Last week, we saw Microsoft announcing the acquisition of Linked-In for US $ 26.2 billion. With the acquisition of Linked-In, Microsoft now has access to over 400 million accurate profiles of professionals from Linked-In across the world. Over the last year or two, I have been seeing this trend where large software vendors like Salesforce.com acquiring Jigsaw and Oracle acquiring Blue Kai, who predominantly own data. So, this got me to think, what are the implications one can expect or must see over the next few years with these kind of trends?
Meanwhile, I was also reading an interesting article written by Sangeet Paul Choudhary in his blog, where it is mentioned how Linked-In was trying to get into the enterprise CRM space but lacked the infrastructure & tools( post written by Myk Pono) and Sangeet's view on how Microsoft can take advantage of this acquisition but lacks the understanding of network & data layers.
The key questions that came-up to me was - What does it take for a software vendor to work & behave like a data vendor or as a platform player? Also, how can all these data seamlessly flow into Microsoft's strategy of leveraging its Enterprise CRM, Windows, Azure, gaming business etc.?
To understand & appreciate this, first we need to look at some of Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, Andriod etc. way back in 2007 & 2004 which made a huge difference to their platform strategy. As Google transformed itself from a search to an online advertising platform, many of these acquisitions made sense - with Android becoming the defacto mobile OS platform while still Microsoft was managing Nokia as a Mobile Phone company and not as a platform.This led to the death of Nokia as a mobile phone brand, as Microsoft thought of it like a licensing business(which is their DNA) more than a mobile computing platform.
If Microsoft needs to take advantage of Linked-In's acquisition & their data, then - the transformation of Microsoft as a platform company is critical. For example,they need to look at Office365 as a central platform or a hub is critical. This free & paid subscription based platform must leverage the 400 million Linked-In professional's data for their own personal devices & computing services- Home PCs, mobiles, gaming consoles etc. This then can change the game for Microsoft. However, if we look back at history, neither Hotmail or Nokia was leveraged to its full by Microsoft due its software vendor thinking. Microsoft will have to change its strategy & execution this time.
The next most important question was the issue of Privacy. What is the sanctity of privacy information owned by Linked-In & do the limited or full permissions that was given to Linked-In by these 400 million professionals, hold good for Microsoft too or how does Microsoft use these in its platform intelligently without diluting any of the privacy issues that may arise? For this, the permission-based sharing professional community that Linked-In nurtured, needs to thrive, without advertising as the primary revenue driver unlike other online platforms like Google, Facebook etc.
For software vendors to transform & think like data vendors, it forces, disruptive platform thinking from them. It requires a services, community, subscription & marketplace mindset with a strong interplay between them. Only time will tell if Microsoft is able to make this mindset shift but transform they must, if they need to play this game on the web for a leadership position.