A nascent service from Microsoft demonstrates the growing importance of mobile support to cloud-based services.
Last week, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) introduced the beta version of a new cloud-based service called Intune. The service is based on IT management software aimed at small and mid-sized business (SMBs with 25 to 500 PCs), which are generally underfed in the IT management and support departments. The 1,000 licenses Microsoft offered as part of the free beta were snatched up within hours of launch.
One glaringly missing piece of the service, however, is support for mobile devices -- even Microsoft OS smartphones.
Intune is often compared to Microsoft's premier IT management option, System Center. System Center has an add-on server for managing Windows Mobile devices and has done so since 2007. Yet Microsoft's latest IT management system does not.
Is this an oversight on Microsoft’s part? Or are they just facing reality?
According to Canalys, Microsoft-based smartphones made up only 8.8 percent of the total mobile OS market in 2009. In contrast, a Frost & Sullivan report sponsored by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) indicates that wireless customer relationship management (CRM) is poised to grow from $399.8 million in 2009 to $673.6 million in 2013. Wireless CRM is considered a good indicator of the adoption of mobile devices by business.
With the current release of Intune already tied up, however, it could be that Microsoft is planning to feel out whether mobile support is needed -- and how badly -- before the general release of Intune early next year. (We were unable to get a response from Microsoft on this question before press time.)
It appears that, while Intune may be a great solution for some enterprises, it's missing a larger market because of its lack of mobile coverage. With the fast growth of the mobile market and the increasing adoption of smartphones by SMBs, Microsoft might be missing out.
At least one firm says lack of mobile support affected its consideration of Intune. Bob Franchey, an IT systems manager for a mid-sized company (which prefers not to be named), says that in the past year, his company has adopted the use of BlackBerry smartphones among mid- and upper-level management.
"Five or six years ago," Franchey says, "we were using Microsoft Server. As the company grew, we re-tooled our data center and upgraded systems. In the past year we have had a lot of security issues because we have no way to manage the 30 or so phones on our network plus the 208 desktop systems as well. We discussed adopting Intune as a test project but rejected the idea because we felt it would not solve our issues."
Franchey underscores his firm’s need for a service like Intune. "Most of our time is spent repairing screwups and restoring data," Franchey says. "Our company does not have the resources for a full setup of SC [System Center], so we do most of everything manually."
It does seem that if Microsoft isn't planning to implement mobile management into the final release of Intune, it will be missing a large chunk of its intended clientele.
— Craig Agranoff is an entrepreneur and national social media consultant as well as a published specialist in online reputation management and monitoring.