Throughout 2014, Microsoft and its new CEO Satya Nadella have offered an ever-evolving strategy for the company going forward. "Devices and services" changed into "mobile first, cloud first," and a focus on productivity was sort of tossed in the mix almost as an afterthought. But at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July, Mr. Nadella spoke of something called "dual-use." And it is here, I think, that Microsoft can find its sweet spot.
Dual use, like the consumerization of IT and cloud computing, isn't really new per se, but is rather a new name for, and formalization of, something we've been doing for quite some time. Here's how Nadella described it during his WPC keynote address.
"[Microsoft is] going to do the best job of being able to enable dual use," he said. "This entire notion that somehow I'll buy my device for consumption and personal use and then I'll give up that device for work and take another device just doesn't work. We know that. And simply saying even just BYOD [bring your own device] is not good enough. We've got to harmonize this dual usage. We absolutely have to be the best in the world when it comes to taking Skype and Lync, OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, Outlook and Exchange, and every one of these experiences and the shell and the operating systems in Windows all have to be built to excel for this dual use. And that's what will drive productivity."
So, yes, dual use is a fairly obvious notion. But there are some fascinating hints about the future in that statement.
Notice his commingling of Skype and Lync, of OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, and of Outlook (by which he surely means Outlook.com, not the Outlook desktop application) and Exchange. In each case, he is placing related consumer and business products together. Which would make sense at a high level, because generally speaking, it's not hard to understand that we have consumer and individual versions of communications services, storage services, and email/personal information management.
There's just one thing: Microsoft just released a new OneDrive mobile app for Android that commingles (i.e. "harmonizes") OneDrive (for consumers) and OneDrive for Business in a single app. Previously, on other platforms—like Windows, Windows Phone, and iOS, the firm had released separate apps for each service. But in shipping this new Android app, Microsoft noted that it would follow-up with a single app for both OneDrive and OneDrive for Business on these other platforms soon as well. This is the new way—the dual-use way—that these services will be accessed on mobile devices going forward. As a single experience.
What does that mean for Skype and Lync? Or for Outlook.com and Exchange/Exchange Online? I think it means we're going to see a similar consolidation of clients in the future.
For Skype and Lync, which are now made by the same team, it's not hard to imagine Skype winning the battle of the brands, and we know from the ongoing work on the backends that both services are picking up the best of each. I'm just guessing here, but Lync as the service and Skype as the client makes plenty of sense. Something like "Skype. Powered by Lync."
As for Outlook.com and Exchange, as a heavy user of both, on the web, on the PC, and on mobile clients, I've often wondered why the clients were so different. Sure, Exchange provides a ton of additional features related to security, manageability and other business concerns. But I've always preferred the Outlook.com clients. Here, too, you see an obvious way to consolidate. Something that combines both consumer and business offerings. Dual-use.
In that short quote, Nadella also mentions integrating these services into the Windows shell. In Windows 8.1, OneDrive is nicely integrated already, but it's not hard to imagine OneDrive for Business being offered as well. (Today, you get it for free, but separately.) Skype is already integrated as well, but a consolidated client with Lync compatibility makes plenty of sense. And we already have Mail, Calendar and People apps that work natively with both Outlook.com and Exchange/Exchange Online/Office 365. This isn't so much a vision as it is a work in progress.
Commingling personal and work data only really makes sense from your workplace's perspective when it has the controls it needs to ensure that its own data is safe and can be removed from the device easily should it be lost or stolen. Likewise, if you do bring your own device to work and start commingling the personal and the professional, what you want is a system by which some remote wipe from work doesn't destroy the 1000+ photos you just took on a vacation in Europe or whatever.
This is of course an area of strength for Microsoft. The company led the way with Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), which became the de facto standard for device management. And now with more capable Mobile Device Management (MDM) capabilities in products like Intune and System Center, the firm has complete offerings that can meet the needs of users and their workplaces alike.
Sounds like a plan.