With the recent news of Steve Balmer’s impending retirement, a $900 million inventory write-off for the Surface RT, and lackluster sales on Windows Phone, the desire for a new future in mobility has to be burning in the halls of Redmond right now. It shows in their recent acquisition of Nokia. At first blush, this acquisition is more of the same old Microsoft trying to breathe life into the flatlining Windows Phone. It’s time they realize that the same old magic they used to gain market dominance in the past just isn’t working in enterprise mobility.
Microsoft has a history of success as an enterprise infrastructure player, and they need to build their enterprise mobility strategy around that strength. It’s Microsoft’s cloud technologies that can make the greatest impact in enterprise mobility and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). While owning the infrastructure isn’t as sexy as having your name on the mobile device or the operating system startup screen, IBM has embarked on a similar mobile strategy with MobileFirst. It’s time that Microsoft follows suit.
Office 365 and Office apps
Wasting enterprise mobility opportunities seems to be part of the Microsoft Office 365 project charter. In reality, Office 365 should be the centerpiece of a cloud-centric Microsoft mobile strategy.
Microsoft's release of <yawn>Office Mobile for Office 365</yawn> for both the iPhone and Android was an afterthought when you rate the apps against what people like harmon.ie and Colligo are releasing for SharePoint/Office 365 clients, because the latter offer a better user experience and robust mobile collaboration features. Likewise, Quickoffice and DocsToGo each have a mobile office app more capable than Microsoft’s lackluster Office mobile release.
Microsoft should own enterprise mobile and BYOD access options to Office 365, but they seemingly remain on the sidelines. While I did come across a Microsoft Office 365 Mobility Solutions Service Description that was published in 2012, reading it makes you wonder if Microsoft can even conceive of Office 365 outside of a Microsoft bubble.
I’ve written about setting up Office 365 on iOS and Android. It’s completely different experiences, because Android requires far more manual configuration to get email and SharePoint access working. In fact, Lync Online access was impossible based on the version of Android my tablets were running.
Microsoft’s options are to devote the developer resources and talent to the mobile side of Office 365 to further democratize mobile access to Office 365 from Android and iOS devices; acquire one or more innovative SharePoint/Office 365 mobility developers out there; or just cede that segment and continue to languish in wasted opportunities.
Project Online technically falls under the Office 365 banner, but I’m breaking it out for purposes of my argument, because Microsoft again lags behind in the growing mobile project management app space. While they’ve added mobile access as part of the Project Web App, even they describe as lightweight access.
This lightweight access falls behind companies like LiquidPlanner who have Android and iOS apps that are on (or nearly so) parity with the LiquidPlanner SaaS applications.
Like many people, I came up the ranks using Microsoft Project on the desktop and applauded Microsoft’s move to the cloud with Project Online. The time is now for Project Online to move past lightweight mobile access. Microsoft needs to open up Project Online and develop a full-fledged mobile client for Android and iOS users.
More mobile support for Project Online -- through Microsoft or a partner client -- for Android and iOS could make Project Online a key element of a cloud-centric Microsoft mobile strategy. In turn, a well-designed mobile app for Project Online could help recast it for “regular users.” The Microsoft Project product line still has a reputation for people with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. However, teams today are increasingly more mobile and need project schedule access to all members, not just the project manager.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online
When I wrote "Access Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online from an Android tablet," I was a bit taken aback that Microsoft didn’t have an official Android or iOS app for the platform. Third-party developers, like Resco, own the entire mobile app ecosystem for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This model breaks away from SAP, Oracle, and Salesforce, who own the mobile app and the cloud.
Considering that SaaS-based CRM solutions put powerful tools into the hands of organizations of all sizes, Microsoft owning the client app seems to make sense.
Azure could play an even bigger role in a cloud-centric Microsoft mobile strategy that I’m proposing in this article. However, it would require a somewhat painful course correction and rearrangement of development priorities and messaging, as iOS and Android development tools for Azure come in the forefront and the Microsoft mobile OSs take the second chair.
It’s a mobile device agnostic world out there for most enterprises. Focusing on the cloud isn't as sexy as the devices or the mobile OS, but it is a better avenue for Microsoft to earn some enterprise mobility credibility and leadership over the backend that serves corporate and BYOD mobile users.
How do you think Microsoft could fair better in the enterprise mobility space? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applications for online and print technology publications. You can reach Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.