The Friday Interview: Maurice Martin, Microsoft

25 Mar 2005

Although the innocuous job title of business and marketing officer disguises it well Maurice Martin (pictured) is No 2 to Joe Macri, head of Microsoft’s sales and marketing operations in Ireland. That Martin has been handed the job of driving a new €1m ad campaign called Get Current, aimed at encouraging Microsoft users to upgrade to the latest software version, shows just how seriously the software giant is taking this issue.

When we caught up with Martin, he had just returned to the office having been off sick and was preparing to head off to Microsoft’s Washington HQ the following week. Despite his tight schedule, he happily gave up his lunch hour to tell about the new campaign and its importance to Microsoft.

“When we compare Irish businesses to those across EMEA, they are definitely slow at upgrading to the latest version of software. We think there is an opportunity there and the campaign addresses that,” he explains.

Martin won’t reveal what proportion of Microsoft’s customer base uses older versions of its software but safe to say that it’s substantial – otherwise it would hardly be giving the issue such prominence.

He emphasises the basic objective of the campaign is not to sell more software – though that is clearly one motivation – but to make users better understand that using the latest product delivers real business benefit.

“Irish users are still seeing IT as a cost to the business rather than something that can increase productivity, increase customer satisfaction, grow the business and so on. Recent research from Gartner covering Ireland, Germany, France, the UK and Italy supports this. It showed that Ireland was the only country where improving the cost of technology was the No 1 trend. In the other countries cost was seen as less of a priority.

“Our overall goal is to change perceptions. We want users to understand that by using the latest versions of software they can actually increase productivity.”

Martin also notes that by focusing on productivity, Microsoft is in tune with the wider issues facing Ireland Inc.

“If you think about the big challenge for Irish business, it’s about making knowledge workers and information workers more productive. All the government reports say that’s the only way we can continue and sustain the growth in Ireland. So using ICT to become more efficient is something we feel strongly about.”

The Get Current campaign, which is focusing on radio and print, pushes this better productivity message and offers users 60pc savings on new Microsoft packages should they upgrade from older versions. Martin says that Microsoft intends to run the campaign right to the end of the year.

The problem for Microsoft is while this may not be a particularly difficult message to convey, it is not exactly original. After all, what would be the point of rolling out new versions of software if they did not deliver productivity improvements and other such benefits?

“Users will genuinely see improvements in productivity,” he insists. “For example, the latest version of Outlook allows me to log on to Microsoft mail remotely without the need for a VPN [virtual private network]. Think how much money companies spend on VPNs just so that employees can log on to email from home. Another example is manageability. A feature called Active Directory in the latest version of Windows 2003 allows IT departments to remotely many desktop PCs directly — put out software, fixes, rebuild broken PCs — all without ever having to physically go to the machine.”

If the main problem for Microsoft is that we Irish tend to see software in terms of cost while other nationalities see it in terms of value, a side issue is that we tend to purchase our software outright rather than license it, which makes us less likely to upgrade. Martin feels we need to be persuaded of the value of Microsoft’s various licensing programmes. “When you subscribe, you are given rights to use the software for two or three years. At the end of the period, you can extend the subscription, buy out the licence or stop using the software. The biggest benefit of subscription is that when the latest version comes out you get it too. We’d argue that a shift to subscription is better [for users] both from a cost and benefit point of view.”

When it is put to him that pricing could be one of the reasons that more users don’t ‘get current’ with Microsoft, Martin is dismissive. “We don’t feel our software is expensive when you consider the value of that software,” he says, adding matter-of-factly: “With any IT project, software amounts to between 5pc and 8pc of the total project costs. People costs, hardware costs, development and support – these are the main costs.”

While the Get Current campaign will be occupying the airwaves for some time to come, the old chestnut of software piracy is still very much a live issue. While noting that at 42pc software piracy “is still at the higher end of the scale in Europe”, Martin seems optimistic that the situation will improve. This is partly because the compliance provisions of the new Companies Act, 2004, due to come on-stream this summer, will make company directors liable for any illegal software used in their organisations and partly because in the post-tribunal era ‘the cowboy element’ is starting to disappear from the business world. “Irish business culture is changing and individuals understand the compliance issue much more now,” he insists.

Like a true technophile Martin is convinced moreover that technology can help resolve the piracy problem, noting that the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, will have capabilities that allow content publishers to protect their intellectual property — be it music, games or software.

“It’s called the next-generation secure computing base platform,” he says laughing at the clumsy title that clearly offends his better instincts as a marketer.

By Brian Skelly