>Bill Gates and Enterprise Architecture

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On July 1, Bill Gates is stepping down from his day-to-day duties at Microsoft, but will continue to serve as Chairman. Bill Gates grew Microsoft into the worldwide software development leader with revenue of $51 billion for fiscal year ending June 2007 and 78,000 employees in 105 countries and regions.

As the prior CEO and chief software (and technical) architect it is definitely worthwhile to look at the legacy that Bill is leaving behind at Microsoft.

Fortune Magazine, 7 July 2008, provides four lasting imprints that Bill Gates is leaving on Microsoft and here are my thoughts on these as relates to enterprise architecture:

  1. Software can do anything—Gates has a “utopian view of software. He believes it can do anything.” Like Bill Gates, we need to believe in the mission of our organization. Such belief is critical in inspiring passion for and dedication to what we do. However, blind belief that any one thing can do anything is folly. For example, software without hardware is a no-go as is hardware without software. Both are non-starters without the people to innovatively apply them to our greatest challenges.
  2. Engineers rule—“Microsoft employees about 30,000 programmers among its 90,000 employees. In operating groups, engineers are involved in every major decision…Microsoft $8 billion computer science R&D lab is the world’s largest” Engineers are critical to solving our challenges, but you should not ignore marketing and sales either. Marketing and sales reach out and touch the people. You cannot ignore the human aspect to solving problems. Maybe it partially Microsoft’s obsessive engineering approach that has left it vulnerable on the people side, for example: “Apple’s biting ad campaign has successful painted Windows as uncool.”
  3. “Institutionalize paranoia”—“’It’s very Microsoft to prepare for the worst,’ says Gates…Bill and Steve (Ballmer) created what I guess I’d characterize as a culture of crisis,’ says chief software architect, Ray Ozzie. There’s always someone who’s going to take the company down.” Paranoia is a disorder, but fighting for competitive advantage is reality. Your competitors are not laying down to die; they are fighting for their professional lives, and you need to meet the challenge every day if you want to be the best out there.
  4. “Invest for the long term”—“Whatever the cycle is, we will keep investing through the cycle, because we know on the other side of whatever cycle happens, there is opportunity,” says entertainment division president Robbie Bach. The approach for long term planning is very enterprise architecture focused. However, the architecture planning without the good governance to administer structured, consistent, collaborative decision making is not very workable. Planning without effective decision making and enforcement falls short on the execution side. Again, perhaps here too, Microsoft could benefit from a less top heavy culture and a more open decision process, where all project and product stakeholders have a serious voice at the table. Then turning over the reins from Bill will not be as traumatic requiring approximately four years of preparation and turnover.

In the end, Microsoft is truly terrific company and Bill Gates is leaving a company that is nothing short of spectacular. Of course, even the best can get better with continuous learning and innovation and that is the next chapter for Microsoft in the world of the likes of Google and Apple.

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