Note: In a bit of operator error an earlier version of this post clipped off the first para. Here it is restored.
Microsoft announced its selection of Satya Nadella to be the third Microsoft CEO today and I wish him well. In a flurry of announcements, Bill Gates also stepped down as Chairman of the Board and will re-integrate himself into product development as a kind of guru in residence. I wish him well too.
Heck, I wish everyone over there well. Microsoft is too important to the technology industry generally and software in particular for them to continue the holding pattern they’ve been in for the last several years.
Nadella’s email to the company, which was widely distributed, contains a section headed, “Why are we here?” Among the reasons Nadella gives is this: “As we look forward, 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.” Exactly.
I agree but I am not sure it’s enough. If I had Bill’s cash I would purchase a copy of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s new book, The Second Machine Age for every employee and I’d make it mandatory reading. The central idea of the book, and the thing I think Microsoft needs, is an understanding that we’ve passed a major milestone. Up to now we’ve built increasingly powerful and complex technologies that automate away huge hunks of everyday tasks. Since its beginning, Microsoft has done this very well.
But the next phase will be all about how we leverage technology to do things that have never been thought of before. To invent things from whole cloth. Microsoft has a lot of very sophisticated technologies in stock from its sensing technologies that make its video games so realistic to its database, ERP and CRM technologies that rival anything on the market. However, these are me too products.
At this moment in technology Google is inventing Google Glass and cars that drive themselves; Apple has rung up a string of new devices and I expect that Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry’s, will have something interesting to say about wearable computing soon; Intel is actively working on multiple fronts including wearables interestingly enough; Oracle has reinvented databases and storage for the cloud; and Salesforce has pushed the concept of platform further than any company in history. There’s also social media and titans like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized society with their wares and there are other companies right behind them. These companies are inventing the future.
In this environment Microsoft looks positively dowdy with its suite of applications, Windows everywhere, and games. If Microsoft simply decides to be a player in one or all of these markets, it will fail and Nadella will be known as the guy who let it slip through his fingers. But really there will be plenty of blame to be shared by now ex-CEO Steve Ballmer and now former Chairman, Bill Gates. Knowing this Nadella has the chance to be the guy who pulled back on the stick and got the company flying high again. Will he?
What will he do first? Where will he place his bets? He needs the company to invent something that hasn’t been thought of yet, something that will get the company back into the game of being new and different. I am not sure he’s the guy or even if there is a guy for this, but as I said, I wish him well. We’re counting on him.