A Plan for Software

Fortune writes about the way ahead for software – web services. It has an interesting part about what Microsoft is doing:

The “module map,” as it’s known at Microsoft, is the product of a kind of business genome project. As with the human genome project, which helps researchers target drugs at particular genes, the module map helps Microsoft target software at particular processes within a business…Microsoft intends to make all that targeted software interoperable and interconnectable, like virtual Lego blocks. The map shows which parts of business need automation and provides a framework for seeing how all the software will fit together.

That notion of collaboration was crucial to Norm Judah’s development of the module map. To make the map Judah dispatched a small team of researchers early last year to closely examine dozens of companies. The schematic they came up with six months later breaks down the flows of information within and between companies, as well as the groupings of capabilities and functional roles companies typically have. Boxes within boxes are interconnected with lines and arrows that represent these information flows: who sends faxes to whom, where the e-mail goes, who calls whom to make such and such a decision, and so forth. Rather than “human resources department” and “sales,” the map is broken down into four main areas: Develop Product/Service, Generate Demand, Fulfill Demand, and Plan and Manage Enterprise. Running across the middle is a fifth box called Collaboration.

It’s this middle box that’s the most interesting. That’s the part that Judah really wants to nail. His understanding of the importance of collaboration came out of his field observations. He recalls watching a purchasing manager: “We took a photograph of one lady’s desk. It looks like what you’d imagine. There are papers everywhere. There’s a spreadsheet of client activities that she’s working on, and she was managing most of the orders at this particular company. There were orders going on, and faxes and e-mail communications going on. It was a lot of ‘I can’t meet your shipment requirements. I can’t give you ten; I can only give you nine.’ This lady was in fact living with several in-boxes–some on her computer, some in folders, some in desk drawers–and there was no connection between those in any way. Now, what do we do to tie it together so that we can make her life easier?”

As for why Microsoft is so hot for smaller business customers, the answer appears to be that the company sees the low end of the market as wide-open, underserved territory. “The market for applications for small and mid-market businesses is tens of billions of dollars per year,” says CEO Steve Ballmer.

David Vaskevitch, Microsoft’s chief technology officer–and Norm Judah’s boss–has another reason why this market is so attractive. “Writing business software for small and medium businesses is infinitely easier than doing the same for very large businesses,” he says. “It allows us to do more in less time and to do a more complete job.”

Vaskevitch sees small businesses the way a cellphone company sees a Third World country: There’s no entrenched, obsolete infrastructure you have to deal with. “We may not only help small companies get there first,” he says. “We may even do a more complete job.”

This is the thinking and approach we need to take for Emergic Enterprise, our own integrated e-business suite for SMEs in emerging markets.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.