When I am not writing for Tech.pinions, I spend a fair amount of my time doing a variety of things, and a significant part of my freelance life is helping to write responses to Requests for Proposals, most of them for large, complex IT deployments. The RFPs, and the nature of the response to them, very a lot, but one thing they have in common in the pervasiveness of Microsoft Office and related software.
One thing I have noticed in a great deal of tech analysis and journalism is that except on sites focused on an enterprise audience, such as InfoWeek or ComputerWorld, there seems to be very little sense of how dependent the enterprise is on Microsoft. As a result, they tend to grossly underestimate both the importance and staying power of Microsoft.
To some extent, that is not surprising. Not many writers have much experience in the enterprise world. Journalists, in particular, do most of their work in content management systems that don’t use Office components. (When writing for Tech.pinions, for example, I either write directly in our CMS, WordPress, or use a markdown editor. Occasionally, I’ll use Excel to analyze data and generate a chart or table, but that’s about it.[pullquote]Microsoft also needs to come to grips with the reality that iOS and Android, not Windows Phone and Surface, are going to be the dominant players in the mobile enterprise.[/pullquote]
But other work is all Microsoft, all the time. The RFPs themselves are often published as word documents, and even if they are PDFs, it’s a good bet they began life as Word docs. And the RFPs generally specify response be in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The teams writing the responses depend heavily on the Track Changes and commenting capabilities of Word. SharePoint is used as the document repository and for version control. Team members communicate using Exchange/Outlook and Lync. (All of this, by the way, is supported on Macs, although the Mac Outlook client is pretty bad and the Mac SharePoint tool (Microsoft Document Connection) is extremely finicky.)
As for the systems described in the RFP, the back ends may be based on software from SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft, among others, but the presence of these systems being accessed by desktops or laptops running Windows and Office is simply taken for granted. In most cases, especially in government RFPs, mobile access is often an afterthought and is handled through a smartphone or tablet browser, if at all. iOS or Android support is starting to show up a bit more, particularly for HR self-service applications.
All of this is important because it shows that predictions of doom for Microsoft are grossly exaggerated. Microsoft clearly has long-term problems that will affect its dominance of the enterprise if not addressed successfully. One of the features of Windows 8 that could appeal to enterprises is sophisticated baked-in support for both public and private clouds. But Windows 8’s user interface mess is a non-starter for enterprise customers, and it is unlikely that windows 8.1 Update 1 is going to move the ball far enough to be of much help. It’s imperative that Microsoft come up with a Windows 9 that both gives enterprises the user experience they want (i.e., one that imposes a minimal retraining burden) while building the on ramp to the cloud services that are Microsoft’s future.
But a successful future for Microsoft, even in the enterprise, has to go far beyond hanging on to Windows PCs. While they are not going away, neither are they growing and are more likely to shrink as those workers not tethered to their desks trade their traditional PCs for more mobile devices. Microsoft needs to find a way to extend its software and services into the mobile space.
Jean-Louis Gassée argues in a Monday Note that the key is a radical invention of the Windows tablet:
Microsoft faces a choice. It can replace the smashed bumper on its truck with a stronger one, drop a new engine into the bay and take another run at the tablet wall. Or it can change direction. The former — continuing to attempt to bridge the gap between tablets and laptops — will do further damage to the company’s credibility, not to mention its books. The latter requires a radical but simple change: Make an honest tablet using a version of Windows Phone that’s optimized for the things that tablets do well. Leave laptops out of it.
I believe that’s the right track–I have maintained for a long time that trying to build a tablet OS down from desktop Windows rather than up from Microsoft’s phone software was a strategic blunder–but unless Microsoft has been quietly working that approach for many months, it is going to take too long to pull off a new tablet software design.
Microsoft also needs to come to grips with the reality that iOS and Android, not Windows Phone and Surface, are going to be the dominant players in the mobile enterprise. The company has taken small but important initial steps with SkyDrive (soon to become OneDive) and Lync apps for iOS and Android. But it needs to take the big step of providing solid Office and SharePoint apps for tablets, sooner rather than later. It will have to do a lot better than existing third-party solutions (not all that hard) and signal to the world that it will support its vital Office infrastructure on a heterogeneous world of mobile devices.