Well, the white smoke from the Microsoft CEO search chimney signaled this week that the company had finally selected a new CEO – Satya Nadella. The selection and the speculation about who would be named CEO of the venerable software behemoth was highly publicized and closely followed, mainly because the one-time software monopoly has repeatedly under-executed or just flat out missed major technology trends over the last decade.
So what’s the new CEO’s strategy to get the company out of the doldrums and back on track? Mobile and cloud.
In a letter to “softies,” Mr. Nadella was clear that mobile (devices) and cloud computing would be critical to a successful future for Microsoft. “As we look forward,” he wrote, “we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.”
This “new” strategy may be anticlimactic for some, but it’s really the only strategy for Microsoft. And it apparently took Mr. Nadella to recognize it.
While many miscues have hurt Microsoft, probably none has hurt more than the failure to jump on the mobile and cloud computing wave sooner. True, Microsoft was dabbling in mobile early on, with efforts in Pocket PC, Windows CE, and Windows Mobile. However, the Microsoft-centric approach doomed those projects and eventually opened the door for Apple and Google to claim sizable and maybe insurmountable marketshare.
Microsoft finds itself in an unfamiliar position in the software industry, where the operating system is increasingly becoming irrelevant. The Windows operating system has long been Microsoft’s stranglehold on the market, creating a monopoly that gave Microsoft the ability to build more monopolies like MS Office. Today, apps are the driver in the industry and having them run across any device is the point of nexus.
In few short years, each of us is projected to have an average of five computing devices. Most of those devices will not be running Windows. If Microsoft continues to push the Windows rock up hill, it will be disastrous. With more of us accessing our email, social media, and other applications over the web, any device with a browser will do. Frankly, the operating system in this new computing model is more overhead than value. We don’t pay for iOS or Android, we pay for the devices and the apps that run and run on what are now the world’s most popular operating systems.
Microsoft would be wise to focus on making its software, such as MS Office, run on browsers, iOS, Android, Linux, and Windows – on any device. Microsoft’s mobile delays have spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of mobile office productivity competitors, including Google Apps, Evernote, and Box. Each of these apps is operating system-independent.
Mr. Nadella has good visibility into enterprise computing and how technology is deployed and utilized within business. He used to be the executive responsible for Microsoft’s Business Solutions group and the Servers and Tools Business. So he knows the dramatic landscape shifts in corporate computing including the move to public and private clouds, the uptake in personal devices being used for business, mobile computing, and SaaS applications, to name a few. More importantly, he understands the requirement for seamless computing between devices that can only be accomplished through operating system agnosticism.
Mobile and cloud was the battle cry for Microsoft’s previous CEO. In fact, the pending acquisition of Nokia’s handset business is a significant commitment to mobile, one that was made prior to Mr. Nadella being named CEO. But to date, the mobile-and-cloud-first mantra lacked conviction. After all, Microsoft has billions of reasons to keep the status quo in computing.
We have to see what the future holds for Microsoft. For now, Mr. Nadella’s words resonate. With a strong commitment from the top, it may not be smart to bet against Microsoft. As Mr. Nadella aptly put it to Microsoft employees, “Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources, and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance.”