Microsoft’s challenges in Social Business space

Microsoft is no stranger to the enterprise. It’s been doing it for over 30 years. But what is a challenge, is Microsoft is a technology company that interfaces primarily with IT. This is the group that traditionally believes their job ends at deployment. Social Business on the other hand is a space where deployment is the easy part. Getting business people to leverage technology to do things differently is really hard. The limited success of Microsoft Dynamics is one example of what happens when Microsoft tries to interface directly with the business.

In many companies, the relationship between the business and IT is strained at best, but even in companies where the relationship is good, it’s unclear whether IT has the expertise or capability to drive social adoption within a company. This is for many reasons:

  • Engineers and Technologists generally don’t understand business priorities
  • The project becomes the focus, not the business objective
  • Lack of talent coming into IT due to out-sourcing and off-shoring
  • Isolation from the business
  • Operational focus on efficiency (cost)

Additionally, IT has not been the role model for adopting the changes that social implies. IT is already dealing with numerous challenges that prevent them from being an effective force for adoption:

  • Fear of the cloud (Job security/control)
  • Loss of influence/control by IT Executives (Klout)
  • Consumerization (keeping pace with end-user expectations)
  • Architectures vs. productivity (Usability)

As people who know and follow me already understand, I’m very optimistic about the social business space. Social has the potential to connect the lot of pieces in Microsoft’s offering and finally make social business mainstream, but the one big mistake that can be made is that this is thought of as just a piece of “infrastructure” (like e-mail). To be successful, organizations not only need to focus on the technology but more importantly the culture, behaviors and change inside the organization. It’s not about doing social, it’s understanding the changes that your want or need to make in your business and how social enables it and then, most importantly, making it happen.

I don’t believe the greatest challenge for Microsoft will be its customers or the market; I believe the biggest challenge for Microsoft will be Microsoft. Will the company that originated the term “Eating your own dog food” be able to successfully implement an internal social network that leads to change inside the company? By most accounts, the culture inside Microsoft is secretive and asocial. Will they be able to embrace the openness of a social platform internally? Perhaps this in part is why OfficeTalk never saw the light of day. Having personally seen the challenges of introducing change inside a large technology organization (Alcatel-Lucent), I expect that there’s going to be quite a battle internally between the people who want change and the people who don’t. It will take some very talented and tenacious people who understand social and the change behind it to help drive this shift internally with the right support for this stand a chance.

It’s too early to predict what’s going to happen, but like its solutions, it’s not over once it’s deployed (or acquired in this case). The real challenge only begins after the deal is done.

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