Opinion Microsoft’s massive internal reorganisation has given the IT press plenty to think about over the last week. Is this Ballmer’s last throw of the dice? Can the Redmond giant better compete with Apple and Google with its new structure?
Some pundits have even talked about the reorg as the moment where Microsoft finally self-destructs and pondered whether distribution partners will be left up the creek.
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Well, to be honest, I think a lot of people are grossly overestimating the impact this is going to have on Microsoft's channel.
Here’s why. First up, this kind of structural upheaval or “far-reaching realignment of the company” is not going to change the firm overnight.
Despite all that’s been written about Microsoft’s many problems – the relative failures in smartphones, tablets, web search etc – it is still a $300bn+ company with a lot of talented people and a market leader in several key segments. Safe to say then that it’s not going to keel over and die at the first sign of a reorg, no matter how major.
This will play well with its channel partners, who are likely to get nervous if big changes happen too fast. With over 90,000 employees spread out across the globe, all used to working in very specific ways for a long time, cultural change in those businesses will not be quick or easy.
No, a company as big and siloed as Microsoft is more like a lumbering cargo ship than a nimble speedboat, and will require a large turning circle in which to execute its change of direction.
Yes, reorg could backfire - but only in some small way
Now it’s true that Ballmer’s plan to reorganise the firm from a sales-oriented business to one focused around four engineering areas – OS, Apps, Cloud, and Devices – could backfire. After all, as many have suggested, it appears that Microsoft is attempting to ape the success of Apple, or even Google. And, as the naysayers have pointed out, this isn’t the way the firm achieved success.
To be honest, the "engineering" business model isn't exactly working out brilliantly for Apple right now either – Cupertino’s reputation as a hotbed of innovative engineering talent has been tarnished somewhat by lacklustre iPhone 5 and iOS 7 announcements.
Salesman Ballmer also has a less-than-stellar track record in the innovation department, having been at the helm when the firm scored some of its biggest own goals.
But here’s the point: the actual business consumers of Microsoft technology will care little. Every time there’s a restructure at a company as the result of a merger or acquisition, or just an overzealous CEO, the competition gets excited and the channel gets excited, but I’ve been in the industry for long enough to know that very little actually comes of all the speculation.
Poor old lumbering corporates... Thank heavens they're so slow
Take a couple of examples from the information security industry. Symantec has made many acquisitions and structural changes, from the $13.5bn Veritas merger back in December 2004, to the Altiris buyout for $1bn a couple of years later to its swallowing of a part of VeriSign's security biz for $1.3bn in 2010- despite being completely new to the SSL certificates game. But it was still doing pretty well the last time I checked.
McAfee meanwhile became the talk of the security world in 2011 when it was bought by Intel for $7.7bn. Much was made at the time about whether customers would flee, products would change beyond recognition, and resellers would be left high and dry.
None of that happened. Why? Because both of those businesses had large contracts with corporates. Corporates are generally pretty risk-averse, and a rip and replace on the back of a vendor acquisition is more risky and costly than sticking with what you know.
For that reason I don’t think many resellers – perhaps those pushing Google Apps for Business – will be able to capitalise on this Microsoft restructure, however much chatter there is out there. After all, Microsoft is still the standard for hundreds of thousands of businesses. And they'd have to retrain millions of staffers before they could make any moves...
As for Redmond’s partners, well as long as its products keep selling for them, there’s no reason to think the latest bit of news will cause too many sweaty palms - no matter how much speculation there is out there. ®