Banking

Where do you want to go today, eh?

In this column, Tim Landgrave argues that the case against Microsoft may just send the software giant packing to Canada. But regardless of the pull from the Great White North, there are many lessons that CIOs can and should take from the case.


Since Microsoft, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the gang of 19 states pursuing lawsuits against the company couldn’t come to an agreement on a settlement, the DOJ’s straw man judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, has handed down the predetermined verdict of “guilty as a monopoly.”

The word on the street is that the sticking point in the negotiations was the states’ desire to force a breakup, where the DOJ and Microsoft were willing to work on behavioral sanctions. If the states have their way and the judge orders a breakup, I could see Microsoft moving the nexus of their company to Vancouver, BC.

Microsoft would no longer be subject to a breakup ordered by the U.S. government and couldn’t be taxed for “exporting” its software to the U.S. because the NAFTA agreement prohibits import/export tariffs after the year 2000.

The U.S. loses one percent of its gross national product (GNP) and Canada gets to double its GNP. Other than the cost of reprinting business cards to add “eh?” to its tag line, Microsoft would have limited expenses in executing the move.

This might even start a trend for the U.S. In the future we could even see some of the NOISe coalition (Novell, Oracle, IBM, and Sun Microsystems) forced to relocate companies outside the U.S. to escape the DOJ’s shortsighted “punishment of the successful tech companies” strategy.

Although it’s certainly entertaining to have these discussions/arguments with our friends and neighbors, it’s more important to take a look at the whole situation from a corporate viewpoint and see what we can learn from it.

Does DOJ=CIO?
In many ways, the CIO’s job is like that of the DOJ. The CIO’s corporate departments consider themselves to be software companies, such as Microsoft and those that make up the NOISe coalition.

The CIO’s responsibility is making sure that all departments in the organization are abiding by “the rules” when it comes to implementing technology. In many organizations, the CIO allows the applications required by specific departments to drive the central computing strategy. In others, the CIO “lays down the law” on what specific technologies must be used to implement new systems.

Another major task of the CIO is to referee the disagreements between competing factions in the user departments who insist that their standards should take precedence when considering competing platforms and applications.

The CIO has to make intelligent decisions about whether his or her company is better served by having a single standard platform from a limited number of vendors, developed through evolution (or revolution), or whether the company needs to have the best technology available for any department to utilize.

What lessons can we learn from the Microsoft/DOJ fiasco?
The first lesson the CIO can learn from the Microsoft case is that if the “market” (or in the CIO’s case, the user community) has decided overwhelmingly in favor of a single standard, it’s foolhardy to create artificial reasons to make the “market” open up. There's not a single survey of the population at large that hasn’t concluded that standardization on the Microsoft platform has provided significant customer benefit.

Moreover, surveys also show that most of the U.S. population—whose taxes pay DOJ salaries—doesn’t agree with the DOJ’s attacks against Microsoft. In the next 12 to 18 months you should expect to see significant political fallout over the DOJ’s position on punishing successful and innovative technology companies.

CIOs who make decisions about platforms without consulting departments that have longstanding preferences and histories for the platforms on which they’ve implemented application will also pay a huge political toll.

Another lesson the CIO should learn from this situation is that if the “penalties” for not playing ball with the information systems group are too severe, then key technical contacts within user departments may also decide to seek out their fortunes in the “Great White North.”

In general, CIOs and their staffs don’t give enough credit to the unofficial “technical support staffs” that form within user departments. These individuals remove a significant load from the central IS staff by performing local installation, configuration, support, and training activities that the central staff would otherwise have to perform.

When CIOs and their staff decide to implement new standards and policies without consulting the local gurus, they run the risk of driving away these technical resources and having to back fill with their own staff. Given the significant shortage of technical resources in today’s market, CIOs would be well served to consider the impact of their technology decisions on these “unofficial” support resources.

The politics behind high tech success
What can user department heads learn from the Microsoft/DOJ brouhaha? The major lesson is that user departments shouldn’t try to do things in a vacuum. It’s widely known that a lot of Microsoft’s problems today are rooted in the fact that it basically ignored Washington (D.C.) politics while its competitors were pouring millions of dollars into the coffers of lobbyists and narrow-minded state senators’ campaigns (like Orrin Hatch of Utah, home to “victim” Novell).

These competitors have been able to parlay this investment into a significant decision by a DOJ-friendly judge that will now cost Microsoft millions of dollars to overcome. User departments would be wise to make sure that their IS departments know about their significant accomplishments, their upcoming plans, and their contributions to minimizing the overall cost of supporting technology in the organization.

Waiting until decisions are “handed down” from IS as the right time to trumpet their accomplishments is a sure-fire way for department managers to have their successes ignored.

Will Microsoft move to Canada? Will the DOJ go after the next successful company? These are not questions that you can answer nor have any real control over. What you can do is learn from the situation and make changes in the way you deal with technology standards in your organization.
What corporate conclusions have you drawn from the Microsoft case? Will Microsoft head north? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail .

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