Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced today that he will be retiring within 12 months. My Forrester colleague Ted Schadler laid out some of the strategic challenges his successor will face in coming years. Here, I add to Ted's analysis.
Microsoft remains one of the great global technology companies, a solid member of theFortune 50. Although it no longer enjoys the reputation for innovation it did in the 1990s, it’s a critical player in every aspect of end user computing (including devices, software, browsers, development platforms, and services) and of other technology product and service markets.
As CEO, Steve Ballmer solidified Microsoft’s stronghold in enterprise solutions. Microsoft built and maintained — or built and made itself into a key challenger — in several enterprise markets. Microsoft Office remains a titanic success, even as it faces lower-cost competition from Google and others. Windows Azure has been cultivated into a full-fledged contender in the cloud services market. Exchange remains entrenched in enterprises, as do many of Microsoft’s Server and Tools offerings. Microsoft remains the company to beat in some of these markets, and has become a formidable challenger (e.g. as Azure takes on Amazon Web Services) in others.
If you want to be the best in data center operations you are right to benchmark yourself against the cloud computing leaders – just don’t delude yourself into thinking you can match them.
In our latest research report, Rich Fichera and I updated a 2007 study that looked at what enterprise infrastructure leaders could learn from the best in the cloud and hosting market. We found that while they may have greater buying power, deeper IT R&D and huge security teams, many of their best practices apply to a standard enterprise data center – or at least part of it.
There are several key differences between you and the cloud leaders, many of which are detailed in the table below. Perhaps the starkest however is that for the clouds, they are the product. And that means they get budgetary priority and R&D attention that I&O leaders in the enterprise can only dream about.
Microsoft (MSFT) recently announced plans to sell Surface tablets to enterprise customers, including educational institutions, through a two-tier partner program called Microsoft Devices Program (MDP). The program authorizes distributors to sell Surface to a newly designated group of device-authorized large account resellers (LARs). Per the announcement, in the US, Surface will be resold through three authorized distributors (Ingram Micro Inc., SYNNEX Corporation, and Tech Data Corporation) and 10 high volume LARs. MDP is likely to be expanded to select partners in 28 other countries by the end of September 2013. As part of the initial go-to-market model, Microsoft is not including its solution providers in the program.
Based on recent media reports, Microsoft’s US partners -- solution providers in particular -- have expressed dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s selective approach towards partnering for Surface. Solution providers feel Microsoft is ignoring the opportunity to deliver “wrap-around services” around Surface, which they could have delivered.
I believe that in the near term, Microsoft is correct in limiting access; but, in the longer term, it will need to open up to other partners, including solution providers that can help Microsoft deliver Surface-based solutions as a means to ensure differentiation in the tablet market and drive margins. Microsoft needs to follow some key guidelines as part of Surface’s go-to-market strategy if it wants to stand above the crowd:
One noteworthy detail emerged from Microsoft’s quarterly earnings call yesterday: A $900 million write-down for “inventory adjustments” related to the underperformance of Windows RT. This result didn’t come as a surprise because:
Microsoft’s Windows RT strategy has long been puzzling. Launching the Surface RT device before the Windows 8-based Surface Pro offering never made sense – an insufficient number of Modern UI apps made the Surface RT hard to position and sell from the beginning. Samsung recognized the shortcomings of RT early on, exitingthe market a mere three months after RT’s release.
Microsoft still hasn’t convinced developers that Windows RT should be a top priority. Our survey of 2,038 global software developers revealed that developer support for Windows RT trails Windows 7, Windows 8, Apple iOS, Google Android, and even Apple OS X. For example, while 21% of global developers support or plan to support Windows RT, 64% say the same for “Windows 7 and earlier versions.”
Today's re-org at Microsoft comes amidst mixed success as they straddle the gap between capricious individual consumers and the cash-strapped, risk-averse needs of enterprise IT buyers who find themselves years behind the demands of their own capricious workers, who are also consumers when they go home. Windows 8 shows us that Microsoft has more learning to do about where to place those bets, but we also think their work on server, cloud and hybrid cloud is excellent, and that their longer-term strategy is viable. We see this organizational re-alignment as very positive.
The Server and Tools Business becomes Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group
Satya Nadella and Scott Guthrie both have done a great job of driving Agile development and continuous delivery into every team in STB and that is resulting in faster moving and more compelling products and services. They deserve a lot of credit for this and so putting even more under them seems a good thing. The key is whether it is the right things.
For perspective: one of Microsoft's greatest strengths is that they give smart people development tools that are extremely easy to use and deceptively powerful. So much so that generations of developers will commit themselves and careers to mastery of Visual Studio, for example. Microsoft democratizes software development by lowering the barriers to entry like no other company. The shift to cloud gives them the chance to do it again, and the improvements in Visual Studio 2013 shown at BUILD in San Francisco are superb and stretch smoothly from the datacenter to the cloud.
Voice-controlled intelligent assistants offer a tantalizingly productive vision of end user computing. Using voice commands, users can extend the computing experience to not just mobile scenarios, but to hyper-mobile, on-the-go situations (such as while driving). With wearables like Google Glass, voice command promises even deeper integration into hyper-mobile experiences, as this video demonstrates. And voice controlled intelligent assistants can also enable next-generation collaboration tools like MindMeld.
In spite of this promise, there remains a lurking sense that voice control is more of a gimmick than a productivity enhancer. (As of the time I posted this blog, a Google search for Siri+gimmick yielded… “about 2,430,000 results”). To see where voice control really stands, we surveyed information workers in North American and Europe about their use of voice commands.
Information workers’ use of voice control today:
In reality, many information workers with smartphones are already using voice commands – at least occasionally. Our survey revealed that:
Today’s new details on Windows 8.1 show that Microsoft is on track for updating Windows annually, that they’re engaged in significant product improvements and they are listening to market feedback. There were a ton of improvements and new built-in apps. Among all the details, three were the most significant to advancing Windows:
· Smart Search. By combining Bing’s web search with search across my devices and Skydrive, search becomes more relevant and personal. We’ll be watching to see how third-party developers can use this and where Microsoft goes with it. Very interesting.
· Making Windows desktop modern and more synergistic. The tweaks to allow the desktop background underneath the Start Screen and the return of the Start button make it feel a little less like I’m running two PCs in one, but the difference is still jarring.
UPDATED 26th June 2013 As you may be aware Microsoft has finally introduced its Office Suite for the iPhone (launched in the US on Friday 14th June, and now available in much of the rest of the world according to my sources). This is great news — it has been one of the real holes in the iOS application store and in high demand in many businesses we speak to (although will be MUCH more valuable when it's available as a native iPad app). Over the next week or so it is likely that many of your senior executives will read this news — as it has already made the consumer press. Soon they'll be knocking down your door asking how to get access to it.
However, the licensing model that Microsoft has chosen is one to encourage the uptake of the Office 365 Suite. ONLY those users with a MS Office 365 license will be able to activate the apps on their iPhone. This may mean a significant licensing impact for you. If, like many companies, you have not yet made the move to Office 365, your company’s employees will not be able to use the Office apps on their iPhone. There is a big risk here that you will see employees activate the license themselves and charge it back through the traditional expenses channel. And if senior management are doing it, it is hard for them to say no to the more junior ranks.
I reached out to Duncan Jones, one of our resident sourcing pros and Microsoft licensing experts to get his analysis of the situation. Here are his thoughts:
Folks, this one is going to be short because it's the easiest case I've ever made. Microsoft wins the next-gen game console launch wars by launching something that the company doesn't even call a console. Where Nintendo offered us a tablet to accompany the millions we had already bought and Sony then offered us a box that we couldn't even see, Microsoft has trumped them both by delivering the Xbox One. Let's tally up the points:
The name. Wii U means something, I'm sure, to someone. PS4 means "we like the past and want to extend it." Xbox One takes a bolder and more important stand by saying, "It's time to reboot the whole category." This is beautifully illustrated in the way that the Xbox presenters never referred to Xbox One as a game console. It is an All In One Home Entertainment System.
The reveal. PS4 famously flopped its launch by hiding the console entirely. That would have been fine last generation, maybe. But this generation comes in the post-Steve Jobs era where the device and its price are shown. Microsoft debuted the box, the new Kinect, and the new controller in the first 60 seconds of the event.
The scope. Wii U and PS4 both promise to provide access to video and other interesting media experiences. Xbox One actually delivers those things in the most satisfying and complete way anyone other than TiVo has done so far, letting you switch from gaming to TV to movies to web browsing with simple voice commands and practically no waiting.
Channel partners are bullish about their growth prospects. In fact, in a recently conducted Forrester survey in North America (NA) and Europe, 59% of channel partners expect to grow by more than 10% in each of the next two years. However, partners will need help and handholding as they aim for greater sophistication and higher growth targets, especially around cloud based services. Forrester research indicates that three-quarters of channel partners in NA and Europe now sell cloud-based solutions (up dramatically from two years ago). These solutions now make up 26% of their overall revenue, a percentage they expect to increase in coming years.
In my recent report, Seeding the Cloud Channel, I highlight three key areas where the partners will need support from both their tech vendors and their distributors:
Diagnostic tools and services to assess current maturity and set a transformation road map. Partners will first have to collaborate with their principal vendors to gauge the fitness of their organizations for an annuity-based business model — and whether they can sustain that model in long run. Vendors need to create assessment tools to evaluate their partners' business model transformation potential. For example, Cisco Systems built its OnPlus ROI Tool expressly for partners to model the myriad business model options and scenario decisions they face. This will not only help partners identify their pertinent strengths and weaknesses, but will also help them plan their future growth strategy.