Microsoft Poised to Make Inroads Against RIM in the Enterprise Space

It has been easy to miss because the pieces of this puzzle are spread out across several years of news, but the headline you're reading on this piece has it exactly right: Microsoft is poised to take a serious chunk out of RIM's virtual stranglehold on Enterprise and Corporate mobile email.

The latest news is that Google has gone ahead an licensed Exchange Activesync (EAS) for their Contacts and Calendar services.. While they are not offering it for email (yet?), it does represent a pretty significant moment in the battle for standards in how data gets pushed and synced out to devices. For Google, it means that although they appear to be continuing to support open standards like SyncML and they have their own custom solution for Android, they have given up trying to get those open standards adopted across the industry. Apple made the same decision when they offered Exchange support for the iPhone.

When it comes to mobile devices, EAS is becoming the de facto standard for all smartphones not labeled "BlackBerry." To find out why this matters, read on!

The next time a corporate IT manager comes to a point where they need to make a decision on devices, their options essentially are two now:

  1. Use RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server and services to push out email and PIM information, paying RIM a substantial fee.
    • Devices supported: BlackBerry with a second-class smattering of Windows Mobile and Nokia devices via specialized RIM software
    • Device Management options: BES to manage BlackBerrys.
  2. Use Exchange Server (which they likely already have installed) and MSCMDM to push out email and PIM information, paying Microsoft a fee they're already paying for Exchange.
    • Devices supported: Windows Mobile, iPhone, PalmOS, and Nokia (and webOS, when it comes out).
    • Device Management Options: MSCMDM for Windows Mobile, Apple's tools for iPhone.

So while it's not a crystal clear choice, it's entirely possible that RIM's lock-in with their corporate customers has suffered a blow with Google's licensing of EAS. The blow: now that EAS is becoming the de facto standard for non-BlackBerry devices, it's a legitimate option for enterprise. As their users start to demand different devices, the decision to switch away from RIM's BES to EAS so as to accommodate those devices is becoming easier.

One of the reasons it's easier is that Microsoft's MSCMDM software gives Windows Mobile some feature-parity when it comes to device management and security -- in an interface IT managers are already using for their PC fleet. It's easier because Exchange pushes out the email directly instead of going through RIM's servers. It's easier because, well, users get to use the devices they're clamoring for.

Now, the next obvious question is this: does a win for Exchange and EAS as the standard equate to a win for Windows Mobile. My answer: absolutely.

Up to now, there hasn't really been real competition in the enterprise space because RIM so effectively dominated the space with their BES offering. The standardization on EAS changes that, it opens the competition up to other players.

Yes, some companies may switch away from the BES to EAS in order to provide their employees with iPhones or Nokias. Yet it's well worth the risk of having companies look at other EAS-supporting platforms like the iPhone because for corporate IT, Microsoft's offering with Windows Mobile and MSCMDM are definitely stronger.

Of course, there are still plenty of hurdles for Microsoft to vault. Windows Mobile 6.5 will need to be a compelling offering that actually creates demand amongst users that trickles up to IT. Development tools for WM need to become cheaper, more widespread, and easier to use so that companies with custom-built BlackBerry apps can create equivalent applications for Windows Mobile. Entrenched preferences and 'if it ain't broke' attitudes will need to be challenged. Heck, people will need to get weaned off of BlackBerry Messenger. In all honesty, Microsoft is paradoxically still the underdog here.

Despite those hurdles, I think Microsoft is well-positioned to use the standardization on Exchange ActiveSync as way to make a strong play for Windows Mobile and MSCMDM in the Enterprise space. In an open competition for the hearts and minds of corporate IT decision makers, would you bet against Microsoft?

Dieter Bohn
  • This didn't make sense to me before; it's starting to now. Neither Google nor Microsoft nor Apple can own the PIM/Push space. RIM has it. But, Microsoft making ActiveSync available for license, and Google and Apple swallowing their own initiatives to license it, does what any non-market-leader does: Fractures the market. Collectively, everybody wins but RIM. Microsoft gives up a little in letting others use their tech, Apple and Google give up a little in helping make Microsoft's tech the new "standard", and RIM suddenly has to worry about not only WinMo, but iPhone, Android, Nokia, etc. Hmmm...
  • I'm no RIM fan but I don't think you've thought this through. To begin with, your argument assumes SCMDM is free; did Microsoft drop the server and CAL fees for it? Did you check on pricing before assuming that? Even if the SCMDM server were free the largest cost of any server based system over its lifetime is administering and supporting the entire solution. Here Microsoft still trails badly in device usability and in server-side roles, configuration capabilities, etc. The device support is as limited as RIM's. To me that doesn't look at all like an open and shut case for an all-Microsoft architecture. Exchange has been the dominant messaging platform in business for years now and that share is one of the few things propping up WM. Nothing announced today changes RIM's key selling points and if anything only helps Apple and Android more. WM 6.5 is hardly likely to win usability contests against an iPhone or a Curve and until it does Microsoft will lag in marketplace wins. I noticed that RIM's enterprise growth has remained steady over the past two quarters even as the financial services sector implodes. Why isn't WM showing better QoQ and YoY growth than RIM?
  • This will not dent RIM's market share, the simple fact is that IT managers will not risk their current infrastructure by installing two mobile solutions and managing two solutions, it'll take years before they are comfortable with the idea of contemplating. Second real people don't use Iphone for work, the typing on that thing is horrid and I have not met 1 person that says emailing on that device is simple. Finally, I have not seen a Winmo that can come close to BB's singular purpose, to punch out emails with ease. Besides try getting one of those old executives to switch a device, they probably just got working for them after 10 years of using it.
  • well, I've thought it through a bit, but obviously I could stand to think some more. I think the key point here is that Microsoft is POISED to make inroads -- the rapid spread of EAS is the first thing that's actually allowed microsoft to get their foot in the door. Whether or not the massive bookshelf of RIM's BES lock-in that's on the other side of that door is movable, well.... that remains to be seen. Still, they have a better shot now than they have in, well, in a long time.
  • I admit, I am not a RIM fan (Treo 'Loyal' user). But WM needs to step up their WM Outlook application if they are going to win anyone over. I find it unreal (I have even questioned my own sanity over it) that the makers of outlook (who are now calling themselves players in the mobile space) would put out such a basic application for mobile email. i.e.
    - Inbox doesn't indicate if an email was replied to or forwarded. Most basic of all things and makes managing the inbox very difficult on the road. (like I am going to remember who I replied to or which email I forwarded)Right... -WM Outlook forwards emails as attachments (according the WM Website, to save Data size being sent) - It files 'sent' emails with my name rather than who I sent them to. (so if you tie that back to #1 I have to open each email with the subject I am looking for to recall who or if I replied or forwarded it) Unproductive! -There is no sort by conversation (although the word recognition is a cool feature) - (at least my) exchange sync is not "as they arrive"
    sometimes (most of the time) its delayed up to 10 mins. I could go on but I don't want to vindicate the RIM users any further than I already have Joeg
  • Great points Joeg. Can someone at MS please take a look at those? For the first time... ever, I am really starting to question whether WinMo is worth it. Sure it has awesome potential, but after years of saying that, nothing significant has really improved. Hopefully I am wrong and the 6.5 services turn out to be Awesome. But I have this looming feeling that 6.5 is going to be too little, too late.