5 minutes with... Microsoft Australia managing director, Tracey Fellows

Research and development provides the key to innovation — and staying competitive in the ever-changing world of technology.

Don’t let the Canadian accent fool you — Microsoft Australia managing director, Tracey Fellows, has more than 20 years experience in the Australian IT industry. She began her IT career at IBM, rising through the ranks to become the general manager of its personal computer division. She also managed Dell’s home, small and medium business division before joining the software giant’s server business group. She speaks to Georgina Swan.

How has the competitive landscape changed since you joined Microsoft?

I joined Microsoft in 2003 when I was six months pregnant, which I think says a lot about the company. My son, Jake, is now six.

One of the exciting things about the industry is that there are different companies entering the market all the time. It’s a fast-paced industry and over the years we have seen many companies come and go. What other industry has a new competitor every few years? I think it’s useful to all companies. Google has made a key competitor and others are also challenging us.

How does the company drive innovation?

Microsoft has a very strong commitment in the way the company will continue to thrive is through innovation. We had some very talented people like [Chief Software Architect] Ray Ozzie and [chief research and strategy officer] Craig Mundie who have driven innovation within the company. The products we are seeing in the market today, for example, started more than three years ago as an initiative of Ray Ozzie.

More than ever, consumer technologies are gaining a foothold in the enterprise. Do you think this will continue?

The consumerisation of IT is really only at the beginning. We are now at the point where Facebook accounts for 25 per cent of all pages viewed on the internet. There is a fundamental shift in how people, and young people in particular, are communicating. And, whatever it is today, it will different by the time they enter our workforce.

How much does Microsoft spend on R&D in Australia?

We don’t break it down by region or country, but it’s an industry unto itself. As a company, Microsoft spends $US9.6 billion in research and development, spread across the globe. It is our biggest investment by a considerable margin. All projects are started from Seattle and, in terms of how we think about R&D, we split it into three time horizons. The first is 10 years plus, which is very broad, very deep research that may or may not turn into product. The next horizon is five to 10 years, which really looks at trends and directions in the industry. And the last looks at the next releases of products.

What are some of the more exciting projects?

Something like Project Natal, which scans your entire body, measuring it to allow you to interact with your Xbox. It uses a combination of smart software and camera technology so you no longer need a controller.

Do we see it moving into a commercial environment? Absolutely. How people express themselves with a computer is going to change. Computing power is changing significantly and we are increasingly able to model the physical world.

How did the global financial crisis affect Microsoft locally?

Australia has weathered the storm. There was definitely a slow down last year but companies are now reinvesting in the future and looking at scaling up their investment in IT.

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