Knowledge@Wharton has published an interview with Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie and while not particularly startling or technically revealing, it certainly inspires confidence that the man nominally charged with plotting Microsoft’s future technical direction in an increasingly connected landscape knows what he’s about:
In any successful enterprise you have to “keep the trains running on time,” as your primary obligation to shareholders and to the market. The biggest, most significant businesses that Microsoft has are the Windows business and the Office business, although the server and tools business is growing fairly rapidly. Those businesses need to continue to innovate, but I’ll say innovate with a “small i.”
These are just innovations within the core of what those products are intended to do. Then you step back and say, “Environmentally, what is changing that might fundamentally reshape these things?” And that’s why I separated the “small i” from the “big I” of innovation. As long as I’ve been in this industry, every five, six, or seven years there has been some fundamental change in the environment that gives one the opportunity to step back and say, “Could we serve those needs in a dramatically different way?” Today that really is all around services.
But the fact that so many people have high bandwidth [lets] us figure out how to balance what part of an application should be in a data center — somewhere “in the cloud” — and what piece of that solution should be on a desktop or on a mobile device. The right balance varies based on the application.
But that balance is far different moving forward than it has been in the past. When you have a very thin straw to a service, you tend to balance things differently than when it’s a higher bandwidth pipe.
So each group within Microsoft — and in our industry — is at a point where we should be saying, “If we’re aspiring to deliver productivity to a customer, how should we best weave that into services that are deployed through a browser? What aspects do you want mobile? What kind of synchronization should automatically be built in?
In each solution within our business, the people who are running those businesses should look at their customers and say, “Given these new tools at my customers’ disposal, how should we reshape this?”
The reason I say “nominally” is that while Ozzie may be Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect, he has neither the actual nor moral authority of his predecessor, Bill Gates, and there are lots of other powers and principalities at work within Microsoft:
The first thing I have to embrace to be successful is to go where people are and help them understand how to reshape themselves for the future on their terms. The Office group has a different culture than the Windows group, [which has a] different culture than the Xbox group. They do development differently; they do planning differently. So that’s number one.
Number two is that it’s highly social. We have to use a combination of center and edge in order to affect things. I may talk to the leaders of a group and ask them what their plans are. I use storyboarding, so I might map out a storyboard for how I would see things panning out moving forward.
At the same time, the people on my staff work directly with the people within the organization [who work for those] leaders so they can get the message in a less threatening way than having this guy at the top come in.
Things always occur through both leadership and grassroots mechanisms.
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but not all flies want to be caught. We’ll all get to see how good Ozzie is at fly catching.