Microsoft is extolling the virtues of a "mobile first, cloud first" policy for the business world, but warned that companies have to get smarter about the deluge of data faced by employees.
The software giant covered a broad range of issues during a Business Transformed event in London, attended by V3 on Wednesday. This included how customers are implementing enterprise mobility, why 4G is becoming increasingly important, and why the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend is not evolving out as expected.
In amongst all this, the event was largely a not-so-thinly veiled pitch by Microsoft for its Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 platforms, along with services such as Office 365 and Yammer that can be accessed from devices running either platform.
The company's story to customers is that Windows is still the right choice for business, and the integration of cloud-based services with Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 enables users to be more productive by accessing data anywhere, and on multiple devices.
"I live most of my day in just a few apps such as Yammer and OneNote. All my financial data, briefing notes, it all gets pushed to OneNote," van der Bel said.
"I spend a lot of time on the road, so the Nokia 1520 is the other device. You really get the experience of Outlook, OneNote, Yammer and PowerPoint, and the Cloud is behind it all pushing things seamlessly to all my devices."
Van der Bel was followed by Dave Coplin, Microsoft's chief envisioning officer, who shamelessly plugged his new book The Rise of the Humans while discussing the topics it deals with. These included the now familiar fact that workers face a torrent of information from email and social networks, both on smartphones and PCs.
Coplin said organisations need to see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and that analytics could be used to "unlock the data dividend" through tools such as machine learning algorithms and Microsoft's own Power BI.
Meanwhile, some more useful insight came from John Delaney, who heads the European Mobility Team at analyst IDC. He pointed out that, while BYOD had taken off in the US, it had largely failed to take hold in Europe.
Delaney attributed this to cultural differences, with Europeans expecting to be supplied with tools to do the job by their employer, but also because employers here are instead offering choose-your-own-device, where workers can select from a small number of approved devices.
Companies are also shifting from mobile as an afterthought to a mobile-first strategy, Delaney said, aided by the introduction of 4G mobile networks.
"From the point of view of users, 4G behaves like a desktop connection: it's fast, instant and responsive. People start to use the network in a different way than they do with 3G," he said.
However, there is a wide spectrum of mobile adoption, with some IT departments still in the reactive phase where the focus is on devices and managing risk, Delaney said. At the opposite extreme are those organisations where mobile has become the primary platform.
"These companies are thinking about retiring client/server, they are looking at how to build and sustain an advantage using mobility, and the focus moves from devices to applications," he said.
This fitted in neatly with Microsoft's own message that enterprise mobility is about applications and not devices, but the firm was sending out mixed messages by also asserting that Windows devices are the best choice for business.
For example, Chris Weber, Microsoft's corporate vice president for mobile device sales, said that the Surface Pro 3 had "eliminated the need for me to carry two devices", where he had previously relied on having a laptop and an iPad.
Weber explained Microsoft's new "mobile first, cloud first" strategy by pointing out that, without infrastructure, every device is "just an island", and likewise data in the cloud is isolated unless it can be accessed easily.
"There's a symbiotic relationship between mobile and the cloud," he said.
Microsoft is delivering this through its cloud-based services such as Office 365, but also the way in which user data can be synchronised across all of a user's Microsoft-based devices via the cloud as well.
To take full advantage of this, Microsoft is moving towards enabling universal apps that developers can create to run on both Windows and Windows Phone devices, he said.
"We're really focused on that, and we're already seeing big apps taking advantage of it," he claimed, citing a Salesforce app that he said runs across PCs, tablets and phones.
While Microsoft said it is adopting a cross-platform approach, with management tools such as Windows Intune supporting Apple and Android and the recent launch of Office for the iPad, the real message seemed to be businesses are better off with Windows.
This was driven home by some of the customers Microsoft brought on stage for a panel session. When asked why his firm had chosen Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone, BT CIO Peter Scott said it was because everyone is already used to Windows laptops and PCs and working with Office and SharePoint. Plus ça change
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