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.

7 thoughts on “Microsoft’s challenges in Social Business space

  1. I suspect it will boil down to the passion and freedom of the executive who will run this business and will she/he will not let it be bear hugged by the Office team.

  2. Actually, treating social office software as common infrastrcture and as acceptable as email might represent the final crucial tipping point in adoption that many larger organizations need. Companies like Yammer had to sell the idea of community building because it was/is a new concept and not part of the central business toolset, but if people already begin to use it as a replacement for email, then they already succeeded in gaining adoption.

    Yes, I get that your focus is on the community of people rather than the tool, but I have a feeling we are finally seeing the start of the golden era of social office software.

    1. I disagree completely about infrastructure. Typically that’s code for “I don’t need to teach you how to use it”. There are so many “collaboration” choices inside of companies today and most business users are so overwhelmed that they go back to e-mail. I can’t blame them, because even at Alcatel-Lucent, when I knew this problem, it was very difficult to solve. Can Microsoft build software that business people want to use or are they still trying to make Architects and Engineers happy?

      1. We are talking about Microsoft here. Look at the track record of adoption among enterprises and the “usability” of its SW by the users. For the enterprises, it’s all about the tool. The users will continue to do what they’ve always done: most of them will use what’s been provided because it’s a tool nonetheless. 😉 As I said, it’s a tipping point. It couldn’t be accomplished with Sharepoint on the inside or with Yammer on the outside.

  3. As the guy responsible for driving that shift internally, I accept the proverbial thrown glove, Greg 🙂 The great news for Microsoft (and its customers) is that the reason OfficeTalk never saw the light of day was that the Office team was busy learning from it. The biggest lesson I’ve learned driving OfficeTalk’s usage from lab experiment to mainstream business critical app is that social cannot succeed beyond the early adopters as a standalone app.

    I have a lot of hope that Tony Scott (CIO) and the rest of IT won’t fall prey to your valid list of concerns. Exhibit A: Microsoft isn’t deploying SharePoint 15 primarily on-premise. Our goal is to have 90%+ of our SharePoint infrastructure hosted in SharePoint Online in the next 2 years. And Consumerization is one of our top 3 initiatives.

    I couldn’t agree with you more that culture change is more important than even the feature set, which is why I’m grateful that Microsoft finally staffed a team of folks like me that are focused on driving adoption, evangelizing best practices, and setting roadmap for innovation on top of the social infrastructure.

    And now, I welcome the addition of your old employer as a tangible validation of the importance of the change I’ve been driving and some new blood with social in their DNA. That’s not in any way to diminish what’s coming to SharePoint itself in the next release… but you’ll have to wait for those details. I’m nearly as excited about our “social business” roadmap as I am about getting my hands on a Surface 🙂

    1. Thanks for the insight Chris. I will say I’m looking forward to seeing this unfold and I wish you and your team the best of luck.

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