Can Microsoft turn its big ideas into true product innovations in the marketplace?

Eric Rudder

That’s one of the central questions on the Microsoft campus today during a day-long event called TechForum.  Microsoft’s executives and researchers are meeting with reporters and talking in broad terms about the company’s vision for the future.

The event is being held at the newly remodeled Microsoft “Envisioning Center,” where Microsoft displays its vision for the future of technology from work to home.

Themes of the day include big data and machine learning, and the growing ability for computers to act intelligently and interact naturally with humans.

Eric Rudder, the veteran Microsoft exec who recently took over as chief technical strategy officer, said during the opening session that the company will be trying new approaches in an effort to shorten the gap between its research groups and product teams, to bring new technologies from the lab to the market.

“We’ll have a bit more experimentation, I’d say,” said Rudder in response to my question on that topic. He pointed to initiatives including the creation of individual research centers affiliated with specific product groups.

This is an area where Microsoft is often criticized for not being nimble and fast enough, although the company points to products including the Kinect for Xbox 360 as examples of areas where its research has paid off.

Craig Mundie, the longtime Microsoft research and strategy chief who recently announced plans to retire next year, said in response to another question that Microsoft doesn’t always get the credit it deserves for its large Microsoft Research unit, when compared to the work being done at other companies.

“It is frustrating at times when you look at the range of research Microsoft does,” said Mundie, noting that Microsoft is unique in publishing academic papers. “It’s revered in the academic community, where people understand what it is, but in terms of the popular lens it doesn’t seem to get the attention that other companies seem to do.”

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  • Bob

    Mundie should have been replaced at least a half decade ago. His confusion over why MS is revered in academic circles and derided everywhere else shows exactly how out of touch he is. What matters is what happens in the marketplace, period. And there MS has been chasing the tails of Apple, Google, Salesforce, VMware, and so on, for a decade. Rudder has the technical chops, or at least had last time anyone heard from him. But does he have the business savvy and clout to get product teams engaged?
    It’s exceedingly sad how often Kinect is bandied about as the quintessential success for MSR and Microsoft. The base technology was licensed from an Israeli firm, and after initially strong sales the product is now mostly a footnote. MS spends in excess of $9B in R&D per year. That’s more than Apple has spent on R&D in the past ten. Success in innovation isn’t a linear function of $ in/product out. But it’s clear from that comparison how stupendously unsuccessful MS’s R&D effort has been.

  • guest

    MS is only now realizing it has an innovation problem? Seriously? That should be their first clue that they’re about as far away from nimble as it’s possible to get and still be in business.

    • Daniel

      Sorry no, they are not just realizing it now. I think that a lot of people already believed there is too much business overhead they have deal with the problem is that it is extremely difficult to change this type of situation, IMO this is a probably that every tech company which outgrows itself too soon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see innovation slow downs from other big names either.

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