Satya Nadella has come out with his own vision statement for Microsoft, one that is distinctly oppositional to the ‘Devices and Services’ worldview that Steve Ballmer first proposed in late 2012 (see Microsoft will rise from the ashes of Windows and Surface failures). In a recent memo to the Microsoft staff, he specifically rejects the services and devices model, and repositions Microsoft as a ‘productivity and platform’ company, and seemingly putting work experiences ahead of experiences outside work.
Satya Nadella, Bold ambition and our core
More recently, we have described ourselves as a “devices and services” company. While the devices and services description was helpful in starting our transformation, we now need to hone in on our unique strategy.
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.
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.
Then, later in the memo he opens up productivity, and says it’s more that Microsoft Office:
Productivity for us goes well beyond documents, spreadsheets and slides. We will reinvent productivity for people who are swimming in a growing sea of devices, apps, data and social networks. We will build the solutions that address the productivity needs of groups and entire organizations as well as individuals by putting them at the center of their computing experiences. We will shift the meaning of productivity beyond solely producing something to include empowering people with new insights. We will build tools to be more predictive, personal and helpful. We will enable organizations to move from automated business processes to intelligent business processes. Every experience Microsoft builds will understand the rich context of an individual at work and in life to help them organize and accomplish things with ease.
Satella uses a new, almost iconic representation of this vision:
Nadella makes a case for continuing to invest in Windows, and if he wants to remain a platform for others to build upon, he certainly needs an OS. However, there is a strong case to be made for investing in a fork of Android that would allow existing Android apps to run, but with Microsoft specific additional capabilities based on Microsoft services. We’ll see where this ends up.
He argues that Azure is one of the few cloud vendors capable of ‘hyper-scale’, and I agree that they are well-positioned for that battle.
He refers to Surface as the ‘world’s best productivity tablet’ which is a title I think many would give to Apple, at the present time. Again, we’ll have to see what he does to make this more than chest thumping.
Regarding Xbox: gaming is a big sector, and he talks about Xbox as if it seems to be outside the core that he’s trying to define:
As a large company, I think it’s critical to define the core, but it’s important to make smart choices on other businesses in which we can have fundamental impact and success. The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming. We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation. Microsoft will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox.
So, he wants to focus on the core — which is productivity — but is willing to trade clarity for a winning product outside the core. I bet he will keep up that rhetoric right up to the day that he spins Xbox out.
He says that Microsoft must become a culture that obsesses over customers, and he’s committed to ‘making Microsoft the best place for smart, curious, ambitious people to do their best work’, which concedes the fact that it isn’t perceived that way, now.
With the exception of his public thoughts on Windows and Xbox — who knows what contingency plans are being worked in the background, after all — Nadella is sharpening the vision for Microsoft, and I think his focus on work and productivity is the right path for the company to take.
Joshua Topolsky of Verge interviewed Nadella after the memo was released, and asked the question I might have:
Topolsky: But for the pure consumer who’s walking into a Best Buy and they’re looking at the range of products, they’re seeing Google, they’re seeing Apple, they’re seeing Microsoft. Look at smartphone market share for example. Is this is a place where you can win? How do you convince consumers that Microsoft is a different company and not the Microsoft that they grew up with? The Microsoft of the late ’90s or early 2000s?
Nadella: The thing is, any current market share is not a marker for our future ambition. [emphasis mine] So the way I look at it is, you’re pointing to the right challenge. And the solution to that challenge is to say, “First, why would you want to pick one of our devices?”
Take Surface Pro 3. I want you to say, “Look, I like this thing, because it’s a tablet that can be a laptop, because I want to be able to listen to my music, I want to snap it to one side and I want to be able to do a Word document on the other side, I want to be able to use it for note-taking, use it for sketching.” I want us to be able to take what we can be good at, define it, brand it, and communicate it in ways that can be appealing to the general user. But it turns out that the user is not just listening to music, not just seeing TV, but also doing things and getting stuff done, and that’s where we can shine.
I don’t want us to be shy about where we are differentiated, while competing in these other categories. So that’s what I think we need to do with our devices. And with Windows — we have 300-plus million PCs. [emphasis mine] I agree that there are more phones, and I am not at all confused about the difference between 300 million and a billion. But 300 million is 300 million.
On one hand, Nadella wants to say that his current market share in phones doesn’t matter, and asserts that people pick devices based on what they can do with them, not because of market share. But that’s disingenuous because market share is what leads developers to build apps for the platform, and without share you wind up with 20% of the apps that any person might want.
And then, on the other hand, he wants to make the case that market share does matter, pointing at the 300 million copies of Windows on desktops. But the drive in the market today for OS is mobile — phones and tablets — and desktop/laptop will be a steadily diminishing trend, especially as mobile OS’s become more capable.
I agree that the legacy tail of 300 million copies of Windows matters, but a lot of it is XP and Windows 7. We’ll just have to see how much that counts in the next 12-24 months as workers and businesses make decisions about ‘the best productivity tablet’ or phones for the sales force.
The elephant in the memo is the looming shadow of Apple and Google, who have been eating Microsoft’s lunch for the past few years in the core that Nadella is staking out for Microsoft, by stealing the consumer side of the market.
Topolsky asked if it’s important to convince the consumer that Microsoft should be part of their lives, or is it really the business world that will be most crucial to Microsoft. Nadella talks about the elephant directly:
No, I fundamentally believe that it’s most important to us to convince consumers. You’re defining the market as “It’s already done, Apple and Google have won, because they won the consumer side.” And I’m going to question that. I’m going to say “No, any thinking consumer should consider Microsoft because guess what, you’re not just a consumer. You’re also going to go to work, you’re also going to be productive and we can do a better job for you in there.” And that’s what I want to appeal to.
Maybe. We’ll see how this translates into marketing. I’m betting that Microsoft will have more success spinning the productivity angle in the enterprise side of the equation.