Microsoft is out to prove productivity is more than PowerPoint

Microsoft is out to prove productivity is more than PowerPoint

Summary: The self-described 'productivity and platforms' company is championing this week some cross-divisional projects meant to show how enterprise and consumer tech can be combined to create new kinds of apps and services.


In redefining Microsoft as a "productivity and platforms" company, CEO Satya Nadella & Co. took a risk: A risk that they could prove that productivity had a broader definition than just the traditional "productivity" Office apps that have helped fuel the company's growth for years.


In speeches and interviews in the weeks since Microsoft's new mission statement went public, Nadella and other top brass have cited products and services from Cortana to the coming Skype Translator as examples of what Microsoft is redefining as "productivity."

This week, the Softies are taking the campaign to expand the definition of productivity even further. At the company's //oneweek set of events that are replacing the annual Microsoft company meeting, 2,200 cross-product and -divisional teams from Microsoft offices worldwide are highlighting some of the "hacks" upon which they've been working for the past month or so.

Many of these hacks could be seen as examples of what productivity apps and services that span the consumer/enterprise divide could look like as Microsoft moves forward.

"Fit and Smart Kids" is one of these projects. As described in a blog post on Microsoft's site, this project is meant to "make fitness a game of its own" for kids. The team working on the project is considering how to build a small, wearable device for kids that would provide them with feedback on fitness, food, water and other related health measures.

But it also could provide "a secure way to store the data from each day's activities" so that parents could access reports and possibly even visualize and share findings with something like Microsoft's Power BI business-intelligence service and tools.

"If we scrub the data enough, and anonymize it enough, we can have parents understand (whether) their child is underperforming in their school, or in the local area, based on the amount of activity, and help encourage parents to want to get out there and keep their kids active," according to a write-up on the project.

Another example of what productivity apps and services might look like in a dual-usage world comes via the "Safer Kids, Saner Parents" project.

Among the possible ideas this team of 41 Microsoft employees came up with are things such as enabling the Cortana personal digital assistant to set up accounts for a family, including recommended safety settings for children. Using Bing Maps and indexing, machine learning and big-data analysis, parents could receive alerts and check into a dashboard which would tell them things like "when their kids are researching discussion-provoking content online (such as online bullying and anorexia), when they’re not where they’re supposed to be and when someone who isn’t age appropriate friends or follows their child," according to a blog post. "It could also flag social network posts that could be considered harmful or questionable, depending on how fine-tuned the settings are."

There's no word on Microsoft's site as to when and if any of the "hacks," or cross-divisional projects, will ever morph into commercial products or services. Whether the hacks ultimately end up as morale boosters or more, these projects are still interesting in terms of how far Microsoft execs are willing to go to try to redefine the company and the way its employees work.

Topics: Innovation, Big Data, Cloud, Emerging Tech, Microsoft, Business Intelligence


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Most important cross project

    The most important cross-division project they should do is one stop support. Get rid of the "you need to call this team" responses. Whoever gets your support call takes ownership and does all the leg work.
    Buster Friendly
  • Hmm, Microsoft teams to compete with

    app tons of developers.

    MS had better do more homework on this concept for a new revenue stream.

    This could just be a smokescreen while Microsoft quietly releases a fully converged Windows OS.


    Are the folks in Redmond in a bit of a panic to find themselves and what happens if Android Patent revenue dries up over the next few months?
    • Edit button, my kingdom for an edit button

      app tons of developers.

      Should be: tons of app developers.
    • What?

      Are you under some impressions that a significant part of their revenue is from those android patents? You can get the real numbers here:
      Buster Friendly
      • $2 Billion per year is significant

        And it covers losses from other things like XBox and surface.

        Did you miss the part where I said: Are the folks in Redmond in a bit of a panic to find themselves?

        Seems like they make statement after statement about what Microsoft is today and scramble to show ways to justify those statement.

        But seriously, do you see a new innovation in the subject of the article?
        • Financials speak for themselves

          The financials speak for themselves. Did you read that link?
          Buster Friendly
          • $2 Billion per year is still significant

            to their financials and future financials, no matter what else you read from the financials recently posted.

            If Android patent fees go away the financials will change by about $2 Billion per year.
    • If the Android patent money leaves...

      They'll be alright, they'll make 2 billion less a year.

      Do you know how much money Microsoft makes in a year, revenue wise?
      Michael Alan Goff
  • these guys really need to

    come up with something innovative and substantial soon in the consumer space if they are staying with that. Still trying to find ways to push existing heavyweight products by artificially tying them to current trends like personal health monitoring in this case.

    It takes "Microsoft's Power BI business-intelligence service and tools" to analyze and monitor my kids activity? I don't think so. I have no idea what it is, but it just sounds like overkill and intrusive.
    • A product looking for a way to

      find new customers, maybe....

      A product looking (perhaps desperately) to find new buyers.

      I do agree that the sales pitch falls very short of reality.

      But this seems to confirm just how messed up the Microsoft Mission is.
      • Understandable

        If they were doing so good at something that Bill Gates has been for the good part of the decade the wealthiest man on earth and all of a sudden they need to change significantly...I think being messed up is more than understandable.
        • Revenue vs relevancy

          IBM still pulls in billions in revenue per quarter (24.4), but they have no relevance in the consumer space any longer.

          Microsoft will continue to make crazy money just like IBM, that's without a doubt (And Gates will get richer). The questions is whether or not they will have a strong presence in the most important mobile computing spaces. Are the moves they're making helping or hurting their chances?
    • This is a description of a "hackathon" activity

      You can look "hackathon" up on Wikipedia if you'd like ( It's when a bunch of folk get together and over the course of a day or three, put together a "hack" that solves a problem very quickly. It's the coding equivalent of a brain-storming session (kinda-sorta).

      This isn't product development, this is groups of programmers coming up with ideas and then *very* quickly putting something together. It's generally thought of as a morale-boosting contest (at least it is where I work).
      • Well, yea

        Well, yea, that is the point. If someone comes up with something interesting, then you put the formal software engineering behind it.
        Buster Friendly
      • But it is presented here as championing some cross-divisional pro

        From the article sub-headline:

        "The self-described 'productivity and platforms' company is championing this week some cross-divisional projects meant to show how enterprise and consumer tech can be combined to create new kinds of apps and services."

        If it is just brainstorming then why all present it as a champion to show how enterprise and consumer tech can be combined to create new kinds of apps and services?

        Seems a long reach to me...
        • The bigger questions is...

          ...why the hell do you care? A large multi-billion corporation engaging in a bit of free-spirited, inventive thinking centered on the well-being of children hurts or offends you how? If these exercises did result in some sort of product/service offering, are you damaged in some way?

          So typical of the 'armchair quarterbacks' attempting to do the job of the CEO with very limited information and less insight.
  • Create consumer apps on subscription, value foundation

    What MS should do, is have its Xbox organization establish a subscription service, that offers non-zero priced subscriptions. Then MS Tools, Office 365, and Bing could supply tools and services for content owners and developers to create subscription based apps. These consumer apps would be of diverse forms. EBooks, eMagazines, eNewspapers, apps similar to what you see on the Xbox that offer live streaming, as well as on-demand programs, etc. E.g. a newspaper could use MS Office 365 to create largely text based content for its app, as well as do the layout. Bing services could allow the app to provide live streaming TV services, as well and on-demand programs. Bing could also bring amazing levels of interactivity when consuming content on a small screen through rich map services, integrated communication services, etc. Interactivity could also be provided by Bing when the app is consumed from a ten foot away configuration. Bing could also provide rich advertising services.

    Apps could be located and consumed within an Xbox app hub, as well as be located in third party app stores / web sites, and installed directly from these third party locations, on Windows and Windows Phone. The apps though would be stored exclusively on Xbox Live.

    So MS can actually tackle the consumer market in real ways that can allow it and its partners to make a lot of money, while differentiating Windows in the consumer market. These apps would be rich and innovative, and would be using many productivity services, to deliver consumer apps and services.
    P. Douglas
    • You can develop for the XBox One now

      You can independently develop for the Xbox One now. I thought of fiddling with it but these days I'm sick of coding by the time I get home. What will be real nice is if they unify the app platforms so a phone app could also run on Window 8 and Xbox. You just bundle in a different UI definitions in XML or whatever for the different form factors.
      Buster Friendly
      • zo

        I believe universal apps would work well within a subscription service. However until I see MS establish sensible app store policies - ones that will cause MS and third party developers to actually make money - I'm not going to bite.
        P. Douglas
        • @ P. Douglas "zo"

          I don't know. There are already a bunch of people that don't like subscription software, so unless the service is pretty stellar, I can't see it taking off.....