Microsoft provided an analyst briefing on Thursday January 27th titled “Creating Business Value through Collaboration.” Personally, I was struck by the presence of a clear strategy for infrastructure dominance (in the sense of OS, server and core technologies such as email, search, etc.) as well as the absence of the same for solution-specific or industry-specific dominance in the market for content technologies. I think the resulting messages — ranging from the clear to the hinted — were intentional, further demonstrating the company’s ability to boldly state “where it wants to go today” without necessarily divulging the types of technology providers it intends to run over in the process.

In terms of collaboration from a generic perspective, the Microsoft “information worker” strategy has been evident since at least 2001. At that time I wrote “Each [product] provides just enough collaborative technology to hover in and around the realm of markets such as knowledge management, document management, portals, and virtual project management” in a discussion on SharePoint, Exchange and Mobile Information Servers in relationship to the significance of .NET and the acquisition of CM vendor NCompass, Inc. (InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, Inc. Analysis, 05/03/01) It was clear that Microsoft encouraged speculation on how the aquisition could change the content techology landscape. As a result, most analysts predicted an impending “market shakeup” due to the entrance of platform players such as Microsoft and IBM into specialized areas such as CM, DM, and portals.

Looking back from early 2005, I would not describe Microsoft inroads to content technology markets as “earth-shattering” or “competition-crushing”, but I would describe the marketing and technology development progress as calculated, consistent, broad, and more recently, deep. In 2003, Microsoft executives such as Jeff Raikes and Steve Ballmer discussed aspects of the information worker vision in detail through public “Executive E-mails”. Touching on issues such as content authoring, publishing, rights management, collaboration, and compliance, the Microsoft roadmap included highways such as Live Communications Server, Exchange Server, Project Server, Sharepoint Services and Rights Management Services with interconnected avenues such as LiveMeeting, OneNote, Office 2003, and InfoPath. According to Raikes, the vision — branded “Office System” — represented the company’s transition from a client applications provider (read: desktop/workgroup market for content technologies) to a client, server and services provider (read: enterprise market for content solutions.)

Thursday’s collaboration briefing was a solid message about the technology areas in which Microsoft feels “comfortable”, and in the words of the presenter, “areas in which we consider ourselves best of breed.” (Kurt DelBene, Corporate VP, Microsoft Office Servers Group) Considering that the primary flavor of the presentation stressed providing software and services as platforms for partner-driven solution development, it was interesting to note when “best of breed” was mentioned in the same breadth as “out of the box capabilities.” IOW, the ability of Microsoft to continue directly competing against ECM, DM, WCM, and portal vendors should clearly not be underestimated.

Other points of interest:

  • Microsoft is moving more content and collaborative functionalities to an infrastructure level, possibly affecting change for competitive differentiation in the content technologies market. IOW, do others follow and move more specialized capabilities to a commodity level? One of the more interesting discussed in this context was content-based privilege and rights management. Surely not a new subject (see Gilbane Report in 2001) but interesting nonetheless.
  • Microsoft strategy for a broad infrastructure functionalities coupled with a mammoth developer base assures that “build versus buy” is still a major competitive headache to suite and pureplay content technology vendors.
  • Microsoft is clearly still in the game of “out of the box” collaborative workspace solutions (i.e. LiveMeeting, SharePoint), directly competing with pure-play vendors and other platform titans like IBM (i.e. Workspace.)

And the beat goes on…