NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.--Microsoft senior execs delivered an exuberant sales pitch about the company's mobility offerings to federal-government CIOs Thursday morning at a conference center on the Potomac River just outside Washington, D.C.
Welcoming the audience to "Redmond East," Greg Myers, the software giant's vice president of federal sales, proclaimed the federal government "the most important vertical inside Microsoft," and offered his sympathy to a workforce that is at once facing severe budget pressures while also operating under a series of White House directives stipulating a shifting set of criteria for IT acquisition and deployment.
"We've got to drive economic savings," Myers says. "The level of mandates and what our government customer has to deal with is truly unprecedented."
Indeed, the Obama administration has produced a steady diet of IT edicts, including a digital government strategy, a "cloud-first" policy and a mobility initiative aimed at crafting a coherent framework to deal with new devices and apps and employees' shifting expectations about technology in the workplace.
The federal government's evolving mobility strategy also holds the potential to open the purse strings of the nation's single largest IT consumer to a new crop of smartphones, tablets and hybrid devices, and Microsoft, touting a burgeoning line of devices running Windows 8, is only too eager to meet that demand.
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"The real benefit in Windows 8 is how you manage mobility," says Jane Boulware, vice president of Microsoft's U.S. Windows Commercial division.
Microsoft Pushes Multi-Purpose Windows 8 Devices
At the heart of Microsoft's pitch is what Boulware describes as multi-purpose devices, Windows 8 machines that can perform the functions of traditional PCs while also offering features like touchscreens and voice capabilities, tapping into a consumer-style apps marketplace while delivering enterprise-grade security.
"How about if you just had one device to manage?", Boulware asked the assembly of federal IT workers.
"It would be a miracle," one audience member was heard to respond.
"The lines between a PC and a mobile device--what is that? It doesn't matter," Boulware says. "The key word here is 'and'--no compromise."
The priorities outlined in the Obama administration's digital government strategy--namely addressing the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce, unlocking the hidden value of large data sets and doing so with smart, secure and cost-efficient devices and applications--"could have been written for Windows 8," according to Boulware.
Microsoft Fires Shots at Android and iPhone
Microsoft also delivered its message to federal IT managers with a few characteristic shots at the company's competitors, particularly along the lines of security and interoperability.
Kuleen Bharadwaj, Microsoft's head of U.S. business marketing for Windows Phone, touts a top-to-toe security stack in the devices running on the mobile operating system.
"We want to ensure that a Windows Phone 8 device cannot easily be rooted or jailbroken," Bharadwaj says, suggesting that limiting the mobile OS to "specified and certified" devices "dramatically reduces the hardware-related security attack vectors."
In contrast, he suggests that jail breaking Android phones is actually "considered to be a feature," while the versions of Apple's iPhone, collectively, have been jailbroken in an average of 51 days, dismissing the viability of those devices in sensitive environments like the federal government. "Stay secure for 51days--good luck with that," Bharadwaj says.
Similarly, Myers recounts the frustration he has encountered among government customers who have grown tired of vendors "dangling shiny devices" in front of them that aren't integrated with other systems and applications, and would amount to a net addition to their IT budgets through an increased management burden that translates into higher operating expenses.
"Granulated technologies are not strategic anymore," Bharadwaj says. "We understand productivity. Office is a fully integrated suite."