Can Microsoft put their new enterprise jigsaw together?

Can Microsoft put their new enterprise jigsaw together?

Summary: The changing face of what businesses need is challenging to incumbent suppliers. Meanwhile, a new generation of innovation is flowering around simplicity.



These are interesting times in the enterprise world: Microsoft appear to have most of the jigsaw pieces on the table to assemble reasonably credible 'post pc' offerings, despite sticking to their Windows branding with post 'windows' user interfaces.

Workday meanwhile are doing a great job of simplifying the traditional IT enterprise octopus with their cost effective prime time cloud offerings, primed with IPO funds to deliver on pain free product updates and improvements - the promise of cloud computing.

Windows is now an anachronism, caught in the vacuum between the QWERTY keyboard and the mobile revolution.

Around the time that 'social media' jumped the shark last year, becoming overloaded with everyone with a digital pulse on the planet and all their multiple free publishing accounts and communication channels, lots of software vendors firmed up their marketing rhetoric in attempts to corner the market in social collaboration.

Like the old 90's Staples marketing strap line '"Yeah, we've got that", the old guard vendors have rolled all sorts of 'social' attributes into their currently fashionable 'flow of work' processes, lifting anything they see in the market that appears attractive to their customers or prospects.

Microsoft, arguably, hugely overpaid for enterprise social network firm Yammer, presumably to ride their perceived momentum, and SAP are digesting and attempting to blend in their Successfactors cloud 'People Performance' tools purchase for their process-oriented audience. Pure play community collaboration & social software solutions vendor Jive software have hit middle age, and a whole raft of Software as a Service firms are vying to be the platform that organizations manage projects and interact on, from big fish Salesforce all the way down to the minnows swimming alongside and seeking to serve small business.

The fall conference season is in full swing, with many software firms choosing to put on closed events where they claim exclusive creation rights for now commonly understood ideas around collaboration and the power of digital social interactions inside companies and across their customer base.

I call the rubber chicken dinner circuit of futurist speakers at these events 'The Mile High Club', which usually gets a laugh with clients: lots of sexy promise in the books they are usually showcasing about big data/social media/connections/disruption etc but short on the specifics or practicalities on how you actually make any of these high-flying ideas actionable in the context of specific business problems.

So where's the continuum from the innovation which was so visible at the height of the 2.0 boom before the 2008 global financial crisis hit? What's happened to the much vaunted serendipitous subtleties that the early days of newly connected social networkers discovered? The inevitable coarsening effect of commercializing Enterprise 2.0/social business/enterprise thinking and the relentless 'wisdom of the loud' on social networks, along with a weary familiarity with the byways of the digital social web, are sure signs of the end of an era.

The cosily symbiotic relationship between old guard software, integration firms and the big analyst mill's judged popularity contests has defanged the last wave of challengers to the enterprise thrones, co-opted their messaging, and packaged up the possibilities into sellable tool integration projects. Now fragmented into various platforms and parent child relationships, it's an attempt at business as usual for the way enterprise vendors have always operated -- except it's not -- because the creaky old enterprise infrastructure is under pressure as never before.

The challenge today for the real people who actually work in real companies and sell things is in discerning what is a rear guard action by the old guard to protect their flanks.

The challenge today for the real people who actually work in real companies and sell things is in discerning what is a rear guard action by the old guard to protect their flanks, and where the new generation of ideas and challengers are coming from. Once all the mile high keynote fly over strategic ideas and homilies are over, people have to attempt to make this stuff work; and as is so often the case, "innovation" isn't so much "out of the box" think different genius as it is getting around the shortcomings of current tools to get the job done -- which is what Enterprise 2.0 was originally all about before it got consumed by digital tools marketers.

There is definitely a new wave of innovation underway that is outside the cosy confines of the way the enterprise world has been carved up - and somewhat outside the solipsistic world of venture capital and their digital broadcast friends.

Entities like Crushpath ('the new way for sales teams to track and organize their deals') get back to the basics of simplifying the way things get done. STOIC, who I mentioned in my previous post, are striving to let anyone develop a cloud application as easily as using a spreadsheet as examples. (I haven't spoken to anyone at Crushpath for months so have no idea if they are about to acquired or otherwise assimilated/neutralized into a larger ecosphere). Whether these new generation firms take root by simplifying an increasingly complex world for their customers will largely depend on how well the old guard execute their plans.

Microsoft are the old guard giant that's particularly interesting right now. On paper, they have their mojo back, launching the Surface tablet device that appears to be primarily a clever play to perpetuate use of their hugely lucrative Office franchise in the post pc era. The Sharepoint conference is next week, where there are sure to be announcements with Yammer and Skype, and my developer colleagues have had nothing but good things to say about Azure and the recent Build conference.

IBM, which has tentacles deep into many enterprises from archaic domino databases and Notes email up to state of the art big data and analytics, used to be the safe bet in the enterprise - nobody ever got fired for buying IBM back when they ushered in the PC era. Buying a trusted brand works well and inspires a sense of security - until the trust is eroded. IBM are today predominantly a services company, having had to retreat from their hardware base in the 90's in the face of rapidly changing times. 

Microsoft are making all the right noises and buying all the right companies to remain relevant to their vast client base, who work every day with documents, email and digital filing with Microsoft tools (and increasingly ftp storage like Dropbox, Box and others, as easy and logical as a box of floppy diskette storage was way back when). Many customers will sleepwalk into a next generation of Microsoft, assuming it was all invented there and oblivious to any outside innovation, assuming Redmond execute well.

The Office cash cow and Sharepoint digital filing cabinets remain the company crown jewels, and happily the bean counters in most companies use their tools and therefore understand why they pay for them for everyone else.

Windows is another matter, though.  The IBM PC era freed enterprises from the tyranny of IT mainframe bottleneck, and the Windows graphical user interface freed users from the green screen and let them do all sorts of amazing things with their personal tools and printer. Fast forward to today and the cloud companies doing it right, like Workday, are cost effectively emancipating enterprises from the tyranny of IT, solving lots of problems with tools and processes that are a pleasure to use.

Windows is now an anachronism, caught in the vacuum between the QWERTY keyboard and the mobile revolution. The split personality of the 'new' Microsoft (and weird shift from Metro naming to Windows 8) to serve both the old IT world and the new mobile evolution sends very mixed messages to the cubicle-dwelling masses who are awake to the possibilities and conveniences of smartphones and iPads.

Windows isn't 'windows' on a tiled user interface mobile device, and the Windows phone further confuses things in user minds. Windows is a venerable brand known around the world. The question is: will it extend into the new generation or become synonymous with a previous generation of usability?


Topics: Collaboration, Cloud, IBM, Microsoft, SAP


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • been long time such good detailed long article appeared on techsites

    bravo ! good points raised.
    • Thank you!

      Much appreciated!
    • Oh Dear - Another "What-If" apple cult dream!

      If your a believer that MS will fail because the iPad/smart phone format will take over the world then your way off the mark, that's a apple fan boy dream from that cult world. So this article some hopeless 'what if" dribble.

      A case in point, when I started at the Co i am at I had 120 XP desktops , as of next moth we will have 215 Win7 & 150 Win8 to run the business so it growing as the population increases.

      Still not convinced then how are you going to replace hard heavy work stations with under powered non Win toys? Have a look at what the reality is and not some fan-boys 'wish list' or 'what if' -
      • Fix

        Sorry about the 2nd para, that went sideway on me???? Another go :)

        A case in point, when I started at the Co I had to service 120 XP desktops, as of next month we will have 215 Win7 & 150 Win8 to run the business so it's growing as the population increases.
      • UK Daily Telegraph office photo

        - On a separate topic Apple have completely dropped the ball in providing powerful tower systems for one of the key groups who sustained them before they focused on 'too much tech for the battery' personal devices. Print designers and animators need tons of crunch power to run their huge files.

        In no way do I believe MS will 'fail', they are the dominant front office player. Your image of the open planTelegraph office in London is indeed full of multi screen work stations - but this is part of a broader strategy to be the hub for all the folks around the world gathering news stories, and to then push out a very web/multimedia focused product.

        The market is segmenting and Windows is an odd fit from mobile, lightweight consumption devices up to heavy weight production workstations.
        • The segmenting is now unified.

          Hi Oliver,

          Agree with the Apple comment, they do not want to play in the heavy work station format, they have even left the professional video industry (Final Cut Pro X debacle)... However, MS now see a seamless approach to your computing. They see a OS that functions right through Industry and the Home. In fact they are well into the car industry (as per their Ford research). The new vision, and one I agree with, is an environment where you interact with surfaces, TV, Home appliances, phones, contacts, media & games etc (MS Kinect). XBox is doing that now... There new WIN8 phones OS is quite remarkable for how it can respond to a host of multi & live inputs all at your finger tip. This is were Apple have lost the plot, all this structure in a home needs an interface, storage and hard drives controls = Desktop! Win8 now does this for all units, all in one. MS is right into the light weight format through the drives each item needs to stay on line (eg Printer, cameras etc), people just don't realize this as yet.

          *This forum needs an edit button!
  • Post PC?

    I keep hearing this "Post PC" stuff, but I have yet to see a single device which will enable me to carry out my work as quickly and efficiently as a PC.

    Tablets are interesting and have their niches, but I have yet to find any of them compelling enough to make me want to switch.

    For reading e-mail on the move and quickly referencing information, when away from my desk, the smartphone is good. The tablet has too many compromises, currently. If I actually need to do work, I use my PC, with multiple displays and multiple open windows to allow me to reference the information I need - for example, I am currently preparing a presentation, so I have 4 different reference windows open, giving me material for the presentation, which I am working on in a 5th window.

    The Post PC devices I have seen don't allow for flexible working, they seem to hark back to the DOS and original MacOS days before it learnt multi-tasking.
    • Don't get me wrong...

      Damn the lack of an edit button!

      Don't get me wrong, for certain tasks, tablets are great. We have been writing touch based software for specific tasks for over a decade and touch and full-screen applications have their place, especially for people on the move. But they can't replace a PC for many tasks currently.

      The market is still young and I think we will see improvement, where "Post PC" devices will be able to offer the flexibility needed to replace PCs for more and more people. But we are still a long way away from a truly Post PC era.
      • PC is a great tool

        I absolutely agree with wright_is. There is no reason to compare PC with tablets, they are different tools designed for different purposes and different customer categories. If the PC market is still successful, it means that maintaining the trend is in the customers' interest.
      • Deja vu

        The problem is, I can easily imagine exactly the same being said in the 80s about PCs v mainframes. I do most of my work on regular laptops and desktops, of course, but there is an increasing amount that I can do by tablet if I want - I am sure that will continue. Even now, I know of developers using one as their main device: external keyboard, quick switching between apps for email, web access, source code editing and an SSH client to compile: surprisingly effective as a workflow, with no "real PC" in sight. (There's a virtual machine 'in the cloud' doing the actual compilation and execution', but nowhere near the guy's desk.)

        VPN support, improving multitasking, external keyboards ... it's clear where this is heading. If a tablet could handle all those silly Facebook Flash games she loves, I think my mother would be fine with a tablet instead of a laptop right now, for everything she does - and she's probably a lot more typical than we are.
        • That's the problem

          "quickly switching between apps"

          That is where Tablets are currently hamstrung. You cannot display information from multiple apps on the screen at the same time - the Galaxy Note 2 and Windows 8 and RT have a limited ability to display 2 apps at the same time, but when you need to look at 3 or 4 sources of information whilst typing, you are slowing yourself down unnecessarily, if you have to keep switching between full screen apps.
    • I don't really see post pc either!

      I see the PC fading, but not going away. Tablets and phones are great for digesting info. But quite terrible for creating. I keep thinking I could move my mom to a tablet. Then I remember tax time. And that post PC era PC is unquestionably king. If its complex and has to be done, the PC is still going to get the job done and the tablet can be used for the kids to game and surf.
      • cbslc you are 100 % correct ...the PC isn't going anywhere .....

        try using a tablet on a subway,bus,car,train,plane,cab or fast food place and anything important done correctly ........ IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN all of these new gimicks (tablets/I pad this or phone this or that) are nothing more than a extension of the PC that makes the whole computing experence better.
        Over and Out
    • Prior PC?

      I have to agree with the idea that the Post PC era looks a lot like the pre-PC era, an era of monochrome and single-tasking.

      As someone who has a large, powerful computer, complete with two large monitors and decent graphics card, I've had to load Start8 on my computer just to make it efficient again. In other words, I had to make my Win8 PC work like a Win7 PC.

      It seems inconceivable to me that touch screens and tablets will EVER reach the efficiency of my current rig. For example, I always use multiple windows. Single screen apps look laughable on my machine. Also, I can reach all 46" of my two monitors with just a few inches of movement on my mouse. To cover the same real estate on equivalent touch monitors would take infinitely more effort. And so, if you think repetitive stress injuries are bad now (and they are) wait for a few years of touch screens in enterprise situations.

      That's why I don't see the business world embracing this new paradigm. At some point, Windows will have to cave and create a Windows 8 (or 9) optimized for the desktop.
  • Hopefully not ...

    ... because we don't want a greedy monopolist to complete the puzzle, just as we didn't want IBM to maintain their dominance and cost base. Morever I see a MSFT cloud and that company's regression to an APPL-esque tablet ecosystem, complete with expensive software subscriptions, as an even worse fate for consumers and businesses than the IBM era!

    The goal of corporations like MSFT, INTL, APPL, AMZN and GOOG is to continue growing their revenues ... despite the steep downward trend of hardware costs and the artificially high business charges for both software and hardware. It is revealing that when companies like GOOG design a cloud for their own use, they use commodity components and efficient architectures. When corporates sell products and services they design in limitations, use expensive components and charge high subscriptions.

    The cost reduction achieved via the x86 architecture and Internet protocols shows that a flexible, interoperable ecosystem is the one which brings most benefit to customers and the industry as a whole. If MSFT, APPL, AMZN or GOOG ever succeed in completing the puzzle we will be imprisoned, with the only escape to one of the other three equally bad options.
    "Microsoft are making all the right noises and buying all the right companies to remain relevant to their vast client base."

    This BORG-like assimilation is to be regretted, for innovative new companies who would break the old guard are thus absorbed into the collective. What we need is an open cloud architecture and interoperable cloud standards ...
    ... and what we should do with the same is to design a lightweight, flexible, reconfigurable, efficient, green, inexpensive planet-wide atmosphere. Resistance to the collectives is essential.

    "Buying a trusted brand works well and inspires a sense of security - until the trust is eroded."
    Everything about MSFT 2012 smacks of monopolistic control: the secure (but locked) boot; the forced tiled interface with exclusive app store, the Office 2013 cloud-linked subscription 'reimagining'. Reimagining my foot, it is the IBM central control allied to the expensive APPL bind ... and soon no doubt to be supercharged with unholy alliances to media companies. Distasteful though the analogy is, given MSFT's previous sentences for mishandling my PC's (children), the idea of the company securing my tablet and cloud as well equates to allowing the whole family a stop-over with a convicted paedophile. I trust MSFT (and the others) to continue being evil. Erosion long since complete!

    "Many customers will sleepwalk into a next generation of Microsoft,"
    Many ZDNET bloggers too: Mary Jo 'yeah, Surface has Notepad!'; AKH who still builds 1990's PC's; the Windows and OSX crews who simply report what's there, instead of thinking what should have been there (Vista and Windows Home Server: two pieces of junk). Can we have some technology insights please, not an extended vendor advert. (I am being unkind: the same people do also provide very useful information.)

    Take this as you will: the incumbent American corporations are the last ones we want to complete the puzzle.

    [The STOIC link contains a superfluous / which breaks the reference.]
    • Symbiosis reimagined as parasitism

      "The cosily symbiotic relationship between old guard software..."
      Whereas the MSFT Windows ecosystem was relatively symbiotic; the new will be parasitic cf the app store. and Office subscriptions.
      I have a hard enough time with the IT companies (and indeed the media companies) maintaining high prices in the face of rapidly advancing technology ... but I have nothing but contempt, even disgust ... for the tax on developers through the MSFT and APPL stores.
      It seems to me the very companies who have risen to power via the advances of their cooperating partners suddenly want a cut of everybody's pie.

      I will not stand for it. I am hard at work trying to design around the deliberate profit driven technology decisions, so I will be using:

      - free hypervisors
      - upgrades to Windows 8 client
      - symform and SKYDRIVE ... instead of S3 or Dropbox
      - the power of networking to access permanently licensed applications
      - commodity hardware

      I'd really like Teradici's PCoIP SOC on the client side, but I suspect this will be rolled in to VMWARE, just as REMOTEFX will be bound to Windows Server.

      I'd have liked WANOVA's MIRAGE product too ... but VMWARE bought the company , so its value is now lost to the BORG :-(
    • Another analogy

      I have a more tasteful analogy for you ...
      ... buying into MSFT's cloud vision will be like renting air from Cohaagen in the sci-fi film Total Recall, when the corporation could have turned on the atmospheric processor ... which they will never do. Perhaps we will need an underground organisation to bring them down?
    • QED

      Here you are, hot off the press, this is what the corporation wants to do to you, having completed the invasion of your privacy.

      I cannot understand why there is not more outrage on ZDNET.
      Oh, wait a minute, I can think of one reason ... :-(
    • Nice anti-MS rant

      meaningless in the end, but so glad you took the time.
      William Farrel
  • Can Microsoft put their new enterprise jigsaw together?

    Yes they can. Microsoft has always been good about building systems that integrate and work well with other systems. As long as they keep doing what they are doing there should be no problem.
    Loverock Davidson-