Be bold, Microsoft: Don't pick another enterprise guy to run the show
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made the surprising announcement this morning that he intends to retire in the next 12 months.
I'd heard some rumblings that this might happen from people at and near Microsoft, but these rumblings have been so regular for the last decade that I dismissed them as wishful thinking or rumor-mongering. But it seems that Ballmer's recent reorganization was in fact his last step before heading out the door.
Before starting the palace intrigue game of picking a successor, a quick word about Ballmer. He is and always was an enterprise guy. He spent most of his pre-CEO career at Microsoft running Microsoft's sales organization, which sold exclusively to businesses (including PC makers, who did most of the end-user marketing for Windows). He knows how to sell to enterprises, and how to play with marketing, pricing, and licensing to maximize Microsoft's revenue from those customers. (That's trickier than it sounds -- you can't just raise prices willy nilly or customers will get fed up and leave. You have to add value as well.)
Under his tenure since 2000, Microsoft's enterprise businesses like Windows Server and SQL Server have gone from being jokes -- no IT manager would have considered running their businesses on them back in the 1990s -- to being among the market leaders, generating several billion dollars of profitable revenue each year. Microsoft staved off threats from Linux, VMWare, Amazon Web Services (so far), and many other comers. Its Server & Tools business segment (which included the aforementioned products plus developer tools and management software) was its most consistent growth driver under his watch, growing around 10% every year. Even as Windows started to falter in the last couple years, the enterprise business remains strong.
But about Windows. I don't know, but can imagine, that one of Ballmer's directives when he took over -- perhaps even directive number one -- was to preserve and protect the Windows monopoly. (I use that word intentionally, as that's what two government bodies called it.) There, he failed. He failed to see how the iPhone and related technologies, like easy app installation from from the Apple App Store, would create a massive consumer smartphone market. He failed to see how Android would suck up the low end of that market. He failed to see how Apple would move iOS upscale to make PC-competitive tablets.
Or maybe he saw all these things, but he and the organization he helped create were simply powerless to respond in time.
Whatever the reason, he's leaving now. When Microsoft looks to replace him, the one thing they shouldn't do is pick an old-fashioned enterprise guy. Somebody like Paul Maritz -- a well-respected former Microsoft exec, now leading EMC/VMware offshoot Pivotal, which is looking to provide cloud services to enterprises -- is a tempting choice. Certainly a big part of Microsoft's future is in the cloud. Devices plus services, as the company has been saying.
But I'd hold out for a bolder choice. If you believe, like CITEworld does, that the line between consumer and enterprise is slowly disappearing, and that consumers will drive future technology choices at work -- which they're already doing with BYOD -- then Microsoft ought to pick somebody with a strong consumer background.
The first name that springs to mind is former Xbox leader J Allard. He helped create Microsoft's most successful consumer product ever, and he also has a deep understanding of the cloud -- he was one of the first at Microsoft to urge senior leadership to jump on board with the Internet, and his insistence on including an Ethernet port in every first-generation Xbox and to spend more than $1 billion building a dedicated online service were instrumental in that product's success. He's also widely liked, and not currently involved at another tech company.
The only other ex-Microsoft executive with top-level consumer experience is Stephen Elop, who left the Office business after a couple years to go run Nokia. His track record at Nokia so far is pretty poor, but Windows Phone does appear to be showing some signs of progress, and the last generation of Nokia Windows Phones has gotten mostly positive reviews. It appears to be on track to be the third player in the smartphone market. (The question is: Does the smartphone market have room for a third player?) Microsoft was interested in buying Nokia earlier this year -- an acquisition would sure be an easy way to ease a new successor in.
Apple's Scott Forstall, who oversaw iOS development before leaving Apple earlier this year -- reportedly because he's difficult to get along with -- would be another bold choice.
Customers have taken control of the buying process, and gone are the days of the carefully crafted marketing message. That means you have to deliver relevant, quality content in the proper context of the customer's situation and device they are using -- and that's a huge challenge for most companies.
Four months after Quip launched on iOS, the company delivers on its promise of an Android app for its eponymous word processor. Today's release comes on the heels of a major update to its Web and iOS apps that finally lets you import Microsoft Word files, a feature the Android version lacks for now. Still, with these two updates, Quip edges closer to its ideal of being a collaborative cross-platform word processor.