Windows to the Darwinian Dilemma

4 Nov, 2007

Microsoft Global High Tech Summit 2007 tackles Web 2.0 collaboration hurdles facing today's manufacturers.

Microsoft's Global High Tech Summit 2006 explored the birth of the Flat World with the help of globalization guru Thomas Friedman. At the Global High Tech Summit 2007, held at the Fairmont in San Jose, California, on October 25, Microsoft examined what it takes to survive in the New World.

Geoffrey Moore, a keynote speaker, has a unified theory of the evolution of markets. According to his book Dealing with Darwin (Portfolio Hardcover, 2005), businesses can prevent their own extinction -- "not by throwing resources wildly at every innovation, but by moving forward with precision, courage, and smart timing."

But before they can winnow down myriad new product ideas to a few promising ones, companies will have to deal with the mixed climate of Web 2.0, which can be both advantageous and treacherous. People's pervasive use of MySpace, Facebook, and IM (instant messaging) to stay in touch with friends and colleagues blurs the line between social and professional interactions. Confidential ideas from closed-door meetings sometimes find their ways onto private blogs, public forums, and YouTube. Collaboration, a critical part of innovation, might take place in some unsanctioned corners of the network, or even outside the firewalls.

Darwin's principle -- "survival of the fittest" -- is still applicable in the New World, but with a twist. Here, fitness is about being amphibious, about maneuvering on seemingly incompatible terrains. It's about balancing security and openness.

Public Exposure
During the two weeks between September 23 and October 12, the staff of KRC Research, headquartered in Washington D.C., interviewed people by phone. The firm had been hired by Microsoft to conduct a survey on the use of collaboration tools among the business decision makers (BDMs) and technology decision makers (TDMs). Their targets were the head honchos of high-tech firms with annual revenues of $150 millions or more, operating with 500 employees or more.

Click for larger image The KRC Research study on the use of collaboration tools, commissioned by Microsoft, reveals that a significant segment of the business decision makers (BDMs) and technology decision makers (TDMs) are using publicly available applications to exchange sensitive data, including CAD files and schematics. (Click image for larger version)

Click for larger image Nearly all the companies surveyed report that they have policies governing the release of confidential data. But the same survey shows legal departments and chief technology offices usually take the lead in establishing such policies, while engineers, designers, and project managers play secondary roles. (Click image for larger version)

The results reveal that e-mail and phone are the most popular collaboration tools, and the vast majority of both BDMs (78%) and TDMs (85%) report that their organizations use at least one publicly available collaboration tool.

Perhaps that's nothing new, but here's what's troubling: "Many types of proprietary information is communicated with publicly available tools, with product plans or technical data being sent most frequently ... and the vast majority of information is contained in standard Microsoft Office documents such as Word, Excel, [PowerPoint], etc."


  • In terms of noncompany communication tools, employees use public e-mail systems (30% of BDMs, 43% of TDMs), personal FTP tools (29% of BDMs, 47% of TDMs), Internet-based faxing (32% of BDMs, 38% of TDMs) and personal IM (25% of BDMs, 33% of TDMs).

  • Using these publicly available tools, employees reported communicating proprietary information such as pricing or financial data (55% of BDMs, 51% of TDMs) and contracts and legal agreements (49% of BDMs, 53% of TDMs).

"The old school IT thinking has always been, 'Let's lock it down, let's close this firewall,'" observed Drew Gude, Microsoft's acting industry solutions director for high tech manufacturing. "The reality is, people will find ways to get around that."

"With some organizations, their [communication] infrastructures are aging," added Tyler Bryson, Microsoft's general manager for U.S. Manufacturing Industry. "So what do people do? They find a way to collaborate. They install AOL instant messenger, then swap CATIA files over e-mail."

These impromptu data exchange sessions may not go away even when the IT manager puts in place a piece of collaboration software. If the users feel that the prescribed solution is too complex or too restrictive, they'll continue to use their IM window to connect with the offshore partners.

A large segment of the survey participants expressed a desire for the abilities to "manage users' access rights to sensitive documents, such as product plans and contract details" and "encrypt e-mails/IMs between their companies and suppliers."

Click for larger image Survey participants express a desire for more tools to manage user access to sensitive data, to encrypt e-mail and IM communications between them and their suppliers, and to see when employees and partners are available for collaboration sessions. (Click image for larger version)

Corporate Facebook
In her breakout session, "Strengthening Value Chain Partnerships," Linda Pfost, Intel's IT director of enterprise collaboration engineering, recounted a collaboration miracle.

One day, on the company's internal engineering forum, someone in Folsom, California, posted a message inquiring if anyone had ever worked on a solar-powered server. Soon, someone from New Mexico answered, with documents and data from a previous project where the same concept had been explored. (It's unclear whether this project is still active. Pfost was unable to provide more info.)

"Being able to look for a person who happens to be an expert in a particular area," Pfost pointed out, should be a function of the corporate directory. "All of a sudden, unexpectedly, you could be collaborating with the person from another area," she said.

But why stop there? Why not have a networking interface that displays whether someone is available to be contacted and how he or she likes to be reached (via e-mail, IM, or phone)? What she was suggesting is akin to a companywide MySpace or Facebook set-up.

This may explain, in part, why the Windows giant just forked over $240 million for a tiny morsel (1.6% stake) of the popular social networking site Facebook. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Google "reportedly also had been wooing Facebook and already has a $900 million advertising deal with MySpace, Facebook's biggest competitor" ("Microsoft Buys Stake in Facebook," October 25, 2007). The deal with Facebook gives Microsoft a chance to reach the same demographic its archrival Google has been penetrating via MySpace.

With some companies, "their innovative differentiator is not necessarily in some of their products but in their marketing methods, in their ability to delight the retailers," Bryson remarked. "So companies like these are looking at MySpace and Facebook to figure out what the next generation is like, and how they might receive their products."

Swimming Upstream
In an audio interview about Dealing with Darwin, author Moore remarked, "When I was writing the first four books, by and large, technology trickled down from the enterprise to the consumers. This is the decade where technology is starting from the consumers and trickling up to the enterprise."

In this consumer-driven culture, the end users are empowered to shape their workspace. If MySpace and Facebook are their preferred collaboration media, the high-tech giants will have to find a way to satisfy that need, by either incorporating them into the enterprise architecture or providing something comparable.

But how can these all-embracing consumer technologies be repackaged to fit the security needs of manufacturing? Will introducing the necessary restrictive and discretionary measures reduce the tools' appeal? It's the dilemma that won't go away anytime soon.

For more, read "Windows to the Flat World," Cadalyst Daily, October 12, 2006. For more about Geoffrey Moore and his books, visit his Web site.