Microsoft is spending an awful lot of money these days on projects at which company officials might have scoffed not so long ago. Training in the form of collecting Facebook-based achievement awards? Twitter-update clients for your media player? A BorgVille equivalent of FarmVille? (OK. I made that last one up. But if/when it happens, -- like Windows 7 --it was my idea.)
Microsoft has established its reputation as an enterprise software/services vendor. It's trying to be a consumer one, too, and is spending money on retail ads, brick-and-mortar stores and viral marketing campaigns to try to gain more mind share there.
Not everyone thinks Microsoft should be so focused on the gadget and Web 2.0 space. More than a few industry watchers, customers, partners and Microsoft employees themselves believe Microsoft is spreading itself too thin and should stick to its enterprise knitting.
With that in mind, I read with interest a recently posted PowerPoint presentation deck that Microsoft is offering its partners to explain Microsoft's official views on the "consumerization of IT." The deck is designed for partners to use with their business customers when trying to position (justify?) Microsoft's growing investments in more consumer-focused markets and technologies.
Microsoft's definition of the consumerization of IT is "the increasing influence that our technology experiences as consumers -— both hardware and applications -— have on the technology that we expect to use at work," according to the deck. More:
"The reality is that many of us have powerful computer systems at home, and social computing tools like MySpace, Twitter, blogs, etc. are a part of our everyday lives. As technology plays an increasingly important role in our personal lives and we become accustomed to the power, convenience, flexibility, and connectedness of consumer technology experiences, we want those same capabilities to help us at work. However, in most cases we aren’t being given the tools."
Enter, Microsoft. It has the tools and the technologies that will help get these kinds of socially friendly deliverables into business users hands, the deck says.
Using virtualization (desktop, application or user state, where appropriate), user settings can be centralized, synchronized and safeguarded. "People search," like what's being built into SharePoint, can help users find answers to questions faster by calling on established experts. Content feeds, podcasts, shared documents, Wikis -- all available as part of SharePoint -- also can help with quicker information discovery and sharing, the deck notes. (It's no coincidence that Microsoft plans to push the built-in social-networking tools as one of the big selling points of SharePoint 2010 this year.) And don't forget about corporate instant messaging, presence capabilities, built-in VOIP and other unified communication features in Exchange, Office Communications Server, and other Microsoft software/services.
Even if you yourself aren't a social-networking believer, there's evidence your next-generation workforce will be, the deck points out. The "millennial generation" are avid social networking/social computing tool users
"They love their devices and stay at the forefront of what technology can do. And this generation expects to be able to use these same tools at work," Microsoft warns in the deck.
What's your take? Do you think Microsoft is right in obsessing so much about Apple and Google? Or do you agree with one Microsoft shareholder, who recently said: "I don't expect (Microsoft) to be Apple, I don't want them to be Apple. They need to be really good at being 50, an elder statesman"?
Update: Right after I hit publish, I noticed IDC has just published a new Social Business Survey. The study "confirmed that consumer social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn continue to dominate business use, although the gap between consumer and corporate-sponsored social networks has narrowed in the past nine months. This survey also showed that the use of social media has penetrated deeper into U.S. organizations, with executive managers and IT leveraging these tools for business as well as line-of-business workers."