The beginning of December greeted many enterprise folks with the news - or rumor - that Microsoft might push out the initial launch of Windows 8 from mid-2012 to early 2013. From a strictly non-mobile enterprise perspective this would qualify as no more than a very minor blip on the radar screen. What's another six months in a world where Windows XP still comfortably lives?
From a mobile perspective, however, the news - or rumor - was dismaying to say the least. If it turns out to be true, Microsoft will end up having provided no real enterprise mobility story for yet another year - that would be four straight years of abandoned enterprise mobility leadership and abandoned responsibility. Or is it five?
Apple and the Android hardware vendors (Samsung, HTC and Motorola in particular) have certainly wasted no time in filling the enterprise mobility leadership and responsibility gap. Apple has done it simply by delivering devices - especially the iPad - that the public loves. The company hasn't defined a bona fide enterprise strategy - it relies on following Steve Jobs' mantra of delivering insanely great products.
Samsung and the other Android players in the meantime, have all formed enterprise groups to work specifically on crafting enterprise services - and marketing messages - in an effort to establish themselves as credible enterprise vendors. It is worth noting here that back in 2006 - 2007 Nokia built out an extensive presence in White Plains, NY specifically to deliver "serious" enterprise mobility leadership - but as Nokia demonstrated, such good intentions aren't enough to succeed, and the Android players are likely to follow suit - none of them have serious enterprise infrastructure experience, and this is a key to enterprise mobility leadership.
Research in Motion, meanwhile, had serious enterprise leadership - and entrenched enterprise infrastructure - well in hand, but is rapidly losing it. RIM may ultimately survive, but it is no longer in a position to offer enterprise mobility leadership.
What remains is a mobility leadership gap. And it is a large leadership gap. It is the perfect time for Microsoft to step up and fill those shoes. But what does Microsoft need to do? Here are five key ideas:
- CRAFT A REAL ENTERPRISE USER MOBILE MESSAGE - Microsoft needs to do whatever it takes to deliver Windows 8 in mid-2012, and needs to build its entire Windows 8 messaging around enterprise mobility. There is huge untapped potential for a Windows 8 enterprise tablet market. Apple is winning this race hands-down simply by being present in it (albeit with the already noted insanely great product). Apple winning by default, however, isn't to the advantage of the enterprise. Microsoft has deep enterprise back end roots - it has spent many years establishing itself here and having finally taken over (Linux not withstanding) it needs to now fully extend that back end expertise out into the mobile realm with passion and artistry (Apple does both, Microsoft does neither).
- DELIVER AN AMAZING MOBILE TABLET EXPERIENCE - Having chosen to not go down the path of unveiling a Windows Phone 7-based tablet in either late 2010 or throughout 2011 Microsoft (and its partners, such as HP) is in need of getting Windows 8/Metro UI mobile tablet hardware into the hands of enterprises quickly. A hardware roadmap that will allow Apple to deliver a third generation iPad 3 before any Windows 8 tablet hits is a strong indication of a failure to lead. The hardware design is an intimate part of the tablet experience - as Apple demonstrates over and over again - can HP and other partners deliver here? HP's TouchPad was a great tablet that suffered from inelegant hardware design - that webOS offered a great user experience wasn't enough - hardware and software must be married into a unified and near perfect design. It is a tall order for the traditional PC vendors and Microsoft needs to find a way to step up here. The Metro UI is a winner, but a TouchPad-like hardware experience will fail.
- WORK CLOSELY WITH NOKIA AND BE AN ACTIVE PRESENCE - When Nokia introduced its Lumia smartphones Microsoft did not participate as a fully engaged partner. There was a lack of market enthusiasm from Microsoft that did not inspire confidence and that did not speak of mobile leadership. There is a strong sense that Microsoft will simply be happy to chalk up on its balance sheet a huge number of WP7 smartphones sitting in numerous third world countries through Nokia's distribution channels (by default Nokia will ultimately sell huge numbers of WP7 devices). It is the Ballmer way - quietly chalk up billions of dollars in sales, revenue and profitability and move on to the next quarter of the business cycle. Under Ballmer Microsoft has continued to grow (from a financial perspective) substantially, but financial growth does not translate into leadership - especially in the mobile marketplace.
- CRAFT AN "OPEN" MOBILE ENTERPRISE IT PLAN AND MESSAGE - After 30 years it is inherently impossible for Microsoft's current leadership to come across without a display of arrogance. Some of that arrogance manifests itself not overtly, but in ways that are hard for Microsoft to sense as being arrogant. For example, listening to Ballmer read boilerplate copy of mobile strategy leaves one with an acute sense of being talked down to from someone who doesn't quite get it. That has been a long standing problem with Microsoft and mobile leadership. The boilerplate approach will not work - Microsoft needs to invite enterprise leaders who have lived through large scale mobile experiences to help it craft a hands-on mobile enterprise plan that speaks to the needs of enterprise users, but that also comes across with a passion that goes far beyond what Microsoft can currently muster (as noted in point 1 above relative to enterprise end users rather than enterprise IT).
- CREATE MOBILE EXPECTATIONS AND ANTICIPATION - For a company that was once at the pinnacle of the marketing game, Microsoft has fallen on hard times in terms of trumping the competition with a real vision of the future going five years out. Yes, it has various videos available that show a futuristic mobile world, but the problem here is that these videos come across as art projects rather than delivering a sense of possible reality. Microsoft does have some powerful weapons through X-Box and Kinect - if Microsoft can find a way to pull these together into an integrated mobile message that brings Nokia smartphones into the mix it can generate excitement and anticipation from the end user community.
Finally, the five ideas noted here are not serial in nature. They are circular, and need to continue in a loop, with point 5 eventually looping back to and informing point 1 and starting another iteration of the entire set of points. Microsoft needs to lead on mobility - Apple, Google and the Android vendors need a powerful mobile player in Microsoft to ensure there are reality checks at every point in the path (from hardware to software) that ultimately benefit the mobile enterprise.