At a conference this week at which Microsoft explained how it intends to unify its rambling applications offerings, Mike Ehrenberg (architect for Microsoft’s MBS products) mentioned that Microsoft was “investigating”an MDM product offering. It should be said that Microsoft should be in an excellent position to understand the problem of inconsistent master data, at least within their own portfolio of business software products. Through a series of acquisitions they have assembled no less than five distinctly overlapping products for SMEs, and have manifestly failed to explain how any of this resembles a strategy. This mess has enabled innovative newcomers like Ataio make steady progress in what should really be Microsoft’s natural turf, as customers have been bemused by Microsoft’s seeming inability to articulate which technologies they were really intending to invest in. The answer, it seems, is all of them – MSFT will “converge” their five products “no sooner than 2009” (unofficially, 2011 is a target date I have heard from an insider). The most amusing line in the article was: “The MBS products, Gates said, “have more head room for growth than just about any business we’re in.” This is about as backhanded a compliment as one can think of: I have heard that Microsoft management is very unhappy about the lack of progress in this division, so this comment is like saying to a sports team that just came bottom of the league “we now have more room to improve than anyone”.
Microsoft seems perennially to struggle in the enterprise software market, despite its vast resources, huge brand and marketing clout. It essentially stumbled into the DBMS marketplace; I have it on good authority that Gates originally approached Larry Ellison with a view to bundling Oracle as the DBMS on Windows NT, and it was only after being spurned that Microsoft decided to launch SQL Server out of the ashes of the Sybase code-base it had purchased (this is a piece of hubris that Oracle may live to regret). In Excel and Analysis Services Microsoft has the most ubiquitous business intelligence software out there, yet has hardly any mind-share in this market. Perhaps it is just not in Microsoft’s DNA to really relish the enterprise software market, when its business model is above all about high volume, and large enterprises demand endless tinkering and specialization of software to their specific needs.
Based on the train-wreck that is Microsoft’s enterprise applications strategy, I wouldn’t count on a strong MDM product entry any time soon.