Positioning Microsoft as a knowledge management company, CEO Bill Gates outlined his vision of the knowledge worker's place in corporate America on Wednesday to a group of top executives.
At his third annual CEO Summit, Gates made his pitch to some 100 corporate leaders, including Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Dell Computer's Michael Dell, and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart. He told the executives that they -- or, more appropriately, their underlings -- would be more productive the further they go up the digital ladder.
For example, Gates pointed to Microsoft's NetMeeting technology, which allows co-workers to collaborate on documents over the Internet. Such technology will improve so quickly in the next few years that it will be a must-have for businesses, he said.
"This [collaboration] is a case where I think that even what's available now is vastly underutilised around the world," Gates said.
Much of Gates' presentation centered on a new Microsoft concept, the "digital dashboard," essentially a personalised desktop portal that focuses on business intelligence.
Gates showed the audience his own digital dashboard, which was custom-built from Outlook. The launch screen included scrolling stock quotes; queued voice mail and e-mail messages; a calendar; a weather forecast and traffic information; and customized buttons that link to news service feeds, customer and sales data, and other information. Also, the dashboard facilitated quick Internet conferences.
IT managers will be able to add information foremost on CEOs' minds -- bug counts in Windows products, in Gates' case -- to digital dashboards across a corporation, Gates said.
"It's a concept that in the past might have been thought of as an executive information system that was just for a few top people," Gates said. "It'd take millions of dollars to set up, the system would be hard-wired, and it would provide only a subset of data. Today, in literally minutes you can add data and status reports and your personal digital dashboard will update that."
Digital dashboards would be available on an array of devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cellular phones.
Gates also told the CEOs that more and more, Microsoft is rolling out new technologies companywide -- "eating your own dog food," in high-tech lingo -- in areas such as eliminating paperwork and wireless connectivity. He said many employees who switch projects do so reluctantly if their new team is not set up for wireless use. As a result, Microsoft will go to a full wireless connectivity network infrastructure within a year or so, Gates said.
"We're only halfway to what we think we can achieve," Gates said.
Draped in a sports jacket, Gates jokingly thanked the high-powered crowd for coming to Redmond instead of standing in line for "Star Wars, Episode One: The Phantom Menace" tickets.
Gates also showed off in-progress Microsoft technologies, such as voice capabilities for Exchange that will let users talk to servers and leave voice mail.
Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.