I got an article sent to me today.  It was in The Economist and it was about Microsoft entering Middle Age. An interesting read that takes a long hard look at Microsoft, where it came from, and how the new CEO Mr Nadella is reshaping the company to move forward into its 5th decade.  First a few comments on the article itself.

“Mr Nadella’s formula for reinvigorating Microsoft is to move as quickly and as far as possible away from being a Windows-only company to be a global network of giant data centres that provide a broad range of online services for companies and individuals.”

This path is obviously new for Microsoft, and one that is fraught with danger as they decide what they want to be now and it departs from what has made them successful before.  However, Mr Nadella is correct in making the change as the old way lead to a slow decline into irrelevancy.  The new path…may succeed, but there are no guarantees.  Increasingly we see fewer desktops being sold and, outside of high performance gaming or work stations, they are less and less capable.  People increasingly work on mobile devices running a variety of operating systems, and people connect to the cloud out of convenience and necessity.  A company that doesn’t adapt to that changing world may just wither away.

Which leads me to another topic.  What does this mean for the Microsoft Partner who has traditionally relied on Microsoft to drive demand for their products?  I don’t mean the LARs that sell the products, those will still survive, but I mean the companies that specialize in using Microsoft tools and building business solutions for them.  I see two types of companies that do that.  One is the product company.  They build a product and use Microsoft technology to do it.  They are pretty much unaffected by this change, except in one key area.  If I have a product or service that performs some critical business function and it isn’t cloud enabled…then I will become irrelevant.  Perhaps not this year, but eventually I will find myself serving only a small niche of companies that refuse to go to the cloud.

But what about the more generic consulting company, like Catapult, or thousands of others out there that essentially sell that they are really good at the MS stack and building custom solutoins for companies.  Those types of companies face potential trouble depending on what they sell.  We have already seen that increasingly Microsoft is selling their cloud based solutions over on premise solutions.  But the side effect of this is that because the cloud based solution is less customizable and flexible than the on premise Microsoft is telling its customers that they don’t need a partner to build an Intranet…they just need Office 365.  And one you get into Office 365, you aren’t upgrading ever again.  Gone is the biggest driver for Intranet upgrades for consultants…the product life cycle.

So, what is a consulting company to do?  Well, we are all going to have to realize that if we are not adding value to the customer they aren’t going to pay for us.  I have a few suggestions that are by all means not exhaustive.

  • Recognize that Intranets are more than just branding, they are solutions to a business problem.  Identify that problem and make a value statement about it.
  • Adopt a continuous development mindset that strives to engage constantly with the client as opposed to once every product cycle
  • Talk with customers about how they manage and grow their intranets.  How do they improve it when there is no burning platform to upgrade to the newest version?
  • Think of Office 365 and SharePoint Online as an application delivery platform as opposed to the solution itself.  SharePoint does very little by itself, it needs a vision and a purpose
  • Do more consulting around business processes and strategic goals.  This is important…we have to stop being order takers and start being partners to our customers.  Part of our value is that we see more than just one company and how they work.  We get to find the value from our entire corpus of experience and we must bring that to our clients.
  • Stop selling to IT.  This seems unusual and is quite difficult, but it really isn’t.  IT is trying to solve a business problem and unless you talk to the business directly, it’s going to be hard to really solve that problem.

There are a ton more that we need to think of, but just as Microsoft is changing, that will force us to adapt or wither.