Saving Money in IT: Maximizing Value is Key (+ review of new U2 album)

In a recent post to a blog, a writer, Guy Creese, writes that the key to saving money in IT is ‘granularity’. In short- he suggests that the IT cost-saving key is to figure out what the basic use experiences are for people and match them to the cheapest software that suits those needs. I respect his view, and I hope he doesn’t mind if I politely disagree.

Regarding Microsoft Office he says:

“Somebody needs a productivity suite? Give them Microsoft Office. It does everything and then some. In many cases, it does more than the employee needs; but there's no easy way to get Microsoft Office lite from Microsoft.”

Granted, there is such a thing as overkill. You see it happen all of the time in the business you are in. And, IT has certainly been guilty of excess. I recall in the 90’s when there was comparatively low oversight for IT budgets, and the largesse that many IT departments passed off as ‘essential needs’ was embarrassing. Custom applications were the rage, and many of them were essentially killing gnats with cannons. This, and a number of other factors, contributed to the ‘giant popping sound’ that was the .com bubble in 2001.

Given the current economic conditions and the budget stress that many companies are feeling, the importance of extracting the maximum value from any investment could not be overstated. I liken this value maximization to how I pack for one of the backpacking trips I take each year with my sons. When I pack for a multi-day trip in the mountains, I can only take things that serve more than one function. The proverbial ‘swiss army knife’ is a great example. It makes much more sense taking a sturdy, battle-proven, multi-functioned utility like that than carry around a tackle-box full of separate items. Sure, I may never use the corkscrew, but this doesn’t cause me to lose any sleep, and, like Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) would probably say, that corkscrew may do more than pull corks when a need arises.

Microsoft Office, as a suite of applications and technologies serves a very large audience with varying needs. The applications appear comparatively simple and easy-to-use for the beginner, but they have the chops to match the needs of the demanding expert as the need arises. It  is a testament to the amazing usability and flexibility of the applications that a loving grandmother in Tokyo can comfortably use Word to type letters to her family while a legal firm uses the same application as the basis for a complex business solution that helps them manage the workflow of legal matters from induction through trial and resolution. The number of ways that the Office applications are used among the hundreds of millions of people who employ them is impressive.

Further, Microsoft Office is positioned in the marketplace as a high-value play. Consider that some other business applications have only one application in the package and cost around $1000.00 (USD) where as the Microsoft Office suite has multiple applications with industry-leading:

  • UI design
  • Help system
  • Web integration (Outlook Web Access, Excel Services, Project Server,. . .)
  • Data loss prevention
  • Support
  • Customizability

Overall, Microsoft Office delivers an enormous amount of value for a comparatively low price. It serves a vast and heterogeneous population of users and yet what people don’t need in a given applications doesn’t get in the way. I would say that the more accurate challenge Microsoft Office has is not that it does too much but that we have not done the best job in helping people understand all that it can do and how it can save people time, money, and resources. Time after time, when people learn about features and abilities in Microsoft Office, they have an epiphany and get very excited about using them.

And, it makes sense that Office has such rich power and capability: Our customers have demanded it! At Microsoft, we didn’t whimsically add features to the applications! The applications, features, and designs are the result of a nearly incalculable amount of due-diligence. We listen intently to our customers and invest heavily in focus groups, and research. The various feature priorities are further vetted through a very demanding process often including test-runs with customers before they ever make it into the product. Do we sometimes still miss the mark a little? In my opinion—sure. I think that is true. I’ve never been part of a perfect anything. But, overall, I think we do a pretty good job, and there is lots of evidence that this is so.

So, returning to the original thesis: The key to saving money in IT is not figuring out what the least common denominator is and then fetching an application or technology to match it. The real key is to figure out what the variety of needs one has in the business and determine which application or technology delivers the best value. This is an arena where Microsoft Office does and can continue to win.

But, what about that part where “there’s no easy way to get a [lite version of Office] from Microsoft”? Well, it’s not so hard actually. We do have ‘lite’ and ‘beefy’ (colloquially speaking) versions of Microsoft Office. In fact, we are more nuanced than that. Fortunately, they’re available at a lot of stores, and I’ve never heard of huge difficulties finding them.

Finally, it would be a mistake to not include in this value proposition how Microsoft Office works with other software and technologies—both Microsoft and non-Microsoft. Microsoft Office has built-in power to connect to all sorts of systems, data sources, and applications. Coupled with our SharePoint technologies and our Microsoft Exchange and Unified communications platform and you are looking at incredible value. Moreover, beneath all of these applications and technologies is extensibility and programmability power that lets you surface disparate systems and data sources through custom applications served up in the familiar Office UI. Yeah, I may sound a little too ‘market-y’ here, but I’ve been saying these same things for years.

My perspective on the things comes from many years as a consultant/architect/author/ and now Microsoft employee. I’ve seen the innards of many companies and their systems. I’ve seen lots of mistakes made in IT (and contributed to enough of them to learn better), and the value-driven approach is one that I have observed stand the test of time.

OK—I need to get home and help my kids with (the granularity of their) homework . . .

Rock Thought of the Day:

I have the new U2 album, “No Line on the Horizon”. As always, there are some new things happening here while remaining a clearly U2 offering. Bono pushes his vocals in some new and interesting ways. The rhythm section has never sounded better, and it is just exciting to hear that side of things. The Edge continues to explore new ways of using delay and evoking landscapes of sound in that medium. On the whole, I would summarize the sounds (doing violence to the detail here) that this is the best learnings of Achtung Baby and everything since then plus some new magic that is the wellspring of U2. Only two songs irked me, but I won’t tell you which ones. All of this said, I would add that I want this band to go further, to take bigger risks. I am one of those who really liked the ‘Pop’ album/phase of U2. They took big risks and let their creativity soar. They took us along for the ride. Of course, I can see why some fans just couldn’t go that far. But, if one wants to claim the title of ‘biggest band in the world’, then you need to push the boundaries out in a way no one else can—just as if there were no line on the horizon.

Rock On

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