Ozzie sees IT role for 'Live' services

Just days before he succeeded Bill Gates as Microsoft Corp.'s chief software architect, Ray Ozzie last week heralded a new era of "services disruption" that he claimed will transform the way enterprise IT infrastructures and business systems are designed, deployed, managed and used.

But the attempt by Ozzie, then Microsoft's chief technical officer, to spin a corporate IT angle for the company's Internet-based "Live" services strategy failed to strike a uniformly resonant chord. IT professionals at Microsoft's TechEd 2006 conference in Boston were mixed on whether they think their companies will take advantage of the services in the next couple of years -- or if they ever will.

"I'm very skeptical," said Justin Smith, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based senior messaging and collaboration administrator atSodexho Inc.Smith said the food and management services company's IT department is accustomed to delivering a certain level of technical support that he isn't sure an outside vendor could reliably match. "I believe in having assets internal rather than external, if it's a cost wash or similar," he added.

But Ozzie's name alone carried enough credibility for David Porter, a software engineer at Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.in Mayfield Village, Ohio, to at least give the services pitch consideration. Porter said he has been impressed with Ozzie since he gained fame as the father of Notes at Lotus Development Corp. Ozzie later founded Groove Networks Inc., which Microsoft acquired last year.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft isn't suggesting that IT departments make a whole-hog switch from packaged software to online services. Ozzie said the company recognizes that the transformation will occur over a period of years. Microsoft is taking a "very pragmatic approach," blending desktop and server software with a set of its own enterprise service offerings, plus others provided by business partners, he noted. That will enable IT managers to "make the right trade-offs" for their companies, he said.

Ozzie and other Microsoft executives cited several examples of services that might appeal to corporate IT managers. An IT department could offload e-mail to Microsoft's Exchange Hosted Services. Windows Live Search, which is in beta testing, will allow end users to bring together in a single query information from their PCs, Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software, enterprise applications and the Internet.