Microsoft’s future

I don’t think I’ve ever written a post on Microsoft (it’s usually Apple or Google), but the past 10 days they’ve certainly been interesting to watch.

First off, Microsoft announced a major corporate restructuring and strategy update. For a company of its size, this is certainly not a trivial matter. What was interesting to me was how similar in theme the restructuring strategy had with some recent discussions on Asymco about functional vs. divisional organizations:

Horace Dediu’s core argument is that a functional organization is better at creating and responding to disruptive innovation, as opposed to a divisional organization. The divisional organization is symbolized by old Microsoft, with large business units with independent P&Ls, whereas the functional organization is best represented by Apple – there are products, but no product P&Ls, and resources are organized by functional expertise (engineering, marketing, etc.) and allocated to different products/projects based on strategic vision. With these analyses in mind, the Microsoft reorg looks promising on paper – it is meant to tear down walls internally, so that the company can reorganize itself around future growth initiatives, instead of clinging on to dying (slowly) cash-cows. Obviously, the reorg will not happen overnight, and results won’t show at least a few years down the road (if you think of initiating a new project from scratch).

The other interesting piece is Ben Evans’ blog post, The irrelevance of Microsoft. The charts are compelling, especially this one:

In classic strategy terms Microsoft is a horizontal integration player (while Apple is the typical vertical integration player). Therefore it is truly alarming (for Microsoft) to see its share of platforms drop from a monopoly status (which is the end-goal for any horizontal play, and a key criteria for generating profits for that strategy) to something similar to a vertical integration player (which can be perfectly healthy and profitable with 20% share). Given how Android has the lion’s share of that chart now, and the fact that Android is a free beast (both price and otherwise) that Google doesn’t have strong control over, it seems a renewed horizontal strategy from Microsoft would have some really steep hurdles. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft goes down a more vertical path.

There are, of course, silver linings. Freed from internal pressure from other divisions, there’s no reason why Office cannot extend to both web and mobile leveraging its own network effects, and continue to be a lucrative cash-cow as the monopoly player in the productivity space. Xbox + Kinect are a strong contender for control of the living room (despite some of the initial gaffes with the Xbox One). And Windows Phone does enjoy some Machiavellian benefits as the third platform in mobile – it will continue to get support from telcos who want to limit Android/iOS.

Microsoft is diversified enough that it will have some time to figure out its relevance in the post-PC era. And even if it doesn’t, it will still be around for a while (at least in tech time – a decade in tech feels like an eternity). Let’s see how this plays out.

 

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