Mary Jo has an interesting piece posted up today that is definitely worth a read. In Why Microsoft is betting big on consumer cloud services (Hint: It's about the enterprise), she does a great job sifting through a recent JP Morgan event where Judson Althoff, President of Microsoft North America, eludes to some very interesting aspects of Microsoft's Freemium service model. You know how I like a good mystery, and how much I love Sherlock Holmes' deductive powers, well, Mary Jo might just take the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle award for the week (and it's just Monday).
Something that many IT Pros have feared for the longest time is the loss of control over the technologies being utilized for the business. A loss of control means security is forfeit and corporate property is suspect. It also means that the outlay of technology budget for the intricate workings of the infrastructure is wasted as business-consumers are continually picking their own technologies to use. Things like Box, OneDrive, Google Drive and other services have become commonplace because the Enterprise is slow to catch up with what Cloud service providers are offering. Of course, some of that blame rests squarely with Microsoft. Enterprises invested in Microsoft products have to rely on the company to develop workable and complimentary alternatives.
For the longest time, IT ruled with an iron fist. When end users asked for something, or asked to be able to use something new or different than was provided on the standard technology menu, IT just plainly said, "No." Like a gaggle of Ninjas, over time end users have built up a secret society called Shadow IT. Shadow IT exists in almost every business today. It consists of those technologies in use on corporate PCs and gadgets of which IT has absolutely no clue is being utilized. Instead of storming the gates, end users simply went around IT and developed their own methods and chose their own technologies to enable them to accomplish their jobs.
We've seen Microsoft pull back from support IT Pros over the last couple years. Programs and events that were popular among the IT crowd no longer exist. Microsoft just killed them without the best of reasons. But, now the reasons are starting to coalesce, thanks to Mary Jo's clues.
"…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" - Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four
Apparently, Microsoft is secretly building a support system for Shadow IT. It seems Microsoft feels that IT is a barrier for their products and services. I've talked to this before – almost a year ago now – and it's becoming ever more evident that Microsoft is working to go around local IT. As Mary Jo highlights in her article, the intent is to build valuable services for consumers that they want to continue using even at work. Consumer versions are free, of course, but once end users request (demand, maybe) them for work, that's when subscriptions are required and the business will have to succumb.
But, will it work?
As we've seen over the last few years, Microsoft continues to attempt new things to rebuild its brand. But, with each step it believes is the way forward, it has to take several steps backward after customers fail to agree with the direction. Windows 8 and Xbox are two prime examples where the company made solid commitments but had to backtrack. Now at version 8.1 Update 1, customers are still waiting for a true Start Menu to return to Windows while Windows 7 usage continues to climb. Microsoft just recently decoupled Kinect from Xbox One because the gaming device has fallen so far behind Sony's Playstation 4.
Depending on how you look at it, with its freemium services Microsoft may finally be getting it right. Instead of using a cattle prod, the company may be attempting to direct customers in a kinder, gentler, if somewhat conspiratorial, way.
Though it seems to be taking a forked road at times, I believe Microsoft is still on course to meet its goals. The company wants to go from X to Z. It doesn't care how it gets to Z, and doesn't really care how many curves and forks it takes, just that Z is accomplished – eventually. The company wants to be everything, partners and IT Pros be damned.