There is a theme or industry buzzword, that doesn’t get a great deal of attention. Workplace transformation is how enterprise-focused companies are describing their efforts to bring the workplace into the modern age. Some broad themes came before this one like the consumerization of the enterprise, and bring your device/apps/services, and all were an admission that the balance of power has shifted from IT manager to employee. People were exposed to a plethora of great technology in their personal lives, and the desire to use those devices, apps, services, to help them in their professional life became too influential for companies to ignore.
Having been a professional industry analyst since 2000 this paradigm change has been fascinating to watch. For the good part of my first ten years analyzing the tech industry, there was a clear divide on how consumer companies worked and thought and how enterprise companies worked and thought. Doing analysis and working at a firm that specializes in strategy, it was clear to see how the different end market focuses impacted our client’s strategic agenda. The whole world has changed, and there is no separation of consumer and commercial strategy. The consumer mindset in the workplace has flipped the model and companies are now fully embracing this trend with workplace transformation to try and bring the workplace into the modern era.
Without using too many buzzwords, with the exception of the modern workplace, Microsoft is laser-focused on workflow transformation and they fully understand the need to build consumer grade product experiences for the workplace. This is why many of Microsoft’s demos around things like mixed reality, software and workflow collaboration had a consumer product feel even though the use cases were all workplace specific. Understanding workplace transformation also takes into account the multi-device world we all now live in. There is no single device for productivity anymore and consumers want to use the best tool, and all the tools, to get the job done.
Microsoft is not alone in this focus. Every company that sells into the commercial market has turned their eyes to workplace transformation and a big part of that transformation is the heterogeneous computing environment the world now finds itself in. There is no single solution a company can offer their employees. Just like in consumer markets, choice and options remain critical. Not every employee wants to use the same thing to be best equipped to get their job done. Yet that is how it worked for many years. Employees were given a Windows PC and they used Microsoft Office and that was about it. The world has moved on and it is much bigger.
IT departments are now working to provide a suite of options, which are all secured and approved, and are essentially becoming master curators for their company. It is their job to make sure employees have quality choices for the hardware, software, and services they can use to get their job done but they also need to make sure those products pass their company standards and security protocols.
The Challenge of a Consumer Focused Enterprise Approach
While many of you probably know, most of my analyst work is in consumer markets. But these trends I’m outlining bring me into situations where enterprise focused clients are interested in better understanding the consumer mindset. The more I’ve watched companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, etc., start to think about a consumer-centric approach to their strategy the more I realize how difficult it is. The reality is, this strategy is much more difficult than a pure consumer play because of how the customer is both the commercial business (and IT manager/buyer) and the consumer.
Pure play consumer companies can get away being much more liberal with things like security and privacy, and have more options for their business model. There is less red tape and less protocol to deal with. I can argue that pure-play consumer company has it easier than a commercially focused business that has to serve both the enterprise customer and the consumer who ends up using the hardware, software, or service in the end. Which is a statement unto itself given how hard the pure consumer market is to start with.
This is one reason Apple’s has been so interesting to watch, particularly as they continue to grow in the enterprise. Granted, they are growing with hardware, and an OS platform not necessarily first party apps or services, but Apple has always stayed true to the consumer focus and that focus is what helped them gain traction in the enterprise. Not many, in fact, I can’t think of any, companies who dominate the consumer landscape like Apple can make inroads into the commercial market. Google will try and they may succeed but still have a long hard road ahead.
The same may be true with historically enterprise-focused companies as well. They may have a hard time truly understanding the consumer and have a hard time succeeding as the workplace transforms and becomes more modern. Microsoft has as good of a chance as any and while many of the announcements from BUILD were not the sexiest from a consumer standpoint, Microsoft is making important strides in this direction.