Microsoft to big business: Think young

At AIIM Expo, software giant says that enterprises need to embrace the software of youthful workers in order to stay competitive.

BOSTON--Microsoft has a message for corporate America: loosen up and embrace the tools of the under-30 crowd.

Empowerment doesn't mean relinquishing control over data, Jeff Teper, head of the SharePoint Server Group at Microsoft, said in a keynote speech Tuesday at the AIIM Expo, a conference here focusing on information and content management.

As Teper spoke, Arpan Shah, group product manager of SharePoint, illustrated Teper's points through a blog site showcasing SharePoint technology and a demonstration of Office SharePoint Server 2007.

SharePoint uses a Web browser interface and integrates with a "My Site" page for each individual employee. (My Site pages are the employee's window to the company intranet.) Similar to a personal page on a social-networking site, the My Site page includes a profile, links, colleagues, news, RSS feeds, e-mails, groups, a calendar and shared content that can be used in the creation, management and execution of daily business.

"The 22-year-old college graduates were 9 years old when the Internet took hold. So they have only really known a world with the Internet, and they use YouTube and MySpace and instant messaging, and they'll demand it when they get to the work force. No longer will you be able to give second-rate tools," Teper said.

The AIIM Expo, an annual event, this year was coupled with the On Demand Conference & Exposition on digital printing. The joint conference is expected to draw about 30,000 IT professionals, according to reports. In addition to giving the AIIM keynote, Microsoft was also an exhibitor.

Even traditionally conservative industries like the oil and energy-technology sectors are seeing the writing on the wall, according to Teper. Companies in those industries now face an employment gap, with half their senior management about to retire and its twentysomething and thirtysomething employees being sought after by competitors.

Prevalent Web use at the consumer level has made older workers comfortable as well with Web-interface tools and customization, so employees in general tend to be receptive to learning about Web 2.0 tools.

But the use of such tools is not just to keep younger employees happy, said Teper. A key motivation is that it's more productive.

He points out that many companies are "operating in silos" when it comes to data management, with different business units maintaining their own servers and data management systems, although they would never think of using multiple e-mails systems within one company. As a result, according to Teper, companies fall back on e-mail--and the inefficient practice of overly inclusive group e-mails--as a way to distribute information.

Teper used Dell as a case study of a company that found initial success due to its focus on supply-chain management (designed in part to provide quick updates to manufacturers and other partners), but had to play catch up on the innovation side once competitors copied its supply-chain method.

Companies gravitate toward one of two cultures, the innovation-driven or the execution-driven, Teper said, but need both to succeed. They also will need employees to use the new tools and governance over information to do it. Even the DRM (digital rights management) technology currently used for audio files can be applied as a way of controlling content that circulates throughout a company, said Teper.

Microsoft, about five years ago, had sales and marketing divided by types of products and countries that resulted in millions of dollars in time spent coordinating information because the company did not have a centralized system, said Teper. He talked about how interface customization, blogs, wikis, personal Web pages and content-sharing have empowered Microsoft employees to be more collaborative and efficient.

"We're all pack rats when it comes to e-mail. In a world where you know the info is available on a site, you can control when you receive it instead of being the victim of information overload," said Teper.

"We need to make it so employees have self-serve," he said, "and users can customize workflow and add dimensions to a database themselves securely and quickly."

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