Microsoft is a giant that is discovering that it has feet of clay. All of the major technology trends are working against it at the same time. The shift to a post-PC landscape and the cloud is threatening its operating system dominance. The shift to a decentralized, consumerized enterprise buying landscape is threatening its enterprise sales dominance.
But there is another problem: focus. Right now, the IT departments of all the major companies are thinking about the shift to mobile. Devices are changing, the software is changing, the cloud is there, consumerization is there, the way employees are adopting software is changing. What does Microsoft bring to the table?
The problem is that Microsoft brings such a cacophony of things to the table, that it ends up bringing nothing.
Think about it. On the one hand, Microsoft really really wants to sell Windows Phones. On the other hand, Microsoft really really wants to sell good old fashioned PC Windows and Office licenses. On the third hand, Microsoft really really wants to sell its old-fashioned collaboration software, like Exchange. On the fourth hand, Microsoft really really wants to sell newfangled cloud services like Azure. On the fifth hand, Microsoft really really wants to sell its consumerized cloud enterprise apps like Yammer and Office 360. That's too many hands for anyone.
For a Head of IT, any of these items on the list might or might not be interesting, but none of it helps them solve the most important problem they're facing, which is how to transition their IT to the new world of post-PC, cloud, consumerized software, without too much drama, without compromising security or control, and so on. To this problem, Microsoft offers so many solutions that it's no solution at all.
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Is there a way out of this dilemma for Microsoft? One, preferably, that doesn't involve cutting off too many of those aforementioned hands?
The answer is that Microsoft should set as its strategy to become the company that will help other companies to transition to the post-PC landscape.
In order to be credible, and in order to win this opportunity, Microsoft has to become a honest broker. Do you want Amazon's cloud? We'll help you set that up. Do you want to give your workers iPhones? No problem. It needs to stop trying to sell you a Microsoft to run on your Microsoft so you can Microsoft while you Microsoft.
That doesn't mean giving up on Azure or Windows Phone--they should be options on the menu. And if they are the best options, they will sell.
Back in the early 1990s, Microsoft had an entire team devoted to helping Lotus make Notes and 1-2-3 work better on Windows, even as the Office team was devoted to killing Lotus, because they understood that the long-term value of the Windows platform as a level playing field was a lot greater than even Office.
Think of problems such as single sign-on, data security, portability, private versus public clouds, and so on. These are the main problems that companies' IT departments are facing today and tomorrow, and these are the problems that Microsoft should dedicate itself to solving, so that companies will stay loyal to Microsoft. Even if that means selling Apple and Google in the process.