Ballmer Sketches Microsoft's People-Centric Vision

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dropped by a customer gathering in New York on Thursday to inaugurate a marketing campaign that hails Microsoft's software as the key to building "People Ready" companies that derive maximum value from their employees.

The event--heavy on business platitudes and light on product news--featured demonstrations of Microsoft products for collaboration, communication and analytics, among other tasks. "The real heart-and-soul theme that I'm hearing these days is, 'How do I drive growth?', not just 'How do I cut costs?'. It's only people that will accelerate that in all businesses," Ballmer said. "If your people have a new idea, software facilitates them going in new directions."

Partners at the event said they agreed with Microsoft's message about the essential role software plays in optimizing productivity.

"It's good to see Microsoft speak specifically to the business audience," said David Wallen, director of business development at DataLan, a systems integrator in White Plains, N.Y. DataLan was at the event to showcase its custom product portfolio management system, which builds on Microsoft's SQL Server and SharePoint technology. "We agree with [Ballmer's] message about a focus on people."

"We're partners. We've already been drinking the Kool-Aid," said Robin Williams, DataLan's director of technology.

Services firm Resolute displayed SharePoint solutions customized for financial services and aimed at Wall Street firms. Regional general manager Christopher Paradise said the event gave him a chance to connect with top executives from Resolute's target customer base. "Steve [Ballmer] is the draw," he said. "He always brings out the crowd."

At a press conference after his keynote, Ballmer touted Microsoft's full pipeline of upcoming products, notably Windows Vista, slated to be released later this year. Asked about the IT industry's slow growth in recent years, he pointed to a lack of innovative offerings for business customers.

Ballmer also took a few whacks at IBM. He said Big Blue's vision is to drive business improvement by sending in armies of its consultants, whereas Microsoft's answer is software.

"I think there's still a fairly prevalent view that IBM is a technology company as opposed to a services and consulting company," Ballmer said. "That may not be the case."

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