that. We need to be sure that we’re actually addressing the needs of the end user more effectively – we do that through our partner communities.

We’re not a direct sales organisation, everything is through our partners. We need to ensure we’re providing our partners with the tools they need to sell to those end customers. That’s the message we want to get across today – it is really Microsoft coming back to the channel and saying, ‘We recognise that we haven’t been as effective as we need to be in our engagement with you, we recognise there’s been some challenges. This is an excellent time to come and talk to you with the product launches that are coming.’ We’ve never had a sustained period of product launches of this magnitude. If you lookover the next nine months, it’s a significant change in the development of our technology.

How much feedback are you taking from the partners? Could you do with more of it?

The answer is yes, we need more. We’ve made a lot of changes, so after the last 18 months – really since Scott came into the role and looked to redefine his part of the business – we’ve made a number of changes to try and allow us to get closer to our partner communities.

If you look at the SMB market (classified as firms with 0-250 employees), we’ve made some significant changes internally at Microsoft. When I joined three years ago there wasn’t a dedicated sales focus on this area, we didn’t really have an internal infrastructure that was targeted at supporting it.

Now we’ve got something in the region of 30 sales people working regionally within the UK. The regions are important, you can’t treat everyone the same. From an SMB perspective we’ve segmented the country by RDA region. We put people out in the field to try and create communities and a local Microsoft presence.

Was a ‘one size fits all’ policy followed in the past, then?

I wouldn’t say ‘policy’, but our messaging became ‘one size fits all’ for whatever reason. The change in the economy over the last couple of years specifically has forced Microsoft and many other organisations out there to revisit what their value proposition is. The term ‘SMB’ didn’t used to exist at Microsoft formally until about six months ago, so we’ve restructured our routes to market globally.

Have you been forced to do this by the recession?

I think we would have got there anyway, but what has gone on in the world has expedited that change, without a doubt. I think historically we would have gone out with a broader ‘one size fits all’ approach, and now we have a much more partner-focused approach. [A recession] forces the mind. It forces to you think more clearly around what you are trying to achieve and what were the blockers.

When the sun is shining there’s no incentive to change the roof on your house. It’s only when its raining that you realise there’s a problem.

Is Windows 7 really a much more agile operating system, in terms of the specific uses it can be moulded to?

The interesting thing is, it’s basically the next version of Vista. Vista was a totally redesigned operating system from XP. We’ve improved upon Vista in that way. We’ve stripped out a lot of the code, we’ve made a lot of it much more efficient, it sits on a smaller footprint, it operates far more quickly, it’s far more agile and effective in terms of the calls it makes. I saw an article recently that described it as ‘Vista on steroids’, and in some ways you can absolutely relate to that.

One of the things that people say an awful lot about the Apple Mac is that the OS is fantastic, that it’s very graphical and easy to use. What we’ve tried to do with Windows 7 – whether it’s traditional format or in a touch format – is create a Mac look and feel in terms of graphics. We’ve significantly improved the graphical user interface, but it’s built on that very stable core Vista technology, which is far more stable than the current Mac platform, for instance.

So you’ve taken the style of the Mac platform and built it on the more solid foundations of Vista?

We’ve taken everything that’s good about Vista, along with the core infrastructure of the operating system, and we’ve made it faster and slimmed down the code to make it more effective.

We’ve also tried to listen to what customers want in terms of a much slicker user interface and the ability to engage with it far more intuitively. That’s the product that we’re delivering.

You’re also going to be launching Office 2010 as part of your nine-month product roadmap, would you say that’s been updated in a similar way – streamlined with an improved user interface?

It is the next step in terms of trying to address the consistent feedback, which is all around usability. For us it takes what is a fantastically stable and successful product and addresses the need for that technological evolution realistically.

We’ve significantly beefed up the capabilities of Excel in terms of the amount of data it can handle and the functionality and the reporting pieces, for example. We’ve looked at PowerPoint and what people want to do with that, and how we can make sure manipulating high-resolution video is inherent within the product.

It’s a very exciting time for us in terms of what we can bring for end customers, such as improving business productivity, driving down costs within organisations, with the business productivity concept.

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