I’ll start by saying that I came home after having watched the Windows 10 launch (on video, not live, more on that later) all excited to show my kids the demos of HoloLens, particularly as I was sure I saw a little Minecraft in there, a serious favorite of the underage crowd in my house. Too late. My son, in perusing YouTube for the latest in Minecraft music videos, announced as I walked in that he had already seen the HoloLens demo, and wondered when he was going to be able to play 3D holographic Minecraft.
If ever anyone was wondering why Microsoft bought Mojang, the maker of Minecraft, just search “Minecraft video” on YouTube: The results (37 million hits) infinitely outstrip searching “Windows enterprise” (232,000 hits) by more than 100 to 1. And therein lies the crux of this post.
I mention this not just because it’s another example of how hard it is for the older generation to keep up with the newer one, but also as an example of how the Windows 10 launch, despite the use of the word “enterprise” a dozen times or more, was as much a showcase of how much the Windows team has an uphill battle to fight in creating buzz for enterprise computing as it was another example of how cool Microsoft can actually be when it puts its mind to it, as long as it’s not in the enterprise.
Can Microsoft afford this version of coolness, particularly when it comes to the enterprise? Hardly. This week’s earnings announcement was credited with killing the Dow Industrial Average on Tues., and in most categories there were a lot of disappointing results. But Dynamics, the enterprise little brother of the Microsoft Commercial division, put in a relatively stellar 13 percent growth rate. (Which parts of that were Dynamics CRM, AX, and the rest is never disclosed, unfortunately.) So, ignoring a solid growth opportunity, albeit a relatively small one, seems a little short-sighted. Particularly as Dynamics is the place where all of Microsoft (minus Minecraft, at least for now 🙂 ) is best highlighted.
There were some enterprisey tidbits in the announcement – the free upgrades from Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 are sure to make corporate IT folks happy. A new browser to replace Internet Explorer 11, the bane of developers and users with its anomalous script handling and other defects, will surely be welcome in IT shops that haven’t just shrugged their shoulders and shifted to Chrome. And the seamless interaction of Office and Skype across the full panoply of devices on stage was enterprisey enough, sort of – if you’re one of those people who think Office and Skype are enterprise apps (which, considering that the Minecraft generation in my house also uses them, sort of makes its enterprise cred highly suspect.)
But sort of isn’t what’s going to light the enterprise on fire. And here’s my problem with the Windows 10 launch: While the biggest selling point of Windows 10 – a single code base for building apps that run across every possible device – was definitely part of the messaging of the event, the evidence that Microsoft knows what this really means for the enterprise, or even what makes enterprise users tick, was missing in action. Again.
HoloLens certainly has some serious enterprise potential, as does Cortana, and the demo of Surface Hub, a giant wall-sized touch screen, which is right up there with jet packs and teleportation in the futuristic coolness category, certainly had something to make enterprise execs salivate. But none of that coolness is enough to get enterprise developers who build the new business apps, and the business decision makers (to use a Microsoft term) who spec out those apps and write the checks for them, to go all-in with Windows 10.
Microsoft finds itself once again caught falling down that classic chasm between offering coolness and offering solutions to practical business problems. What the Windows 10 launch showed is another example of how tech companies try to sell technology the same way they develop it. The tech dev cycle that starts with specifying a new feature, and then building, debugging, rewriting, testing, and demoing it at events like last week’s Windows 10 launch party leaves out the last mile that a business user is looking for: how does this change my business process and move my KPIs into the success zone? Importantly, coolness isn’t necessarily a virtue in the enterprise. Who the hell has the time to be just cool?
Or, to rephrase that last thought: what’s cool in the enterprise is something that solves a real, and important, problem right now. Not sometime down the road, as in when virtual reality will become a tool for enterprise success, once we’ve figured out how and why.
So I’ve asked for, and have yet to see, any evidence that Microsoft knows what that killer enterprise app looks like. It may be that they honestly don’t know, or even care. Both of which are bad mistakes to be making at this juncture. On the contrary, Microsoft has to up its enterprise game ASAP, before it loses an opportunity to define the next generation business app platform for an enterprise audience increasingly assaulted by more incumbent vendors pitching competing platforms that have a more definable enterprise edge.
Three key factors are making the clock tick faster and louder on getting the enterprise case for Windows 10 out in front of the market.
The Platform Wars. Two really big and really important competitors are pushing their enterprise platform strategies a whole lot more effectively than Microsoft is right now – Salesforce.com and SAP. Their customers – virtually all of which overlap with Windows – are being pushed by aggressive direct sales and marketing campaigns to get on program with each companies’ respective platform strategy. HoloLens and free Windows upgrades aren’t enough to combat this push. Windows 10 could be the leading edge of a comprehensive enterprise platform strategy (along with Azure and .NET) that could give Microsoft something to say to Force.com and HANA cloud. If only….
The Enterprise Phone Wars. As I have written previously, Microsoft is in serious danger of losing the US market for Windows Phone before it has even gotten started, and, most ironically, just when it has a new OS, Windows Phone 8.1, that is rated as good or better than IOS or Android. The cross-platform capabilities of Windows 10 won’t be nearly as impressive if Windows Phone isn’t one of the platforms enterprise developers think is important – and right now they don’t: few if any enterprise developers are developing for Windows Phone.
Pushing the cross-platform capabilities of Windows 10 in the enterprise could, just maybe, light a fire under the enterprise dev community, which right now is stuck worrying about how to build and maintain interfaces between mobile, desktop, and tablet environments. While HTML5 is a good workaround, running an app in the native mobile environment is acknowledged to be the truly optimal choice. But if the app has to go to a different device, it’s interface time, and Microsoft loses.
(A follow-up to my post on Windows Phone 8.1 and Verizon cited above: a week after that post appeared, Verizon quietly pushed an update to my phone. During the last month of playing with it, I think it is truly superior to IOS. Too bad Verizon still isn’t really on-board with Windows Phone 8.1. But thanks, anyway.)
The Business Process Innovation Wars. Business users need innovations that solve business problems, as noted above. This requires the innovation provider to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of existing business processes in order to propose – and then deliver – ways in which the processes can be innovated. Delivering proof that this process knowledge is baked into their offerings is becoming job #1 for enterprise software companies, and everywhere I turn there’s an increasing clamor from customers to show how a given innovation matters in terms of vertical and micro-vertical functionality, preferably cross-indexed with geographical or regional requirements. In other words, business innovation is increasingly about defining, and then delivering on, that last mile of innovation that matters most to the customer, particularly the business customer. Windows 10 so far has no real story to tell in that regard.
Can Microsoft pull out of its self-inflicted Windows tailspin before all that’s left is Minecraft and virtual reality? Yes, but that means it has to be ready to take a very different – or maybe parallel –route to market with Windows 10. This means connecting Windows 10 to the aspirations of enterprise users, and toning down some of the gee-whiz in favor of the get-it-done. This means, as I have said already, showcasing that killer enterprise app that makes the case for Windows 10. Or making the case that the Cortana, Skype, Office, and the new IE, Spartan, will have a huge, direct impact on day-to-day enterprise processes and their users. This also means taking some of the really awesome innovations going on in Microsoft Dynamics, such as its Lifecycle Services offering, a cloud-based enterprise software tool unlike anything in the industry, and connecting its capabilities to Windows 10 (if possible, and I think it is.)
In other words, it means stopping something I’ve railed against for a long time: pretending that the Windows team, and its traditional gang of influencers, really gets the enterprise. They don’t, full stop. And instead of pretending, the Windows gang need to acknowledge this lacuna and get started with reaching out to the enterprise, both internally and externally. Internally, there’s this group called Dynamics, who were also missing in action during the Windows 10 event, that actually get the enterprise and would be more than willing and able to lend the Windows team some legitimate enterprise cred. Externally, there’s a few thousand partners who could also play that role, also willing and able to step up to the plate.
And finally, there are the enterprise influencers, myself included, who seem to be consistently excluded from the dialogue. I tried to attend the Windows 10 event, and was rebuffed, however nicely. And having seen how sparse the real enterprise message was at the event, it was probably for the best that I stayed in the office and watched the event on line.
Until the enterprise story is told about Windows 10, by people who really get the enterprise, Microsoft will be leaving one of its best assets sitting on the sidelines at an increasingly critical moment in the enterprise software market. And judging by the market’s reaction to last quarter’s numbers, it’s a pretty critical moment for Microsoft overall. I think Windows 10 can make a difference in Microsoft’s enterprise software competitive profile, but convincing Microsoft continues to be a Sisyphean task.
If Microsoft will be content with Xbox, Minecraft and office productivity success, then no harm, no foul. But if there are aspirations for greatness in the enterprise, it’s time to show what Windows 10 can do. Or we’ll all be running watching Minecraft videos on our iPhones and Chromebooks, instead of running our enterprises on Windows phones, tablets, and desktops. While that’s just what Apple and Google want to see and hear (and Salesforce.com , SAP, Oracle, Infor, and others), I’m pretty sure that’s not what Satya Nadella had in mind when he took the job. Right?