Forrester attended Microsoft’s second annual Asia Pacific Analyst Summit in Singapore last week for an update on the company’s progress in transforming into a devices and services company. The event highlighted Microsoft’s strengths and exposed some obvious challenges, which I’ve shared below. Forrester clients can access further event-related analysis and implications here.

Day One: Impressive Capabilities And A Strong Understanding Of Customer Needs

Day one was well designed and delivered, with a clear focus on customer and partner case studies and go-to-market strategies based on three core imperatives:

  • Transforming IT. Focusing primarily on Cloud OS, Windows Azure, and Office 365, this imperative highlights Microsoft-enabled capabilities and resources to help IT organizations transform both internal data centers and IT delivery.
  • Engaging customers and employees. This imperative essentially combines mobility and social to help organizations thrive in the age of the customer by delivering improved customer service and customer and user experiences.
  • Accelerating customer insight and business process improvement. This imperative targets the changing needs and expectations for data and information access and real-time decision making via a combination of traditional analytics and big data.

Day Two: Product-Heavy Content Illustrates Microsoft’s Ongoing Challenges

Star Wars fans would likely refer to day two of this event as “The Empire Strikes Back” — or, more accurately, “The Increasingly Threatened Empire of Microsoft Product Managers Strikes Back.” The agenda and content were heavy on product discussions and feature/function updates and demos, but light on tangible connections to business and IT needs or solutions. Two examples stand out:

  • Equating devices with mobility. Microsoft missed a chance to further outline its vision and capabilities for helping organizations engage more effectively and innovate in the age of the customer. Instead, the “mobility” session on day two focused almost entirely on upcoming Microsoft devices. While Microsoft did include a demo on remote device management via System Center Operations Manager, it was very limited and provided no context regarding broader trends like bring-your-own-device or the impact of mobility on business strategies.
  • Equating enterprise data warehousing with big data. Instead of drilling down further into how Microsoft is helping organizations accelerate decision-making and drive improved insights, either directly or via partners, the “big data” session on day two focused specifically on the capabilities of SQL Server for enabling enterprise data warehousing initiatives.

Given the impressive growth rates — more than 150% — for both Azure and Office 365 across Asia Pacific over the past 12 months, it’s clear that Microsoft has made progress transitioning its business to a pay-per-use model that depends less on “products” and an obsession with software licenses. While Microsoft’s capabilities remain massively broad and deep, organizations evaluating the company’s role as a strategic provider of IT-enabled capabilities now and in the future should closely monitor Microsoft’s ongoing evolution from product-centric to solution-led.