Deskless Workers, Useless Services: Microsoft Online Misses the Mark

Deskless Workers, Useless Services: Microsoft Online Misses the Mark

Summary: I spend a lot of time tracking the deskless souls who inhabit the workworld, the factory workers, nurses and others who spend more time on their feet and less time on their butts than the rest of us.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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I spend a lot of time tracking the deskless souls who inhabit the workworld, the factory workers, nurses and others who spend more time on their feet and less time on their butts than the rest of us. So I was all ears as Stephen Elop, Microsoft's latest Business Division head, announced a new set of online services (Mary-Jo Foley's post on this and other announcements from Microsoft's partner conference can be found here) with the absolutely unpronounceable category name of Deskless Worker Suite: Try saying it 10 times, much less once, without tripping up on the sheer awfulness of the term.

The needs of deskless workers are manifold, and only growing as traditional back-office enterprise software reaches out to the masses of workers traditionally underserved by the ERP and CRM systems of the world. So the concept -- if not the buzz term -- is a good one. But Microsoft's initial concept of what could be useful to these workers in an online fashion -- even at a measly $3 per user per month -- is sadly off target.

Basically, what Elop proposed is a set of online services that provide read-only access to email, calendars and Sharepoint portals -- giving employees "read-only access to important information such as company policies, training, and benefits."

The reality is that this class of information is hardly "important", especially to deskless workers trying to do real work, and constitutes a reality-gap in Microsoft's online strategy that needs a little fixing.

Deskless workers do spend relatively little time interfacing with key enterprise resources, but when they do, the needs are complex, very often mission-critical, and almost always interactive in nature. Nurses need to quickly pop over to a screen in the middle of an examination to read and update medical records, order drugs and supplies, and otherwise interact with the systems that are at the heart and soul of a hospital or medical practice. And factory workers need to be able to pop off the production line, order some new supplies or report a problem, and then get back to the business at hand. There are a million more examples about what deskless workers need, and most of them have nothing to do with terms like "read-only" and access to unimportant policy and training information.

So I have to take issue with Mary-Jo's contention that the new Deskless Online services could be bad for partners. This announcement is mostly a non-starter, and if there is harm it will come from the fact that Microsoft's Online strategy was making a lot of sense, up until this misstep.

Luckily it's just a little blunder, and the fact that the whole thing needs to be renamed anyway will offer Elop's team the opportunity to rethink just what a deskless worker really wants. Hopefully, once that exercise is underway, we'll start to see an offering worthy of the rest of Microsoft's Online strategy, which, though nascent, has been largely on the mark until now.

Topic: Microsoft

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8 comments
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  • RE: Deskless Workers, Useless Services: Microsoft Online Misses the Mark

    I think you are mostly wrong. I haven't seen a clear explanation what Exchange & SharePoint Deskless Worker Editions really are missing compared to the Standard versions, so it's a little bit early for me to rate them. But the read only limitation reduces SharePoint from collaboration to the old fashioned intranet style site and that's a function it really has for lots of people who are doing their work far from writing blogs and wikis or participating in discussions. The true question is whether those people benefit from Office client software integration, what as far as i understand should be the difference of Microsofts offer?ng compared to all those others hosted mail and file webspace offerings. But in a mixed community of employees, some Deskless Workers and some Business Online Suite Standard Users it might have some attraction for companies which are MS Office minded anyway. For those who are not, this offering isn't targeted for anyway.
    hdn.de
  • RE: Deskless Workers, Useless Services: Microsoft Online Misses the Mark

    So, Josh, according to your observation, deskless workers do not make sense. Well, then, Google is also wasting its time making web based version of a productivity suite??? In your bio you say that you annoyed quite a few wendors so you are a bit nervious when you boot up your PC. Next time when you boot up, take a breath and actually go a bit deeper in technology beyond word processing. Check out the "Remote Desktop" feature of PC to familiarize yourself with an example of "deskless worker" technology which has been around for, hmm, a decade and helped businesses to run during "desklessly" disasters (like 9/11).
    drillmaster
    • Please re-read the post

      Once again, it's remedial reading class at ZDNet, and today's subject is: how to read a post. My advice, start with the top, read every word until you get to the bottom, and then think about what you've just read before you post a talkback, particularly an ill-informed one such as drillmaster's offering.

      But, in case you're as lazy as drillmaster and don't want to read the post, here's my response:

      I never said deskless worker support was a waste of anyone's time. On the contrary, I gave two examples of what deskless workers do and need, and any reasonable reading would have shown that I am deeply familiar with the concept and the requirements.

      I did say that Microsoft's online offering, as outlined in its press release, was pretty lame looking. But the deskless worker idea is a good one, and anyone who bothered to read the post should have been able to figure that out.
      josh@...
    • What is a deskless worker?

      i dont think josh seeks to prove that "deskless workers" dont exist. of course they do, people in the field. its microsoft's version of "deskless workers" that is problematic, more specifically their information needs. the information needs are not as static as microsoft envisions, that is, read only access to information. solutions from companies like http://www.hyperoffice.com better serve their needs because they allow easy yet two way information flow.
      pankajunk
  • RE: Deskless Workers Suite, Deskless Workers Suite...

    ..or what about Deskless Online Services?

    Even has a catchy acronym: DOS. Where have I seen that before?

    ;-)
    MichaelEMyers
  • Specialized software

    Would Microsoft be producing the software used for these purposes(?):

    Nurses need to quickly pop over to a screen in the middle of an examination to read and update medical records, order drugs and supplies, and otherwise interact with the systems that are at the heart and soul of a hospital or medical practice.

    And factory workers need to be able to pop off the production line, order some new supplies or report a problem, and then get back to the business at hand.

    [End reparagraphed quote]

    Could Microsoft do what you're describing? Seems another software provider must be involved.

    I agree, though, that Read Only is a limitation that should disappear soon.
    Anton Philidor
  • RE: Deskless Workers, Useless Services: Microsoft Online Misses the Mark

    microsoft has never been very closely in touch with the needs of the small business industry. that is why i vouch for companies which have years of offering exchange and sharepoint alternative services for small businesses like http://www.hyperOffice.com. what really amazed me that the features/services microsoft is now offering as a "bundle", hyperoffice has been offering as an integrated product for years.
    pankajunk
  • RE: Deskless Workers, Useless Services: Microsoft Online Misses the Mark

    If read only information doesn't seem valuable, why has RSS been such a big hit? With SharePoint included in this scenario, read only information can also be targeted for audiences and produced by workflows. In addition solutions from startups like Fuzionworks will allow information (from more expensive enterprise versions of SharePoint running internally) to finally be consumed by all of the transation based workers, partners and vendors who were typically excluded in the past to due licensing decisions by the corporations controllers...
    Cloudpreacher