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The coming Microsoft reorg: What's in it for customers?

Gregg Keizer | July 11, 2013
No immediate impact, analysts decide

Gillett cited SkyDrive, Microsoft's online storage and syncing service, as an example. "SkyDrive gets monetized when you buy a device," he said, as it's included with each device purchase. Further revenue -- the "service" portion -- is generated by premium offerings, such as additional storage space.

Most analysts saw the reshuffling not only as a move to mirror Ballmer's "devices and services" strategy, but also an attempt to foster cooperation and dampen the competition that has driven decisions, sometimes to the detriment of customers.

"The quasi-independent companies, which was what the groups are now, may have made it easier for each to do what's right for their specific set of customers," said Helm, citing the development of Office for OS X as an example. But at the same time, the baked-in competition, where each division head was akin to a warlord, responsible not only for product development but also for meeting revenue targets, resulted in the Office group hesitating to adopt Windows 8's "Modern" touch-based model, while Windows put the kibosh on Office for the iPad to secure suite exclusivity on its Surface hardware.

A reorganization, if it encourages or forces more cooperation, may translate into changes customers see if, as some expect, Microsoft removes business responsibilities from division leaders, or at least severely curtails those duties.

"It would be easier to seriously hold the engineering leader of Office and the engineering leader of Windows responsible for doing whatever it takes to ship a great set of Metro Office apps ASAP if you aren't also telling them [that] job No. 1 is to meet this year's revenue and contribution margin goals," said Hal Berenson, a former Microsoft manager and engineer who is now president of True Mountain Group, a technology and management consulting firm.

Not everyone agreed with Berenson. "If the technology leaders are losing control over resources, we may see the applications group sticking even more closely to the Windows line," said Helm.

The melding of all Windows engineering -- on the desktop, tablet and smartphone -- could produce results, too, said Moorhead. "We may see a more seamless experience, a better experience, between phone and PC," he opined.

But businesses aren't sterile organizations, they're organizations of people, said Helm, who stressed that the drivers will be the group leaders, not the org chart. "Lu, for example, has been running a money loser, but from a technology standpoint there's been a lot of interesting technology coming out of Bing," Helm said. "If [Lu] moves to a greater role in technology [and less on the business side], that could amplify his, and Bing's, strengths."

On the other hand, because the reports have omitted some executives, it may imply that they will be demoted, or even prodded to leave. Kurt DelBene, who now leads the Office division, was uppermost in Helm's mind. "Kurt's been absolutely critical to Office 365," Helm said of the company's shift to a subscription revenue model for the suite. "But it may be that individuals [like DelBene] will leave."

Moorhead cautioned that, rumors and anonymous sources aside, no one knows how a Microsoft reorganization will shake out.

Only one thing's guaranteed, added Helm. "Any immediate customer impact will be limited," he said.


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