It's been a nerve-wracking time to be an IT pro. With Microsoft pushing ever-harder on its cloud-based solutions, cancelling its management trade show, killing off TechNet, and ending some of its certifications, IT pros are rightly wondering where they fit into the new scheme of things.
And while I do believe there's a viable future in this business, I do sometimes wonder whether the problems we're seeing from Microsoft all come down to basic communication. Consider the following recent evidence.
Microsoft is the world's biggest—and, I've argued, best—maker of software. It's an economic engine that powered over 20 years of dominance in a market in which it still has no peer. But jealous of the popularity of consumer tech brands like Apple and Google, Microsoft now insists it's a devices and services company, which only serves to confuse customers.
Microsoft is likewise dominant with enterprises and other large businesses, which for reasons practical and regulatory still tend to run their own infrastructures in-house. But though Microsoft continues to offer hosted, on-premises and—crucially—hybrid business solutions that span both worlds, Microsoft insists on branding all of these efforts as some form of "cloud," further confusing customers. (Seriously: Private cloud?)
Over the past year, Microsoft has entered the PC hardware business for the first time with its Surface lineup. Leaving aside the central fact that no one seems to want these devices, Microsoft markets one model—Surface RT/Surface 2—as a personal tablet that can be used for productivity and the other—Surface Pro/Pro 2—as an Ultrabook that can also be used as a tablet. But both offer almost exactly the same form factor, and the consumer version—inexplicably—is the one that comes with a free version of Microsoft Office. Customers are confused, which causes them to just buy iPads instead.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
As a writer, I've often noted that words matter. And in Microsoft's case, it seems like some simple restructuring of the message could go a long way toward the company restoring the faith of its customers, especially the suddenly nervous business customers who are starting to feel that Microsoft is leaving them high and dry, like an older rich man dumping his faithful wife for a newer model. And it's no wonder IT feels like it's suddenly at war with Microsoft. Until the firm states otherwise—clearly, and firmly—they are.
Wars have certainly been waged for lesser reasons.
Today, Microsoft is at war with its PC-maker partners for suddenly and inexplicably competing with them. It's at war with its users for foisting a mobile OS called "Metro" down their throats with Windows 8. It's at war with IT for pushing their employers to cloud solutions that make their careers superfluous. And it's at war with common sense when it claims to be something it isn't, as I discussed last week in "Devices + Services? What About Software?" Where does it end?
Maybe it doesn't end. This is the technology business, after all—a place where the only constant is never-ending change. Yes, the change is accelerating in recent years—that's not just something we imagine as we get older, it really is happening—and yes, some well-understood skills will become superfluous as we race to the cloud and to devices that are simpler but not as completely manageable as are PCs.
The simplest thing Microsoft could do to alleviate the dull distrust that's hanging in the air right now is to speak, early and often, about the future of IT. About how IT pros do still matter and where their skills are most obviously needed now and in the future. About how our careers can evolve with the market.
Microsoft currently holds TechEd events around the world on a rolling schedule, but maybe it's time for more. Here at Windows IT Pro, we will of course continue to do our part, and this week we're holding our own conference, IT/Dev Connections, in Las Vegas. I'm not here to sell you on our services. But I am suggesting that there is a world of knowledge and information out there. And I'd like to see Microsoft be a bigger part of that, rather than just fade away.
The time for engagement is now, Microsoft. Give IT pros a sign that you aren't abandoning them. Tell us what's next. Talk to us.