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Microsoft bows to mobile with free Office apps

Microsoft appeases mobile and cloud masses with free Office apps for iPhones and Androids, plus a Dropbox Office 365 deal. Also in Searchlight: Workday seeks big data insight on employees; Facebook tries to sway the election.

If there were any doubt that mobile is taking over enterprise computing strategies, Microsoft laid that to rest by giving iPhone and Android users free Office apps. Then, the software giant made a sweet deal with Dropbox so Office users can access the online storage service from their mobile devices and edit Office documents within Dropbox. The Office apps will hit the Dropbox of iOS and Android users in the next few weeks, while Windows device users will have to wait a few months.

In the past, both Bloomberg and The New York Times noted, Microsoft would have pushed Office apps on its own devices instead of Apple and Google OS devices. But times are a-changin'. "Power players like Apple and Google and many of the most successful new startups now offer free software, often with premium perks for sale," said Nick Wingfield of the Times. This unavoidable pull of mobile and cloud in the tech industry puts immense pressure on the software giant, particularly as greater numbers of corporate workers and consumers do work on mobile devices.

"Lots of consumers don't need a PC, [just an] Internet connection. They don't need Office as much," Nomura Securities analyst Rick Sherlund told the Times.

Microsoft is realizing that it has to completely transform its old software strategy into one that caters to consumers, who are drawn to free productivity apps, even to the point that it's willing to accept some losses -- essentially hoping to make use of a freemium model to get more people to sign on to Office 365, according to Gigaom analyst Stowe Boyd. "Microsoft is comping the consumer and accepting that loss of hypothetical revenue while looking to the enterprise side of things to keep the doors open in Redmond," he wrote in Gigaom's blog.

And if Microsoft is now acting on the need to revamp its software strategy, perhaps it follows that the CIOs who are managing the apps employees use to work, both corporate-sponsored and BYOA, should follow suit -- because consumers' inclination to download the cheapest, fastest apps to get work done isn't showing any signs of abating. Doing otherwise will only bring you down, said Jason O'Sullivan, vice president of corporate technology at Classified Ventures LLC.

"I think the days of trying to control [BYOA] are over. Now, it is more about corralling it and riding the wave through," he told sister-site SearchDataManagement.

One of the ways to do that, he said, is through mobile lifecycle management, also known as enterprise mobility management. Here are some tips on how to deal with BYOA, from O'Sullivan and Blue Hill Research's Chief Research Officer Hyoun Park

  • Build an enterprise app store: These store corporate-approved apps that employees can download on demand.
  • Outline a well-defined mobile strategy: At Classified Ventures, O'Sullivan started out by detailing clear policies and procedures for monitoring, managing and governing the business-enabled apps that run on a gamut of devices and OSes.
  • Help create a diverse steering committee: Park recommends that these committees be composed of company executives from various functional areas to help create a holistic mobile roadmap. And this mapping-out is crucial, he said: "We see that 75% of companies are allowing BYOD, but only about a quarter of them have a formal effort in place. Most are just winging it."
  • Wrap mobile apps: This means to layer on the additional necessary capabilities to the apps' native functionalities -- an approach that allows for IT to address security or data management problems as needed.

The biggest advice O'Sullivan had to offer, though, was to embrace BYOD and BYOA wholeheartedly, because it's what the internal customers want. "We would essentially be hobbling ourselves if we didn't support our sales force, who want to use the kind of equipment needed to show the dealer how their customers are using [our product]," he said.

CIO news roundup for week of Nov. 3

Just in time to close out the midterm elections, here are some tech news items from the week:

  • Workday, the popular cloud software that supports HR and financial management, is incorporating big data analysis into its products -- the same kind found in Netflix, LinkedIn and Facebook. But just where is the line drawn between finding ways to improve employee performance and playing Big Brother?
  • If you've been on Facebook this week, I'm sure you didn't miss the prominent "I'm a Voter" button at the top. The social media network could have just been doing its civic duty -- or it hoped to sway the midterm elections.
  • Google is playing catch-up with Amazon. Earlier this week, its execs announced that the company is adapting its cloud services to allow customers to set them up more quickly. It will be a hard sell: Amazon is the leader in the market and Google must deal with challenges such as the high costs of switching providers.
  • Security firm Palo Alto Networks revealed Wednesday that it discovered malware, called WireLurker, that targets users in China who use devices with Apple iOS. A third-party app that WireLurker infects is able to access a non-jailbroken phone from an infected Mac OS X system via a USB connection, which the company says is a "new brand of threat to all iOS devices."
  • How the #Alexfromtarget meme of a regular Target employee suddenly went viral on Monday, shortly after his photo was tweeted, remains a mystery. One marketing firm claims to have orchestrated the phenomenon, but the claim is much challenged.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on the recent White House hacking, and cybercrime and the Feds.

Next Steps

Get more in-depth coverage of the Microsoft-Dropbox partnership at SearchConsumerization. Then, check out advice from Forrester on how to use mobile engagement to drive business process transformation.

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How are you taking charge of BYOA in your company?
The whole Bring Your Own App (BYOA) notion is intriguing but my enterprise must insist in some uniformity to the apps. We have set protocols for what apps are permissible for mobile users and our IT manager oversees these set rules. We have restricted certain apps whether they be BYOA or other sources. Where BYOA is concerned, we need quality control and uniformity for secure system access from our mobile users.
I don't see it hurting Microsoft in the long run. If people have the need for a service you cannot provide, they go elsewhere. Having the ability to use Office apps on mobile devices would be plus. In order to do that today, some people may find another alternative which suits their needs. If that is the case, they may continue to use that source as their new primary software of choice.
Todd, do you think by putting Office on non-Microsoft devices, the company is conceding that it is having trouble competing in the mobile market? I tend to agree with you that Microsoft should be where the users are, but I can see this argument, too. 
i agree, Microsoft is seeing that it needs to compete with companies that offer (cheaper/free) alternatives, and ones that work across different platforms. also more and more people are doing work on their phones (particularly those with Android and iOS!), so I definitely see the merit of both of those arguments -- good points!