Sunday, April 23, 2006

Microsoft and Enterprise 2.0

In what sense does Microsoft count as a typical enterprise? What (if anything) can we learn from the adoption of various practices and technologies within Microsoft?
Like most people in the software industry, I have watched the awesome progress of Microsoft as a successful business organization. I know lots of people who work at Microsoft, including a number of former colleagues and associates. I also know lots of people outside Microsoft who have strong opinions about the company and its products, not always supported by facts. When I have taught classes on software quality, there has always been a lively discussion whenever I have mentioned Microsoft.

Harry Pierson (Devhawk) suggests that Sharepoint 2003 (widely used inside Microsoft) has many of the specific features of Enterprise 2.0, although he admits that we have to wait for Sharepoint 2007 to get blogs, wikis and RSS.

Meanwhile, Microsoft Architect Mike Platt makes the following claims about the adoption of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, based on his experience within Microsoft.
  • Control will pass to the workers ... in very competitive industries (such as Microsoft). (Dion Hinchcliffe calls this democratization, and Mike appears to accept the applicability of this word to Microsoft.)
  • The most dynamic and strongest use of community techniques is at the edge of the enterprise where we interact with the customers.
  • Blurring of the boundaries of organizations ... enterprises becoming more transparent and formless ... destruction of the Iron Curtain.
This prompts several comments.

Firstly, the characterization of Microsoft. Competitive? Democratic/democratizing? Transparent and formless? These views of Microsoft may make sense from an internal perspective, but will undoubtedly seem surprising to many people outside Microsoft.

Secondly, the edge. Microsoft has an interesting combination of mass-market products and enterprise customers. There are clearly multiple styles of interaction with customers, both direct and indirect. Is marketing push or pull? What is the nature of the edge?

Thirdly, there are some interesting implications for the psychology of the organization. Taking power to the edge (if that is really what Microsoft is doing) typically generates anxiety. Microsoft often seems to be driven by a fear of competition, whether this is justified or not. Loss of boundaries is a profoundly threatening move. Can Microsoft handle higher levels of anxiety than other organizations, and if so why?

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