Happy Anniversary Satya Nadella.
You became the CEO of Microsoft this time last year, and what a year it has been.
The house that Gates built (and Ballmer almost wrecked) has gone from being perceived as “old and tired” to being called “cool." And that’s largely because you haven’t taken your customers for granted and have understood that every day and in every way you must earn their trust and love.
After all, if Microsoft fails to delight, there’s an app or web service that can replace it. You understand this in a way that your predecessor, Steve Ballmer, did not.
For that, we commend you.
A Coach, Not a General
And while Microsoft still has a big advantage when it comes to productivity tools like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, considering that most school age kids do their homework on their parents’ old PC’s that came with Office preinstalled, you have clearly indicated that you understand that this won’t be the case for much longer. The first computers of many of today’s toddlers, after all, are iPads, non-Windows tablets, iOS and Android phones and so on.
In your first letter to Microsoft employees last February, you made it clear that your line of sight went beyond desktops, laptops and hard drives and challenged your team to think outside its comfort zone. Here’s what you wrote: “This is a critical time for the industry and for Microsoft. Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places — as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”
Good job. You sounded more like a coach than a general. Someone that a generation raised on soccer fields can relate to.
While we’re not quite sure where you’re going with the Windows phone or that Microsoft will have a worthwhile play in the mobile hardware and OS battle, your idea of “Windows as a Service” is certainly interesting. It’s good to see that you’re living in reality. When you met with shareholders in December you articulated a more realistic and pragmatic plan.
“I want to have a Microsoft folder on every device, and Microsoft Windows on more devices. That's how I think our strategy going forward will shape out.”
There’s a difference between hedging your bets and surrendering. When it comes to walking a fine line, you look like a master.
Your move to insure that Office 365 is available on more devices, and for free, is a smart strategy, it’s something that the masses are hungry for and there’s already proof in the pudding. At the shareholders meeting last December you told us that there had been 40 million downloads of Office for the iPad. These are 40 million customers who had been pushed to find other productivity tools. It was Microsoft’s good fortune that the alternatives hadn’t yet become embedded in their lives.
Good move, with no time to spare.
And while at first we were a bit taken aback by Microsoft’s decision to release Office on the iPad instead of a touch-first Windows tablet, we later saw the writing on the wall. Microsoft needs to be where its customers are, even if that means on non-Microsoft operating systems and devices.
And we suspect that your thinking was the same around the Dropbox deal; namely that you don’t want to give Dropbox’s 300 million users a reason to leave Office. “If you don’t want to save your files on One Drive, Dropbox is right there beneath it on the screen. “ Of course you didn’t use exactly those words, but take out the flowery talk and that’s what it amounts to. God it had to hurt, but in the long term, it’s the right thing to do. You’ve embraced a competitor and made them a partner. It’s good for your customers, so, in theory, it should be good for your business.
Ditto for mending fences with Salesforce and putting the interests of the knowledge workers of the world before corporate grudges and egos. Plus you were smart enough to know that Benioff would welcome you with open arms, wipe the slate clean and utter some Buddhist saying like “Good to forgive. Best to forget.”
On playing well with others, you get high marks.
Back to Basics
And kudos to you again for staying true to Microsoft’s mission — reinventing productivity for a new generation. You put it well in your speech to at your Partners Conference last year:
“That is something that's unique to us (Microsoft). That's in our core, that's in our soul, and that's what we're going to go do. For us to reinvent productivity so that every individual on the planet can get more out of every moment of his or her lives is a great mission. That is what we need to go solve. That is where we get to add value.”
Sometimes you need to invent in order to reinvent, it’s here that you may be on to something Satya. Just look at Delve and the Office Graph, they work together by getting the right information to you at the right time without you needing to look for it. It simply shows up in your line of sight and at your fingertips. Talk about a personalized user experience. Bingo!
And then there’s Power BI, which lets us ask questions, crunches data big and small, and then displays answers in pictures. When we first saw it on a Surface, we wanted to take it home, but that didn’t happen. But now it can. Last month you unbundled it from Office 365 and made it available for free (at its basic level) in the browser, no signup required. We were a little taken a back that Microsoft didn’t want to know all about us, but here again, hats off to you for not putting a wall between us and the third wave of analytics, in which we don’t have to know squat about Hadoop, Machine Learning, Python or R.
Making analytics interesting via Bing with Cortana as the spokesperson is nifty as well. What kid (or grown-up for that matter) doesn’t want to know how the pair called 15 of 15 of the World Cup matches correctly, including the winner? They were on the money by predicting that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl, too.
And while no one is talking about how fun stuff like this could help usher in the next generation of data scientists someone should. This kind of stuff might also appeal to developers who Ballmer might have well scared away with his howling.
Spread the word, Satya. You need to win the love of the data scientists and the developers of the world almost as much as you need customers.
To build or to buy, that is the question.
It’s something that tech CEOs are asking themselves all of the time. It seems that time to market is a driver for Microsoft. Take the purchase of Accompli last December, it for most practical purposes, is now the mobile face of Outlook. It’s also widely suspected, but still unconfirmed, that you’ve recently purchased calendar app, Sunrise. If so, this again would be a way to bring mobile users into its fold through the process of attraction.
On the big data side, there’s the recent acquisition of Revolution Analytics, which makes R easier to work with, to consider. It could draw in data scientists and developers who want to use it to build solutions on the Azure cloud.
What, Me Worry?
And what can we say about your missteps this year? They’re pretty much forgotten. While you gave disturbing advice as to how a woman should ask for a raise, it ignited lots of passionate conversation and we’re pretty sure you now know that the answer is “just ask."
All in all, it’s been an amazing year for you as a new, first time, CEO — and a good one for Microsoft.
While you can’t lay off people, for purely economic reasons, and get a raise at the same time, you’ve earned a virtual pat on the back and an emoji.
Title image by orangeacid.