Where all roads in business lead to Windows
- Microsoft's business solutions unit has a strategy that encourages enterprises to standardize on Windows 8 devices. Will it last?
If Microsoft's next CEO contender Stephen Elop gets the chance to execute a rumored move away from a Windows-centric strategy, then I guess the folks at its business software division will be sorely disappointed.
For they have carefully crafted a strategy that encourages enterprises of all sizes to standardize on a stack of Microsoft business software, Azure-based cloud services and touch-enabled Windows mobile devices.
The rest of the world may have opted for Android and iOS tablets and smartphones — and the apps and services will actively support these platforms, too — but in the world of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), it's inevitable that the most consistent user experience will be delivered on Windows, including Surface tablets and Windows Phone mobile devices.
In the business world therefore — or at least in that part of it that runs the Dynamics family of back-office and front-office applications — the strategy is to provide compelling reasons for choosing Windows devices (and applications and services ...) over other platforms.
That is why, at Monday's Dynamics CRM launch party, executive vice president of the Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) division Kirill Tatarinov spoke of it "blazing the path for the devices and services strategy.”
The whole stack
For many of the division's midmarket enterprise customers, it's a relief to be able to rely on Microsoft to provide the whole stack. A typical example is upmarket Danish contemporary furniture maker BoConcept, which runs its back-office systems on Dynamics AX, alongside Dynamics CRM, Office 365 and Sharepoint. As Joan Bjørnholdt Nielsen, IT and business process director explained during the vendor's Convergence EMEA event in Barcelona this week:
"We took the decision we wanted to use Microsoft in all aspects to make it easy to integrate and follow the strategy of Microsoft ... It is making support easier for us if it's all in the same version."
The move to more online and mobile ways of working and interacting with customers puts buainesses under increasing pressure to continually update their systems and processes to keep pace. For these businesses, transferring as much of that burden to the vendor as possible makes the task easier.
Azure-based cloud services are playing an increasingly important role here, more often as a supplement to existing on-premise assets in hybrid environments rather than as a wholesale cloud replacement. For example, the Azure Service Bus can be used to connect on-premise and cloud applications to mobile apps and devices, so that enterprises can support a mobile device population without having to build their own in-house mobile infrastructure.
The latest crop of Microsoft's business applications make full use of the Windows 8 user interface to deliver data integration and joined-up processes. In an on-stage demo during the event's opening keynote (see photo above), Microsoft's Paul White, senior director of ERP product marketing, showed how it's possible to access live data from the Dynamics NAV system of record from within the Office 365 environment: "With one click I'm taking data out of NAV in the cloud and displaying that data in Excel in the cloud."
This can be done within a customer's own on-premise implementations too, but delivering it as a cloud solution adds the benefit of speed of deployment: "We've got partners deploying templated solutions like this in 5-10 days," he claimed.
In the user's hand
Delivering the outcome of an end-to-end process to a Windows device in the user's hand completes the picture. In one example at US carrier Delta Air Lines, when a flight attendant arrives on the plane they put their Windows 8 phone into a special holder, where it becomes a point-of-sale device for trolley sales during flight. As well as reducing paperwork hassles and errors, the device uses the onboard GoGo wifi service to verify credit card approvals in-flight.
Business implementations like these have the potential to increase adoption of Windows smartphones and tablets not only within the enterprise context but also by giving individual consumers more opportunities to encounter them. As corporate vice president of MBS marketing Wayne Morris explained to me:
"We have the opportunity to put a device in front of a lot of people in a business context. Those sorts of thiings start to showcase the power of what we do ...
"I think there will be a cross over effect back to people in their personal lives as well."
It's taken several years of development to bring this strategy to life. The appeal of a consistent user experience co-ordinated by a single vendor should not be underestimated (see what it's done for Apple ...) Will it now pay off for Microsoft in the enterprise market?
The irony is that we may never get to find out if Microsoft's incoming CEO strangles it at birth. Though Bloomberg's report of fancied candidate Elop's supposed views got short shrift from a Microsoft spokesman, commenting: "We appreciate Bloomberg’s foray into fiction and look forward to future episodes.”
Disclosure: Microsoft funded most of the author's T&E to attend Convergence EMEA 2013 in Barcelona.
Photo credits: Road bridges: © hallucion_7 - Fotolia.com; Convergence stage courtesy of Microsoft