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Why buy Microsoft?

Lots of criticism is leveled against the vendor. It doesn’t lead; its software is costly. But there are good reasons to do things the Windows way.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Business Information: A glimpse into the future reveals business apps in the cloud:

Thirty-five years ago, during the days of the mainframe, corporate software selection generally centered on IBM. Big Blue's dominance at the time -- sometimes portrayed as an Orwellian control over the market -- gave way to pluralism in the market as new trends and needs in software emerged.

Along came the ERP era, for example: SAP and Oracle were established as new leaders. Later, we saw the CRM phase (remember Siebel CRM Systems Inc.?). More recently, cloud computing has become the latest backdrop -- and technology-hype cycle -- in corporate application software. Consider the success of Salesforce.com and NetSuite Inc.

Of course, these new "generations" of application software come to life only to the extent that they provide value to the business. And whether they do has more to do with how the software is used in an environment than which software provider is selected.

Microsoft has often been criticized for its lack of innovation and being a me-too provider in the cloud.

So switching providers is not the key to bringing about expected benefits from technology. In fact, switching software providers is a huge nuisance. While some providers may argue that they are the one-stop-shop for all technology needs, I would argue that Microsoft is an underrated leader, especially if total cost of ownership is given priority in the discussion. So let’s explore the reasons to buy Microsoft.

Why buying Microsoft makes sense

As we march into what is arguably the next chapter of technology-enabled business practice, Microsoft has often been criticized for its lack of innovation and being a me-too provider in the cloud and in key business applications, such as CRM and ERP. Many technologists have questioned why a Microsoft purchasing roadmap makes sense when it has rarely been an innovator, but rather, more of a follower. Microsoft has been bitterly criticized for its "halfway" approach to the cloud as well: creating cloud-based versions of its offerings but sometimes offering some features only when customers buy a cloud-based and on-premises license. Others have questioned the company's partner strategy, which appears misaligned and unclear; it's as though Microsoft outsourced its own sales and service to focus on its products.

But if not a leader in some of the cutting-edge technologies that dominate today -- that is, mobile, social and cloud computing -- Microsoft is a willing learner, and once it catches on, it can often perfect on the foundation. This has been the case with Microsoft's platform-as-a-service offering, Azure, as well as Dynamics CRM, which has tripled its market share over the past four years. Microsoft's offerings have three attributes that I would highlight as a competitive advantage:

1. Breadth of product offerings. Microsoft is probably the only provider that offers high-quality software in all areas companies need software for: (1) end user (desktops, tablets, phones); (2) infrastructure (data center, security); (3) databases, (4) framework (Web design, programming language); and (5) business applications (ERP, CRM). It's like building a Lego sculpture: you buy only what you need and the pieces connect well with one another. This speeds implementations, simplifies ongoing maintenance, improves agility and user experience, all ultimately translating into cost savings.

2. Reduced labor cost. Microsoft's partner strategy and extensive presence allows for a competitive specialist market, which lowers labor cost. As an example, the website PayScale shows the median salary of an ABAP programmer in Canada to be approximately $81,ooo, while a comparable .NET programmer would make $55,ooo. That survey included 61 ABAP programmers and 1,160 .NET programmers, which is indicative of the greater prevalence of .NET compared with ABAP programmers in the market. This means faster and higher-quality recruiting.

3. Cloud computing/on-premises flexibility. Microsoft has publically declared that 100% of its products will be available on-premises and in the cloud, and the software will be interchangeable, so companies can work in the cloud and have those changes sync back to their on-premises systems. As with any cloud vendor, you can use the software on the cloud with minimal investment, which is beneficial. But once you reach a critical mass of users, it might be more economical to bring it on-premises, which in Microsoft's case can be done without having to retrain users. Licensing can be optimized. Many other vendors offer cloud and on-premises as well, Microsoft's added value is that integration between cloud and on-premises products is enabled. This is typically the biggest challenge with cloud implementations.

Over the past 20 years, Microsoft has incorporated every new generation of technology that has emerged. While it may be late to the party at times, it always comes through. The three unique characteristics of Microsoft outlined prove that total cost of ownership of its products is lower compared with the competition. So the question really is, "Why not Microsoft?"

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This was last published in January 2015

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What tips do you have for rising in the IT ranks?
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This is a loaded question, and much of it depends on what you mean by rising in the ranks. If by rising you mean becoming a technical specialist, and becoming a more seasoned veteran, nothing beats working on interesting projects and sharing the lessons learned with others. though it is just an opinion, I feel those who are both technically qualified and effective at sharing what they know with others to make their whole team more effective will be able to grow and develop, whereas those who jealously guard their skills will ultimately not excel and advance.
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I agree with Michael...it really all depends on the meaning of rising in the ranks. But I believe communication and having all-around skills in different areas will help you reach your goals. 
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Consider that rising in the ranks would probably one day mean having people report to you, so make sure that is something you'd like.
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If you're interested in moving into a managerial/leadership role, then I would recommend not focusing solely on your technical skills. I know that frequently the most senior, technically skilled people are eventually promoted into management, but that does not make them good managers. In my opinion, too many managers in IT are interested in managing technology, but not managing people.
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As others have said, increase your skills. That includes added technical certifications as well as management expertise. Clear and concise writing (not coding, but person-to-person communication) is essential.

If you hope to move into management, consider teaching now. Simple, informal sessions are fine, just some way to convey the skills you've acquired. Your efforts won't go unnoticed by those above you and you'll be building a strong group of supporters among your fellow workers.
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abuell makes a good point, in that for many, rising in the ranks means management. It doesn't have to, though. If you like the idea of having authority over a team and making hiring/firing/performance decisions, then yes, you will need to change your focus and work towards learning how to administer a business. the tradeoff will be that many of the technical skills that matter to you may not be used.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to ride in the ranks as a skilled craftsperson and develop recognition as a mater at what you do, then technical skills are the main area you ned to focus your attention, but even then, the administering of business functions and teams are important to know and understand. If you have a healthy understanding of both, you are more useful to an organization than if you are heavily slanted one way of the other.
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IT all depends on your end goal. If technical is where you want to be stay current with the trends. If management is your other direction, taking more job responsibility and looking for ways to improve the company as well as some business management courses would not hurt.
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Best thing you can do is learn constantly and present yourself as a problem solver and productive asset to the company. Beyond that, rising through the ranks will happen. But phrased the way it is here only makes it seem like a contest where you're climbing over the backs of other employees to get to the top. That's just bad for company morale and for cooperation within and across departments.
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With the ever evolving IT world we live in, the ability to rise in the organization depends on your understanding of the specific organization you are working within.  As many have noted, if you are wanting to be a technical leader, then you have to determine what skills you need to stay relevant,  you need to determine what skills are are important to your organization, and what strategic thinking you can give to the organization that makes you stand out among the rest.

If you are wanting to be in management, this usually becomes more difficult.  You have to understand the political landscape.  You have to understand what goals the organization and the board of directors or stakeholders are looking for.  You have to understand who are the key decision makers within your organization and make sure you are supporting them.

But always always always - regardless of what skill you are trying to build, or what ladder you are trying to climb, you have to be able to respect your boss, and look for ways to make them look good --- and most importantly, as Jeffrey Fox says in "How to Become CEO" - look for ways to make your boss' boss look even better.  It's critical to ensure that your leaders understand your competencies and your abilities.  Execution is king.  If you can execute, and they can see it, then you will be seen as someone who should be rising.

Also, the ability to move to the next level is not linked to how well you do the "current level".  You show competencies in your abilities to do the next level even BEFORE you are there.  Soon those around you will be saying you deserve it.  My advice is to always ensure that if and when you ARE promoted up the ladder, no one will ever question or doubt the reasons for the organization doing so.
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Thanks for your comments thus far. Some of you seem to have delineated between business skills and management and IT skills. Which do you think is more important for IT workers who want to advance?
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Thank you very much for your comments! I'd like to highlight an interesting point that seems to be trending here: that advancing one's career in IT doesn't necessarily mean taking management roles. Thats a fair point. For example, enterprise architects can earn a lot of credibility (and higher compensation) without becoming managers. This is quite typical in Academia, Engineering, Consulting or Research companies, where highly competent individual contributors are named "fellows" or something similar, and get the same recognition as executives. I wish this type of career path was more prevalent in business in general though.
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IT skills will take you so far till you hit the management ceiling. That's the point where you can only advance if there is a new title position open. It may have requirements that your IT skills would keep you from qualifying for. You could have excellent IT knowledge and coding skill but if the title position requires say a masters degree you are stuck where you are.
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The Geek Whisperers podcast is a great resource to hear real stories from people about how their careers have advanced.
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I think it all comes down to market share. People tend to go mainstream and who they are most comfortable with. I think it's unlikely if you are currently a Microsoft shop you will switch your shop to new technologies. It could be a big investment of time and costly for new training and hardware.
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Inertia. There are better programs at markedly better prices. But everyone "knows" Microsoft, everyone uses it, and there's almost no learning curve.

When the office is full, minor changes can make major waves. Even a tiny learning curve means lost time, lost productivity and lost sales.
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