Microsoft continues to make big news in technology, the latest being an announced agreement to acquire corporate social-networking provider Yammer, Inc. for $1.2 billion.  This comes on the heels of last week’s announcement indicating that Microsoft will introduce its own tablet computer later this year.  Think of Yammer as a private, behind-the-firewall version of Facebook. Microsoft’s willingness to invest over a billion dollars in a social-media based software technology is yet another indication that systems of engagement will continue to play a far more important role in functional and cross business collaboration.

The importance of these two announcements for supply chain and internal IT teams are many.  As noted in the Bloomberg article, the company plans to add Yammer’s social networking tools to Microsoft Office applications along with its SharePoint collaboration tools for businesses.  Plans call for Yammer to continue to be run as an independent entity, but with tighter integration to Microsoft’s various business and enterprise software applications. If Microsoft is savvy, it will recognize that augmenting supplier and customer collaboration processes with private, social-media based collaboration tools will provide enormous benefits for supply chain teams, especially mid-market manufacturers and service providers who often exist in far larger eco-system of OEM and larger customer networks.

On a broader note, these two recent announcements are indications that Microsoft has finally “upped its game” and come to the obvious realization that if it does not aggressively move into newer, more attractive areas of technology adoption, it may be too late.  We make reference to a well written commentary penned by Charles Cooper on CNET, which observes that as Microsoft retools to enter both the tablet and mobile computing domain, CEO Steve Ballmer has the opportunity to rewrite a lackluster company in terms of previously leading on innovation in these areas.  Cooper states: “This month’s show-and-tell could turn out to be a pivotal moment for Microsoft and (CEO) Ballmer’s career.” More interesting was a direct quote from CEO Marc Benioff, who has a long history of scoffing Microsoft: “Our world has become mobile, social, cloud and local—not led by Microsoft – but by an exciting new breed of entrepreneurs who are rewriting the playing rules for the industry away from Windows – there has never been a more exciting time in our industry.

The takeaway for supply chain and their associated supporting IT teams is to note that Microsoft’s aggressive new entries in both introducing its own line of tablet computers, and offerings to support systems of engagement are that neither Apple, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce or SAP will continue to leverage and penetrate these new areas of information technology engagement without the presence, and money, of Microsoft.  Already there is speculation that Microsoft elected to shun multiple years of tight relationships with PC hardware vendors, in order to prove to the market that a viable tablet computing alternative can compete with Apple, especially in the business computing arena.  That speculation points to Microsoft’s hand-over of the new mobile operating systems developed for Surface to various hardware providers, once it is proven in the market. Microsoft’s deeper plunge into the wild and wooly world of integrated hardware and software consumer electronics will also bring a more refreshed perspective on the current day challenges of dynamic, global-based value-chains that must compete with the savvy of an Apple, as noted in a recent commentary related to tablet hard cases, published on the Sydney Morning Herald web site.

For the consumers of these new technologies, that implies more options.  For those companies that are married to Office applications as a foundation for individual productivity and user friendly applications, it implies a potential new path into areas of mobility and collaborative based applications. For IT teams with future plans to deploy more mobile-based options related to procurement, product management, collaborative supply chain planning as well as sales and operations planning support, a potentially new set of options may be on the horizon.

Bob Ferrari

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