Satya Nadella reboots Microsoft: mobile and cloud

It seems like just yesterday Steve Ballmer was telling us how Microsoft was going to be focusing on ‘devices and services’. Well, actually it was just last October. Since then a lot has happened. Steve’s out. Satya Nadella is in.

Just last week Microsoft and/or Nadella published an internal memo directed at the troops to lay out the plan ahead in high, glossy, and somewhat cryptic terms. Part press release, part rallying cry the memo is organized like a corporate brief, which as we know is never very brief. I found it linked from a ComputerWorld article by Juan Carlos Perez. And just yesterday, Microsoft issued a press release stating that 18,000 jobs will be cut across the company: roughly 12K from the recently acquired Nokia and 6K from elsewhere.

I’d say Nadells is leaving his mark on Microsoft alright. The photo of him on the masthead of the memo is probably the most indicative of the message. He has his hand in a tight fist and he’s focusing on his words carefully. When the memo was written I’m sure it was meant to portray a sense of control, but I think in light of the more recent layoff notice, it could be interpreted as how he plans to grab the cash he”ll have leftover once all the extra fat is trimmed.

In any case, what follows in this post is not a line-by-line breakdown of the corporate-but–not-too-corporate missive. I’ll leave that job to someone that cares more about Microsoft and Nadelle. Rather, I’d like to focus on the messages within as they apply to large businesses as they adjust to the new digital realm. I recently reviewed the leaked internal memo from the NYT that detailed their approach to managing this mess. And after reading the memo from Nadella, it has the same feel, if only a lot less thorough and fleshed out.

Essentially the two are detailing (in varying degrees) the way in which each company is planning to adjust to the new shit which has come to light in their respective industries. In the NYT’s case, it’s a social world, and they need to be more, well, social. And in Microsoft’s case it’s a cloudy world, and they need to get all cloudy with it. That of course is a gross simplification of the true messages, but I guess that’s just how I roll. If you bear with me, I’ll elucidate my thoughts below.

About Nadella

Accoding to Wikipedia, Nadella, born in Hyderabad, attended public schools in India before coming to the US on a student visa in the 80’s where he obtained an MS degree in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He then went on to work at Sun Microsystems prior to joining Microsoft. At Microsoft Nadella has led major projects including the company’s move to cloud computing and the development of one of the largest cloud infrastructures in the world. And on Feb 4 this year Nadella was announced as the new CEO of Microsoft.

Microsoft’s current situation

Few are not already familiar with the story, but here’s a refresher. The last few years at Microsoft have brought a mobile-centric push with Win8 and the Surface tablet. Unfortunately Win8 has caused the lowest customer satisfaction rating for Microsoft since Vista. That can’t be good. And the Surface has failed to meet sales expectations.  So, all in all, things aren’t great.

BTW, I have to wonder out loud how long we’re going to let this nonsense of marketing software upgrades as distinct products, but I digress.

The memo

Bold ambition and our core

This is just a preamble. Pretty much just saying that he’s got a bold idea about the future of Microsoft and that he plans to share those plans with everyone this month. If the layoff notice is the first step of the plan, I’m not sure I’m interested in the rest of the plan. But whatever floats your boat.

Our worldview

Here he’s trying to be a herald of the mobile world that is basically already here. Like Gates did in 1995 with the internet, I think Nadella is playing the part of Nostradamus. Okay, we’re all going bananas for mobile and cloud access and it’s only going to be more pervasive. Fine. Next.

Our core

Here Nadella is setting the stage. Instead of “devices and services” he’s saying that Microsoft is now “the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world.” Alright. So basically he wants to be in between everything you do to get things done on whatever device you happen to be in front of.

Digital work and life experiences

Here Nadella calls out three product lines: Power Q&A, Skype translator and Office 365, two of which I’ve never heard of and one I haven’t ever used. I guess that’s part of the “things to come”.

Cloud OS

I could see them burgeoning in this area. Microsoft, and Nadella, has a wealth of experience in cloud.

Device OS and hardware

So this is where Ballmer’s “devices” went. Well, the’ve got a lot going with the Kinect, and they should probably keep doing that kind of thing.

Our culture

I think the layoffs and this quote say it all about the culture: reboot.

Nothing is off the table in how we think about shifting our culture to deliver on this core strategy. 

Quotes highlighted in the memo

These all sound pretty glossy to me.

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

Developers and partners will thrive by creatively extending Microsoft experiences for every individual and business on the planet.

Our first-party devices will light up digital work and life.

Microsoft will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox.

I am committed to making Microsoft the best place for smart, curious, ambitious people to do their best work.

Quotes I found more interesting

I’ve always been the guy who enjoyed the entire album and not the greatest hits, when buying albums was something that actually happened. So it’s not surprising that I don’t really pay attention to the things people want me to pay attention to. I like to take the big picture in and then decide what is salient for my own. Also, because the memo appears to be so glossy, I found myself looking for more details in the trees than the forest on this one. For these reasons the following lines seemed to be a bit more interesting than the compliance-approved pull-quotes.

For instance the following quote says to me that Nadella will be trying to position Microsoft as a technology services provider, going after the growing balloon of “technology spend” as he puts it.

We think about productivity for people, teams and the business processes of entire organizations as one interconnected digital substrate. We also think about interconnected platforms for individuals, IT and developers. This comprehensive view enables us to solve the more complex, nuanced and real-world day-to-day challenges in an increasingly digital world. It also opens the door to massive growth opportunity – technology spend as a total percentage of GDP will grow with the digitization of nearly everything in life and work.

And the next quote just backs up his layoff: yep, nothing was off the table, that’s for sure.

Nothing is off the table in how we think about shifting our culture to deliver on this core strategy. 

What does this say about the present business culture?

Well, Nadella is clearly trying to make a bold first statement as he takes the helm of one of the oldest and most established high tech firms in history. But as far as what this says about the surrounding tech culture and business in general again it just points to the ongoing struggle of large established corporations of all kinds who are grappling with the changing face of their industries. NYT made it apparent with their leaked memo. Microsoft is making it obvious in this memo. And as a tangent, maybe this will the new press release for days to come: the not-so-leaked internal memo from an officer of the company. That brings up an interesting thought: what if officers had to publish all of their broadcast memos to the public. What would that do for transparency? Competition? Trust? I guess it would depend on the eloquence of said officers.

So what is this all telling me?

Always looking for the bottom line, the groove, and the underlying premise, here’s what I take away from this memo. \Chalk this up to another one of Microsoft’s CEO’s issuing forth their thoughts into the vast info receptacle of the world. Gates did it in 1995 when he said the internet is coming. Ballmer did it in 2013 when he said ‘services and devices’. Now Nadella can say he did it too. His way. And his way apparently includes firing a lot of people. Huh.


Drummer. Techie. Futbolisto. Daddy.

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