Microsoft is out to prove productivity is more than PowerPoint

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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