How Microsoft is Creating Demand for their Product Line
Yesterday, I had the good fortune to attend a business review with Microsoft with regards to their business with my company. After a discussion of our healthy business relationship, Microsoft discussed their new enterprise level offerings. It was an interesting session for me. This is the new Microsoft speaking, discussing how they want to do business with us.
The past two years have not been very kind to Microsoft. With the continuous rise of Apple from a foreshadowed dark horse to the de facto race favorite, Microsoft has seen a waning interest in their products for the last 5 years. We found a new way to do things and Microsoft was left picking up lessons from now established tech titans such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Google. And the consumer space has slowly moved away from their offerings: from PC to Mac, from netbooks to iPads, from Windows Mobile to iPhones or Androids, from IE to Firefox and Chrome. But Microsoft has two advantages that they realize and built upon for the past years: Office and The Enterprise customers.
MICROSOFT LEARNED WELL FROM OUTSIDE ITS USERBASE
"We learned that when we give our workers familiar tools, their productivity shoots up by up to 50%," the Microsoft rep told us yesterday. "We are living in a world where there are lots of distractions and an alienating interface that takes time to learn will not interest employees to fulfilling their duties. They want Facebook, we give them Facebook for work." Then they started a demo of Yammer.com--a recent acquisition--a Facebook-like web service for the enterprise that's free. The accompanying enterprise equivalent, Sharepoint, featured a similar idea with Yammer ("they will be integrated in the future," the rep told us). The same idea of collaboration and commenting that's very familiar to methods used by Twitter and Facebook pervades to Microsoft's Lync, Office 2013 (and Office 365), that ties in to SharePoint and basically everything within your MS-Exchange network. None of these collaboration techniques were present in previous iterations of its product line.
Remember NetMeeting? Remember Live messenger? Those offer a disjointed way of doing things and collaborating for work. What Microsoft did was admit that its approach was not working well. Instead of building upon those old technologies, they took time and observed what everyone is doing and tried it on their homebase. Microsoft learned well from outside its userbase. They had a turning point where they realized, "yes, Zuckerberg got it right." "Google Docs got it right." "So let's do those to our products because that would make us achieve more."
The idea of using Office as the delivery mechanism for data (instead of building web interfaces or custom apps for your company's Business Intelligence reports): brilliant. It offers little to no learning curve. And with Office 2013, you can do more and collaborate faster by allowing you to post comments on the document itself without having to route the document.
THE PC IS STILL THE BEST WAY TO WORK
Continuing the day's programme, the Microsoft reps soon brought out Windows 8 demo devices, some that hasn't even been released to the market yet. "Our work habits have changed, too. We no longer want to be tied to the desk or go to the office just to approve some documents. We want to be able to check on these while on the way home or vacation or the weekend. We work with our phones, our tablets. We are always on the go." the rep continues. "We are too tied to getting information from our phones that we dislike being separated from it to do some work. So we make sure that apps built for the PC will also work for the Windows Phone 8 and on the Windows 8 tablets. While the PC is still the best way to work, we now have options that match our work habits."
MICROSOFT HAS (IS ABOUT TO HAVE SOLVED) ITS MOBILE APP LIBRARY PROBLEM
But there's one problem here. Why would anyone get a Windows Phone or tablet just to approve workflows, route documents, and read presentations--can't anyone do those with an iPhone or Android? "Sure you can, but the experience isn't always the best and not all apps are available on both platforms," says the rep. "Thus we're making sure these apps get built for the Windows Phone so you can enjoy your WP as much as your iPhone and one day make your Windows Phone your daily driver."
But how will these apps ever get made? MicroSoft and Blackberry found themselves facing similar problems in the smartphone market--a crucial market that will secure either's future. No one would like to buy a Windows Phone (or a BB Phone) because it has a poor app library. Then again, no vendors would develop for either because no one buys these devices. It's a vicious circle that has no obvious solution. But Microsoft has one advantage that BB doesn't have: enterprise apps and support. Windows Phone 8 will, as I can imagine, now be marketed towards the enterprise market where enterprises can buy in bulk and in cheap as part of their full enterprise solution, creating a userbase for the Windows Phone who will be using their phones all the time. By creating a userbase that would be exposed to the WP platform and create the demand for these apps so that vendors can make them. It's brilliant!
Microsoft is not pushing for Windows Phone 8 where it knows it has little against mature platforms with bigger app libraries. The consumer space is won already, besides why settle for third? Instead, it's creating reasons for people to use their phones (for work for starters) and developers to make apps. And where is work, play and everything else is about to follow. Especially when developing once means developing for everything in the MS ecosystem (apps built for the pc and tablet would also work for the phone and vice versa).
With this strategy, if done right, I think Microsoft is poised to succeed, perhaps not just secure the third place in the mobile market, but maybe in 2-3 years time outdo the second (iOS). It has resources and influences that neither Blackberry, Apple, or Google has, investing in a field that's sure to have money to spend on their products.
I left the whole day product showcase feeling that they got it right this time. By unifying their offerings, Microsoft has secured their success and in time, would be the tech juggernaut that ruled 90s.