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Weekend Special: Microsoft and the Eye of the Tiger

August 20, 2011

Many times, many people in and outside of IT or stock exchange have called Microsoft doomed. With the recent success of Apple and Google’s dominating position in the internet search market these voices have certainly become more popular. But is Microsoft really dead in the water?

Actually Microsoft is much more the Italian stallion that has just lost a fight to several Clubber Langs. But there is a road back to success. It is so that while Microsoft might have lost a fight or two they are still in the race for the championship even if called a mighty duck not to say a lame duck. So what is needed for Microsoft to once again shine and beat its opponents out of the ring?

What Microsoft needs is an Apollo Creed and the Eye of the Tiger!

Let’s look first at where Microsoft has a bright future. It is where the Clubber Langs – Google and Apple – fail. The key is the enterprise business, as neither Google nor Apple gets it right.

Apple’s small success in selling their devices into the enterprise market is mainly based on the consumerization of IT trend with regards to devices. There is no real enterprise strategy, neither in the devices / device management capabilities nor in the value business – the applications. Apple leaves the application market to many small or medium-sized developers but there is a lack of a consistent story to get enterprise relevant applications onto the device. These are two fields where Microsoft could strike big time. Rather than a fierce battle for the mobile handset itself Microsoft could focus on adding value to enterprise customers. Imagine Microsoft Office integration for the IPhone with access to CRM, SharePoint and other business resources. It could be linked to Office365, Apple has no competitive product at all, and made even more business relevant in a cloud context. Secondly imagine Service Center and Windows InTune having the capability to manage IPhones and IPads. This would really enhance the value Microsoft adds to Enterprises and enable customers around the world to trade the entire device management from one platform. This really fits Microsoft’s vision of adding value through software rather than through hardware which is exchangeable. Also it ensures continued strong ties into the enterprise business, one pillar of Microsoft’s success so far.

Also it ensures to have a future beyond Apple. Apple’s future is kind of question mark to me. How many more form factors of one hardware type (screen & touchscreen) could be sold? The innovation cycle is really in the phase of continuous improvements now.  But there is no real new product anywhere on the horizon. Microsoft instead could develop its management platform to be open for devices of all kinds independent of whoever is the successor of Apple as the supplier of the must have device.

Google on the other hand, while also competing in the mobile handset market, is narrowly focused on their search business. The Google Apps business really is more of a hobby in the real enterprise space. Surely there are nimble successes in the small enterprise market in the U.S.A. but large enterprise or businesses outside of the U.S.A. are more an effort rather than a success so far. Their search business is a success and even while Microsoft has a good product with bing the overwhelming position of Google makes this an uphill battle. Again the key question is where Microsoft adds value and will be able to do so in the future. It is the market only they seem to get, the enterprise market. Yes, there are others but let’s face it IBM is a services business much more than a software business nowadays and Oracle seems to have not yet identified where they want to be. Also they lack the same level of integration as Microsoft does.

Now let us get back to the theme of this post with an explanation of the need for Apollo Creed.

A turnaround is a leadership call but sometimes needs a little infusion from the outside. Like Apollo Creed getting Rocky Balboa out of his comfort zone and back to the basics Microsoft needs an external infusion of vision. If you look at the classic boxing fable it is the vision that was created by Apollo that met an internal craving within Rocky. Microsoft itself feels a similar craving for a vision. Something that unites the 90k+ employees is needed. A goal that makes the One Microsoft theme reality beyond quarterly sales targets like Bill Gates had once created with “one computer on every desk”. This vision or you might call it target is what creates the eye of the tiger in each and every employee. This vision needs to be simple, creative and something that could not really be battled by others. As much as I loved the “We are all in” theme for the cloud it was quickly copied by others and more a business statement for today rather than a vision for tomorrow.

So who could be Microsoft’s Apollo Creed? I have no idea but doubt that it is Steve Ballmer, who has not proven to be visionary, or Ray Ozzie, who has had the potential but was maybe too quiet to motivate the whole of Microsoft.Stephen Elop had the potential but now leads Nokia. I also disagree with the many voices calling Bill Gates back to arms. He is doing too much good for the world on a completely other scale to be distracted. So who is that shining star and what role could he or she have? I honestly do not call for Steve Ballmer to step down, even though that has become quite a popular demand as well. If he buys into that vision as well and focuses his strengths and efforts on that he will be a great leader to drive Microsoft further on.

On top of that you need to be willing to leave you comfort zone and take decisive steps. Look at IBM letting go of the PC business, or HP nowadays. It is like Apollo getting Rocky down to a pace where the only focus is boxing without any cameras and luxuries. Paulie might have complained continuously but the success in the end proved Apollo right. So take the vision, get out of the comfort zone and get working for real. Restart the innovation cycle that is the call for Microsoft.

So do not call Microsoft dead. They even have enough power and reserve to scrape along a few years before that Apollo Creed is found. But beware the moment they find the eye of the tiger again. They will not fool around and beat Clubber Lang out of the ring as Rocky Balboa did in his refight for world championship.

And the winner by knock out in round 3 is …


  1. Bill Hill permalink

    The credibility of this article is pretty low, starting with the fact that the writer does not even seem to realize that Ray Ozzie left Microsoft last year. It takes the company’s undoubted existing strength in the enterprise, grafts on a huge dose of wishful thinking and Hollywood cliché, and calls that a strategy.

    For many years, Microsoft (where I worked for over 14 years) has known it had two possible futures:

    Future 1. Make innovative breakthroughs, establish and lead new markets, and continue to grow.

    Future 2. Become an infrastructure company – still successful, but considerably smaller than today’s Microsoft.

    I won’t catalog the list of failed attempts at Future 1. You all know them.

    We’re seeing a huge growth in mobile, post-PC devices. Most people don’t need an over-powered PC running bloated software to do their job. I find myself spending more and more time using my iPad and iPhone for work. When I occasionally need more powerful computing, I use a laptop. A MacBook Pro. While still working at MSFT, I pretty much signed my own death warrant by publicly asking the “Emperor’s Clothes” question: Why is it that Apple can build a much better Windows computer than any of Microsoft’s Windows OEMs? My Windows machine was a MacBook Pro, and it was the best Windows machine I’ve ever had.

    Post-PC devices are forcing IT departments to relax control. Instead of dictating which devices people should use, they have to create more flexible IT structures and policies which allow these different and highly-popular devices to connect securely to the corporate network.

    Apple and Google (with Android) are the contenders in the post-PC space. Especially after HP dropped its tablet and WebOS earlier this week.

    For Microsoft, it’s looking increasingly like Future 2. That does not mean the death of the company. In Hollywood terms, it’s “Rocky: The Plumbing Contractor”.

    • Hello Bill,
      thanks for your comment. Interesting that you name credibility pretty low and claim that I claimed to suggest a strategy.
      While only having 6.5 years opposed to your 14 years on my back I take the freedom of my own view. Secondly I believe I have not claimed to have the silver bullet strategy. I rather believe that is something to be injected from outside.

      I do find your points interesting but it seems them pretty strongly centered around the device / PC question. You mentioning singing your own death warrant sounds like you have still some hard feelings. Nevertheless, it is your opion and as the address suggests this is all about discussions and I am happy that my post sparked your comment in a sense of discussion. I would just hope that future discussions posts would work without discrediting the indivduals.
      The Hollywood cliché was entered for the fun of reading it. I am well aware that not everybody tries to read things with a smile.

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