Saturday, June 15, 2024

Microsoft’s New CEO: Adding What Was Missing

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Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, had his coming out party this week with his first major presentation as the CEO of Microsoft. Contrasting him with Steve Ballmer showcases what we were missing by not having a subject matter expert running the company. It is also interesting that, in passing the presentation to each of his division leaders, he was able to both convey the benefits of what Microsoft was bringing to market but showcase his team better.

A company isn’t the CEO and by showcasing many of his top executives, the subtle message was that Microsoft isn’t bounded by its CEO – it’s enhanced by a team that appears loyal to him.  

Let’s chat about the impressions Microsoft is driving and the changes that appear to now be evident.

Data Analytics and People

One of the sections was presented by Kevin Turner. What makes this doubly interesting is that Kevin Turner is COO, he isn’t a product manager. He is responsible for what Microsoft does itself.  And he is the guy presenting on Data Analytics and People.

Technology companies are often like the Cobber’s Children, they don’t actually deploy the technology they make in production. I think the reason Steve Ballmer failed wasn’t because he was stupid – he graduated at the top of his class at Harvard – it was because he was constantly given bad information from which he made really bad decisions. With executives it truly is “garbage in/garbage out” and I believe that the core of the problem was the lack of good predictive analytics used properly in the company.

If the COO at Microsoft understands the technology well enough to pitch it he should be a believer. And if he is a believer he’ll push to assure Microsoft uses this technology in a timely and efficient way itself. That one change could improve Microsoft’s ability to anticipate the future better, assure Satya makes better decisions than Steve did, and become the best showcase for Microsoft’s own offerings. 

Often I see analytics pitched much like other technologies as a standalone system designed to help people answer questions.  But more than any other class of product, analytics is designed to enhance how people make decisions, which means you can’t leave the “people” part out.

There are three parts to a successful analytics solution: Data Acquisition, analysis, and interpretation. The first and third parts have a massive human component. If the data is biased coming in or the person interpreting the data is biased at the back end, then the result will be little better than if the firm flipped a coin. In fact, it might be worse because it wouldn’t even have a 50/50 chance of being right – it would be wrong by design.

This is actually the first time I’ve seen an analytics vendor even talk about people as a major part of the solution. And while Microsoft clearly could have gone farther, this showcases that someone that uses a technology often knows more about the critical parts of the solution than someone creates it does.  In this instance Turner is more of a customer for analytics because as COO he doesn’t own development. 

Microsoft vs. IBM

One thing that I think differentiates IBM from Microsoft is that, when it comes to showcasing a product, IBM tends to bring out customers who talk about how a product did or how it will change how they do business. Microsoft uses hypothetical companies as examples. This artificial approach makes it look like the firm doesn’t have any real customers and points to a critical problem with the company that Satya still needs to address: the lack of credible advocacy by customers.

This is a hangover from the Gates and Ballmer years when Microsoft stopped listening to customers and made some unfortunate moves with pricing, which alienated the customer base and made it very difficult for IT managers to speak on behalf of the company.   While painful to fix, fixing it will be a critical part of assuring Satya’s success. 

It was with great interest that I saw the closing video, which featured an actual customer testifying about how critical Microsoft’s product was to their success.  

Wrapping Up

Showcasing the ability to talk to the product set as a subject matter expert, showcasing the new executive team, and presenting analytics as a people-centric solution all emphasize why someone like Nadella should be running a technology company like Microsoft.  

But closing with a customer testimonial showcases just how critical customer advocacy is to all companies in this space (and why EMC and HP have started to use NPS as a critical executive metric). In the end we are seeing a very different Microsoft and that makes it look like Nadella was the right choice for Microsoft CEO after all.

What was missing was a subject matter expert and a renewed focus on the customers and users and, I think, we are seeing both in Nadella.

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