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And the winner in mobile business communications is… Microsoft…?

I’m not accustomed to thinking about Microsoft as one of the leading technology brands driving development in the B2B marketing space, but a couple of key developments in the last few weeks have changed all that.

Firstly, Microsoft unveiled its long-awaited tablet computing device, called the Surface, on June 18th. The launch of yet-another iPad imitator is not itself news, given the plethora of Android devices which have arrived over the last few months (besides the bungled launch event when the technology failed to work on stage). The potential importance of this particular device is that, unlike others, it runs Office, and therefore makes it instantly compatible with the overwhelming majority of business documents (produced on MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint).

By allowing seamless integration with these key documents, together with the benefits of tablet mobility, flexibility and accessibility, it potentially becomes the tablet of choice for business executives – over and above the iPad or those running Android.

Secondly, Microsoft announced the acquisition of enterprise social media (ESM) platform Yammer on June 25th, for $1.2 billion. Cynics may point out that ESM has been around for a while and has hardly set the world on fire to date. However, the significance of this move, and the likely subsequent integration of Yammer features and functionality into the MS Office suite, is that it this will dramatically accelerate the adoption of ESM, making it appear as an exciting addition to a familiar and trusted product suite, rather than a revolutionary (but consequently potentially frightening) new approach to project management and collaboration.

By adding dynamic functionality onto its core application suite, Microsoft has transformed itself from relatively peripheral player to one with an opportunity to profoundly influence the future of business communications – which inevitably includes marketing.

Google may still be setting the pace in the arena, but through these two new developments (and the announcement of its new Windows mobile phone operating system) Microsoft has put itself back into contention as a serious player, with a weapon to fight back against the inroads being made by Google Docs.

Of course, the devil is in the detail, and in this case it means how Surface is received (Blackberry’s tablet attempt sank without trace), and how the integration of Yammer with Office is managed. But if Microsoft can delivery the vision of a mobile device which integrates seamlessly with corporate documents, and with a flexible project management and collaboration system, the sky is potentially the limit in terms of business purchases. This has implications for both sales of Surface, and the device as a platform for business App development – it may be Microsoft guarding the App store (or equivalent) rather than Apple.

Whilst Apple and Android may be slugging it to be the personal digital hub of choice, Microsoft may just have side-stepped them both to dominate the mobile work space.