Both Sides

Under Nadella, Microsoft Sheds Its Predictability

From its uncharacteristic embrace of third-party platforms to its rapid delivery of new cloud services, Microsoft has been steadily shedding its reputation as a slow-moving behemoth.

I've worked both as an employee and as a partner with Microsoft for a very long time. One thing you could always count on was for Microsoft to operate in consistent ways. It was hyper-focused on obtaining sales growth, building solutions that leveraged only its platforms, finding products that could be sold to the masses and introducing software solutions with ever-expanding capabilities to take market share from other software vendors. This focus made Microsoft predictable.

A lot of people have been talking about a new Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella, but I didn't believe major changes were possible. I genuinely thought the ship was too large to make quick turns, but from what I'm seeing in the market, Microsoft really is much more nimble now. It has shed the requirement that Microsoft be the only platform that's truly cared for and emphasized.

In my opinion, the company has turned out some good solutions. For example, Excel on Android tablets really does work. Here are some more examples of Microsoft's newfound flexibility and quickness:

  • Microsoft provided multiple apps on the Apple Watch at launch, such as OneDrive, OneNote and PowerPoint remote. The old Microsoft would have ignored this platform altogether.

  • Microsoft's strategic alliances with Salesforce.com and Box represent groundbreaking cooperation with competitors.

  • There are more than 100 Microsoft applications for iOS and Android.

  • Office Online is seeing its value enhanced with new product launches, such as Sway.

  • The licensing team is adding entirely new bundles, most notably the Enterprise Mobility Suite and the Enterprise Cloud Suite, as primary options for Enterprise Agreements.

  • New functionality is coming out into the cloud quickly -- Power BI/Office Video/Office Delve.

  • Customers are getting better access to product roadmaps, which are especially critical for large entities who need time to plan and create vision internally.

  • Microsoft is supporting open source software, including Linux in Azure and CodePlex, a free open source code project site.

  • Direct competitors' solutions such as Oracle are finding a reselling home in an Azure subscription.

What's next? Here are some areas where I see the new thinking at Microsoft having an impact in the next fiscal year, starting July 1:

  • Pay on adoption, in addition to sales revenue. Microsoft will begin to pay many of their sales specialist and partner roles based on the usage of cloud products by clients. Expect plenty of noise in this area for partners as Microsoft begins to understand how to really impact clients' adoption and how to effectively track it within their systems.

  • Funding for adoption. Monies will continue to move from transaction partners (software resellers) to integration partners. Historically, Microsoft has connected deployment funding to a license purchase transaction. In the past year, for the first time, customers could qualify for funding from Microsoft for software they already own -- this will continue.

  • Speed. If partners aren't moving rapidly, Microsoft will push forward and offer the services itself. The Onboarding Center offering is one of the first; the Azure setup service is another example. Watch for more services to appear "magically" when Microsoft is trailing an internal metric.

  • Google fight continues. Microsoft knows that when it wins the cloud identity fight, it can sell more and have true "stickiness" with those clients. At renewal, the client is locked into the Microsoft cloud ecosystem already. My prediction is that Microsoft will actually maximize its competitive game and focus in this area.

Microsoft is turning the ship more swiftly and is willing to "fail fast." I am truly impressed with the company as a whole and with Nadella. As a partner, we're still trying to figure out where, or if, we'll fit in the new world. I'm paying close attention to the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this month to absorb the talk tracks and focus areas. I'll be watching to see how those words translate into actions in the new fiscal year. What makes me nervous? Microsoft is no longer predictable, which is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting!

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About the Author

M.S. Partner is a pseudonym for a former Microsoft U.S. field rep who returned to the channel and writes this column to help other partners succeed with Microsoft. Let M.S. Partner know your thoughts and questions about how Microsoft works at mspartner@rcpmag.com.