Global CIO: Steve Ballmer Interview: 'Hockey Stick' Cloud Growth Ahead

Microsoft CEO talks about new competition with Google, Amazon, and Salesforce, and why CIOs now are ready for cloud computing.
We've done really well winning enterprise customers, particularly with the BPOS [Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, which includes Exchange and SharePoint] line of products, very, very well, but we have some losses, some of which have been well publicized. But what we find is the first thing anybody does, even when we lose, they get to work with us hard core on their Active Directory infrastructure, because the importance of a clear and well managed directory and security environment is so much more, because there's always some things you've got to bridge between what's going on in the cloud and what's going on on premise as you move data back and forth.

So, customers are saying it's a different world. You know, there's always a class of CIO who wants to be the avant-garde of avant-garde, as there would be in any other community, but there is in the CIO community, and they're really pushing out there even faster. But even I'll call it the -- I won't call it the lagging edge, but the mainstream people are saying I'm ready for a lot of things to move to the cloud. And we see it in the volumes, the customer signups. We absolutely see it.

When we asked what besides cloud computing is high on the CIO agenda, Ballmer cited collaboration:

Ballmer: You really do hear a lot about collaboration. You really do. And everybody means something a little different about what is collaboration. To some it's how do we get the equivalent of social networking in the enterprise, to some it's frankly SharePoint --it has kind of helped define the category for a lot of enterprise CIOs, and I think you all know that's been kind of a rocket ship in terms of its adoption. And it's a Swiss Army Knife of a sort -- it's an enterprise search product, it's a BI product, it's a traditional collaboration product, it's a rapid application development platform for certain kinds of workflow applications. It's a lot of things. But it's about bringing people together in some kind of I'll call it semi-structured way, and that's what I think people mean by collaboration.

That is very much on people's minds. Certainly what they're doing with voice and presence and networking and IM is on people's minds. I put that all in this one topic.

Ballmer noted collaboration was hard to get on the CIO agenda five or six years ago. So we asked what had changed:

Ballmer: I think the theory of the situation is the push from the users -- you remember a lot of IT is end user driven -- the push from the users has continued to accelerate. That's one thing.

And No. 2, I think most people -- many people, not most -- many people have done their ERP thing. Let me just say it that way. They've done their ERP thing, and whatever the level of investment was that has gone into it is ramped down. It doesn't mean it's gone away. There was a period of rapid acceleration in ERP. The same thing on the Web site--got to have a Web site.

So, there were two big sort of phenomena if you go, say, probably from '95 to about 2005. Those two things sucked a lot of let's call it brainpower and capacity from the IT crowds in most companies. And I think both of them -- it's not like either one of them has gone away, but they're not ramping anymore, and the push from the users continues to ramp for better and better collaboration infrastructure as they see more and more things in their personal lives.

Global CIO small globe Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.

To find out more about Chris Murphy, please visit his page.

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