Have you seen the movie Birdman — the one that just won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars? It’s about a middle-aged man who was once a popular movie star but has been criticized throughout his career and how he finally achieved a breakthrough performance and found great success in a Broadway production of the play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

The story of Microsoft Azure is similar. Microsoft was hugely popular in the age of the PC but has sailed into troubled waters in the cloud era. But now — a year after Azure’s commercial launch in China — CIOs and EA professionals must understand how and where Azure might impact their existing MSFT technology investments to achieve business transformation. Azure is one of the leading forces driving cloud adoption in China. We attribute this to the progress that Microsoft has made by:

  • Expanding product offerings.Microsoft Azure now has local products in four key categories: compute, network, data, and application. Beyond basic components like virtual machines, websites, storage, and content delivery networks, Azure also has advanced features that are important for Chinese customers to address their unique challenges, including mobile services for the rapid development of mobile apps to accommodate the massive shift to mobile; a service bus for integration to eliminate information silos in the cloud; and HDInsight for big data capabilities to gain the customer insights necessary to compete with digital disruption from local Internet companies.
  • Expanding the partner ecosystem. In the past 12 months, Microsoft has strategically expanded its local partner network to cover cloud adoption scenarios, including: 1) infrastructure (e.g., Nysoftland for virtualization and HostCHN for IaaS planning); 2) application development (e.g., Centerland for mobile applications and Top1cloud for general applications); 3) vertical solutions (e.g., Sinoage for insurance and East-glow for education); and 4) horizontal solutions (e.g., Serviceit for unified communication and Edensoft for security). In addition, the software vendor Com&Lan and system integrator CS&S can both provide full solution coverage for customers.
  • Fully localizing its prices. Microsoft and its operating partner 21ViaNet have oriented many details toward Chinese customers. They not only list prices in local currency, but also use Chinese-friendly terms in detailed product descriptions (e.g., “XL” instead of “A4” for VM size). As I noted in my report, Microsoft Azure’s pricing remains competitive compared with local players in enterprise business scenarios. Microsoft not only provides detailed instructions on getting Fapiao for invoicing, but also offers rich rewards programs for Chinese customers making purchases.

Even though they’ve made breakthroughs in China, it’s still not time for Microsoft – or any other cloud provider – to celebrate. In the age of the customer, it’s impossible to retain customers for the long term without executing on a continuous customer-obsessed digital business strategy. But, while challenges remain, Microsoft Azure is now well established as an enterprise-class cloud platform in China and CIOs and EA pros must view it accordingly.