Has Ozzie got what it takes to ride a new tidal wave?

When one technology firm acquires another, the standard line is that the latter’s staff are its best asset. When Microsoft acquired Groove Networks earlier this year, its best asset may well prove to be just one member of staff: its founder, Ray Ozzie.

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By  Peter Branton Published  November 16, 2005

|~|ozziebody.jpg|~|Ray Ozzie is one of the firm’s three chief technology officers.|~|When one technology firm acquires another, the standard line is that the latter’s staff are its best asset. When Microsoft acquired Groove Networks earlier this year (see IT Weekly 19-25 March 2005), its best asset may well prove to be just one member of staff: its founder, Ray Ozzie. Ozzie has one of the most distinguished backgrounds in the IT industry, having been the original inventor of the workgroup software Lotus Notes. While he joined IBM after it acquired Lotus, he established Groove Networks in 1997, where he enhanced his reputation as a guru in the collaboration software space. At Microsoft, Ozzie is one of the firm’s three chief technology officers, reporting directly to head honcho Bill Gates himself. While he hasn’t been seen to do much — externally at least — to attract attention, the past few weeks have shown that he is very much central to Microsoft’s plans. Firstly, Ozzie was heavily involved in Microsoft’s recent announcement that it is to provide online-based versions of its flagship Windows and Office productivity tools (see IT Weekly 12- 18 November 2005). The plan there is to push hard into the ‘software as a service’ space, an area Microsoft has previously talked quite a lot about but has done comparatively little. An idea of how central Ozzie is to Microsoft’s plans can also be gleaned by the recent ‘leaking’ of a memo from him and a later memo from Gates himself. Ozzie’s memo stretches to nine pages, but Gates said in his own missive that it could prove to be one of the most important such messages that Microsoft has released in the past decade. The Ozzie memo could prove to be “as critical as The Internet Tidal Wave memo was when it came out” Gates said. The “Tidal Wave” memo is part of Microsoft’s history: it was Gates’ response to the challenges and opportunities raised by the growing influence of the internet. Ozzie’s own memo warns the company is now facing similar challenges: “while we continue to make good progress on many fronts, a set of very strong and determined competitors is laser-focused on internet services and service-enabled software,” he pointed out. More than one commentator has likened Ozzie’s memo to a laundry list of missed opportunities: as in 1995, the firm is being seen as slow to recognise potential threats and chances, in danger of being overtaken by nimbler rivals. Changing that around now seems to be Ozzie’s job. Gates said in his own memo that Ozzie’s role as CTO now covers leading Microsoft’s entire services strategy. “We did this because we believe our services challenges and opportunities will impact most everything we do,” Gates said. By referencing the 1995 Tidal Wave memo, Gates is clearly trying to create the same momentum — and success — that happened a decade ago. Then, the main competitor was Netscape, which Microsoft was able to overtake and defeat. While there are plenty of differences between 1995 and 2005, the main internal difference is that this push isn’t going to be led by Bill himself: giving such a key strategic role to such a newcomer to the Microsoft ranks is unheard of for the firm. Can Ozzie do it? He is greatly admired within the industry as a technology innovator, but his business track record is far less proven. Groove produced some pioneering technology, but garnered very few customers. Indeed, if it had been more successful, it is arguable that it wouldn’t have allowed itself to be bought by Microsoft and Ozzie wouldn’t be in his current position. Microsoft is making a big bet on services, it could be making just as big a one on Ozzie. ||**||

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