Microsoft makes case for IE9 upgrade, but will enterprise buy it?

The enterprise is Microsoft's territory. It's been the core constituency for Internet Explorer for years, even as first Firefox and then Chrome have risen in popularity. Now Microsoft is making a direct appeal to those enterprise customers, in the dollars-and-cents language that they understand so well.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

The enterprise is Microsoft’s territory. It’s been the core constituency for Internet Explorer for several years now, even as first Firefox and then Chrome began taking huge chunks of its once-overwhelming consumer share. Recently, Mozilla publicly blew off enterprise customers (see Mozilla to enterprise customers: “Drop dead”), a development that probably felt like an early Christmas for Microsoft's IE9 team.

In a pair of blog posts today, Microsoft makes a direct appeal to those enterprise customers, in the dollars-and-cents language that they understand so well.

Anyone who looks at recent worldwide usage statistics can see the trends among web browsing software: the rise of Chrome, the decline of Internet Explorer, the uncertain future of Firefox, and Safari’s steady rise thanks to iOS devices.

But most of the public discussion on browsers has been from people who own their own PCs and have complete control over their configuration and contents. You want to install an unsigned program, sign up for an interesting but untested cloud service, or try out a different browser? Go for it.

Those unmanaged PCs might as well live in a different universe from computers in large organizations.

In an enterprise, PCs can be managed quite effectively through centralized administrative tools that manage software and services on individual PCs. Enterprise IT shops have help desks and support staff and acceptable use policies, all of which make the user experience on a managed PC more controlled (and frustrating, if you’re the user in this example).

As far as Microsoft is concerned, enterprise customers have solid reasons to stay with IE.

On the Windows For Your Business blog, Erwin Visser extols the virtues of Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7 together, arguing that enterprises “can rest assured they’re taking full advantage of the support, deployment and management technologies that the Windows platform has to offer.”

Roger Capriotti, Director of Marketing for IE, backs his argument up with a Total Economic Impact (TEI) study from Forrester:

Forrester surveyed companies that were part of Microsoft’s IE9 Technology Adoption Program (TAP) to assess the results of moving to Internet Explorer 9. This data was used to model the economic impact to a composite organization with 50,000 desktops from deploying Internet Explorer 9. The results show there is a compelling financial reason to move to Internet Explorer 9.

How compelling? The chart on Capriotti’s post touts a savings of $3.3 million over three years for that hypothetical company with 50,000 IE9 upgrades for 60,000 employees.

I’m always a bit skeptical of reports like these, because they’re commissioned and paid for by the client—in this case Microsoft—and thus the assumptions can be skewed. That’s why I got an advance copy of the Forrester report from Microsoft and looked at it in more detail. Strip away all the tables and discount the assumptions and you still get a series of pretty reasonable arguments:

  • If your shop is already moving to Windows 7, you’d be crazy not to include IE9 in your standard image.
  • You can deploy IE9 using standard tools, and you can customize the user environment with the Internet Explorer Administration Kit and group policy.
  • The security benefits of IE9 are the most compelling reason to upgrade, at least in financial terms. Performance is a solid second on that list of reasons to upgrade.
  • For internal web-based apps that have compatibility problems that can’t be easily remediated, you can configure those sites to run in a specific compatibility mode: IE8, IE7, even the ancient Quirks Mode.

That last bullet is probably the most appealing one for an enterprise admin who is thinking of leaving the Microsoft fold for Chrome. If that shop has dozens of apps that were originally written for IE7 and work poorly or not at all in Chrome, then the compatibility view toggle is a killer feature.

The most interesting part of the Forrester report to me was examining where the bottom-line savings come from in their model. To its credit, Forrester didn’t try to quantify productivity increases from IE9’s usability or performance improvements. A millisecond here, a second there, it all adds up to an assumed increase in productivity of about 5 minutes a day. That doesn’t really translate into extra dollars, though—it just removes some of the friction from the experience of using the web.

So where does the saving come from? Forrester assigns a savings to IE9 because of its increased security. The assumption is that the number of calls to the help desk involving malware-related issues will decrease by one incident per user per year. At an hour per call and $55 per hour for the support professional’s time, that’s a savings of $2.75 million per year in a corporation with 50,000 seats.

It’s easy to quibble with those specific numbers, but the overall message is one that a sensible administrator should agree with: a modern browser is going to be safer and better able to cope with the modern web. If Microsoft can reduce it to a simple IE9-versus-Chrome decision, they’re confident that enterprises that demand highly managed environments will stay in the fold.

Related posts:

Editorial standards