Podium: An exciting time to do business in

From the inaugural lecture of the London Business School given by the CEO of Microsoft Corporation
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
This is a great time to be in the world of business. Business will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50. The way that people find and match buyers and sellers will be radically different. That is the fundamental mechanism of capitalism and the Internet is bringing a new level of efficiency to it.

The way that information flows inside a company will be different. In the past, employees had to work with very little information. They had a creative idea about how to change the product or price it in a new way, but they really did not have the foundation to recommend that things be changed.

With digital advances, the cost of doing this the right way and empowering those people has now become very small. Most companies are already investing in the infrastructure that is required. They are buying PCs, they are connecting them in a network and they have got connections out to the Internet.

I have had business leaders come to me and ask what they should do to adapt to this new age. In some ways they view it as an opportunity. They know that they can improve the decision processes; they know that the way that they have bought and sold things can be far more effective.

Business leaders are also afraid, because they see new companies being started up that take the Internet as a given. It is really important to give these leaders a metric to say how much they are achieving here: a simple metric like saying that an employee can sit down at a screen and find any memo written in the past that might relate to their current project.

Business is all about empowering people, getting more out of their thinking, and it requires a new approach to do that. You can ask yourself, as a CEO, have you taken all the paper forms in the company and decreed that they should all go away?

People were stunned when I said that two years ago because they thought: `We have created all these nice forms and that is the way we are used to doing business.'

In fact, the systems that we have replaced the paper with are a lot better; in fact, they are subject to constant feedback. Everything we have, you can send us comments on and tell us how it could be improved for you personally or how it needs to adjust to new business conditions. There is a lot of velocity here, a need to respond to dynamic markets in a better way, a need to have what I call `better business reflexes'.

Overall, an organisation requires leadership from the top. Even though a typical CEO will have grown up in an age in which there were personal computers, it was not the CEO who was supposed to learn how to type. But CEOs have got to show that they are willing to dive in.

If we think about it, at a meeting like this one in three or four years from now, everyone will have a tablet PC and will be taking notes on it so that you do not have a mismatch between what you do on paper and on the computer.

The term `PC' will probably be reserved for the full screen device where you create documents and edit them, whether it is at home or in the workplace. You will certainly have a device that has phone-like functionality that is smaller, that fits into the pocket, and not only connects up for voice but also digital wireless.

You will have something in your car that you can just talk to and ask for a radio station or for directions. It will be up-to-date in terms of what the traffic conditions are and connected with all your other devices. You will not have to be involved with moving information between them. If you get somebody's phone number and put that on your small device, it will show up automatically on your PC and your auto PC without any overhead at all. It will also have the TV connected up to a high speed, two-way network using the cable or phone infrastructure so that getting e-mail or playing multi-player games will all be very natural.

If you are watching a sports show, you will be able to look at your buddy list and see if any of your friends are watching the same thing; if so, you will be able to open up a voice conversation and talk with them as simply as if you were watching together. There will be a lot of variety but we will all be connected up to the same network, all sharing the same information.

This is a pretty exciting time to be in business. It will not necessarily be the leaders of the past who are the leaders in the future. The jobs will not be the same as they have been. There is no doubt in my mind that the successful companies will be the ones that really grab these tools. I think that is an exciting opportunity and certainly something I think we will all have fun making a reality.