What Microsoft and CIOs have in common: they are stuck in the past

I’m struck by two trends and how they are actually reflections of each other, Microsoft and CIOs — long-time partners — now share a key weakness: they are stuck in the 20th century.

iPad Dominance In Business

“While a more popular platform than iOS globally, [Android] is seeing very low adoption rates in the enterprise overall, particularly with tablets, we believe that most IT managers are avoiding the platform for large-scale rollouts and support due in large part to malware concerns.” – Brian Blair

The rise of companion devices — the smartphones and tablets that define the mobility behind the always-on, connected, and social workforce — continues to be one of the abiding trends in the transition from a 20th century model of business operations into the mutating fast-and-loose business of today.

In recent days, there’s been more evidence that this is a continuing and accelerating trend, and a battlefield between the warring giants of computing:

  • Only a few weeks after announcing Amazon Workspaces — a cloud desktop running Windows and offering apps such as the Microsoft Office suite — Amazon last week released an iPad version (see Amazon Workspaces now on iPad). Initially available on Kindle, which was the first real attempt by Amazon to edge that device into the business world, the move to iPad is both obvious and destabilizing for its competitor, Microsoft. Microsoft has continued to play the Office card — keeping Office off of iPad and Android tablets — hoping that will stimulate sales of Surface and Nokia tablets. That effort by Microsoft seems not to be working well, and new offerings like Amazon’s Workspaces for iPad will continue to undermine it.
  • In case you thought Android’s growth in consumer companion devices would translate to demand in the business side, think again. Wedge Partners’ Brian Blair, a financial analyst tracking this sector closely wrote recently,

    And he sees ‘tremendous momentum’ for iPad in the business sector in the next few months.

So, it looks good for iPad adoption in business, even without Microsoft bowing to the inevitable. In 2014, the new CEO of Microsoft will definitely make the call and deploy Office on iPad, or else. But at present, Microsoft is as out of sync with the new business agenda as… well, as out of sync as today’s CIOs.

CIOs Out Of Sync

In a November study from the Society for Information Management (see IT leaders are out of sync with the enterprise’s new prioritities) has pretty damning results regarding the disconnect between IT management and the IT concerns of the CEO. In a time when there is a business IT revolution going on — based on the vastly lower long-term costs of cloud computing and the rapid uptake of incredibly powerful and mobile companion devices — the CIO seems to be stuck in second gear, or 1995.

Screenshot 2013-12-05 10.16.27

Only 1 of the CEO’s top five IT concerns were in the top 5 of CIO’s, and that was aligning IT with the business: a self-referential concern, when you think about it. The top ten issues in the study show an enormous disconnect between the IT leadership and the actual requirements of business, which I summarize in this way: the new imperative for business is a necessarily leaner, more agile, and faster way of working, with an always-on, connected, and social workforce. And the IT leadership is spending their time contemplating their navels, or stuck on the tactics of the last war, instead of working to create the context for the new normal.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Once upon a time companies had a VP of Electricity, as the business moved from a pre-electrical form of operations. But once a few years had passed, and the oil lamps were all sold off, different groups bought their own electric pencil sharpeners and electric typewriters.

The rapid ascent of cloud computing, hosted enterprise software solutions, and the workforce adoption of companion devices is changing nearly everything in business. The needs of an always-on, connected, and social workforce are pushing faster than the powers-that-were in the old days — Microsoft and corporate IT leadership — can keep up. They are two sides of the same coin.

It’s no surprise that IT is increasingly being fragmented instead of centralized. Leaders closer to the edge of the business, in contact with customers, partners, competitors, and markets, need to move faster, and make local decisions in the near-term. So marketing and engineering and making their own decisions about software, signing up their people for cloud services, hiring substitutes for the help desk and tech support folks that IT used to provide.

In a world where everything is driven by software, how can it be good to centralize software decisions? Once upon a time companies had a VP of Electricity, as the business moved from a pre-electrical form of operations. But once a few years had passed, and the oil lamps were all sold off, different groups bought their own electric pencil sharpeners and electric typewriters. And at a certain point the adjective ‘electric’ was dropped. It’s time to drop ‘information technology’ when 90% of all work is passed through ‘computication’ devices (the computers we use to communicate).

This is the blunt prospect for the CIO. An era has passed, and it’s time for the role to diffuse. Just like the monopoly of Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — which are nothing more than poorly described specifications of three file formats, when you think about it — the mystique and power that was once accorded to the CIO is now looking more like a specification of corporate imperatives that might be better implemented in a distributed, localized way by more independent groups. Certainly IT leaders are not doing a great job, and perhaps its not the role that needs to be terminated, rather than just hiring another person with the title.

And, regarding office, Microsoft’s delaying tactics are simply giving time to others — Google, Apple, and so on — to develop solutions that can import and export Office documents with high fidelity, and which play better on the most popular companion devices, like iPad. Microsoft is like angry, nay-saying CIOs telling us we can’t use the devices we want, we must use what they mandate.

There is no place for CIOs or companies like that, anymore.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Managing Director Gigaom Research

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