A Microsoft Future?

Posted on October 6, 2013


Future … that is being a little futuristic, looking forward, a new set of ideals that will take the greatest software company into a completely new trajectory. Not just a mid-course correction in a safe pair of ‘familiar’ hands Who Will Be the Next Microsoft CEO? or to address a hit list of pundit desirables ‘Microsoft’s next CEO: Is an insider Redmond’s best bet?’

Having read the procrastinating on-line over the who should be the next CEO of Microsoft, and or what their shopping list of first acts should be, I feel a need, if only for my own therapeutic reasons, to get a response off my chest. OK I have just dammed myself to my own criticism, but read on before nodding your head any further.

The facts:

  • Microsoft represents one of the biggest global brands, trusted and relied on in both home and business the world over. More than a Pop Drink popularity in dependency. For better or worse whether you like it or not that is REALITY.
  • Microsoft has one of (if not) the broadest technology and associated service portfolios.
  • Microsoft has the largest COMMITED business and consumer audience. That commitment may be in the absence of much else and in some areas under challenge from Google (Android), Apple and Amazon, but in many cases still represents the mother-ship for even these pretenders to the crown.
  • Microsoft has THE largest Business Channel network in its Partner eco-system. The envy and aspiration of businesses the world over. (This I can talk to in more detail as a unique engine room for wealth generation, but beyond the scope of this missive)
  • Microsoft has struggled to define itself clearly across its product offerings, with internal culture silo’s competing, pushing and pulling itself into a complex mystic grade hydra of a management headache that any prospecting CEO will be challenged to do better with than Steve Ballmer.
  • The argument of product integration requiring everything under one roof or uber-suite install is going against the trend. Furthermore it has not worked that harmoniously, or with the best results, to date if you reflect honestly.

When a business gets to such a level of critical mass there is a need for something more than just a change of captain.

Microsoft is at this Event Horizon. The future is bright, but the choices for investors are being obfuscated by traditional models of business continuity that equate to looking into a distortion field created by the sheer uniqueness and size of the current Microsoft business. This is compounded by the speed of market evolution that those lines of business are material and subject to. The outcome is likely to be short term bravado followed by mediocrity and excuses.

By all means look inside the business for a CEO successor, but a CEO of what? Microsoft diversity in its current state will NOT be answered by any single man, albeit a Bill Gates may come close to that, but he has a more meaningful agenda now. But don’t get me wrong his experience on the board is invaluable and that legacy oversight critical, as will Mr. Ballmer’s for that matter whatever direction the business takes.

There are many approaches, but I believe one of those viable avenues is to look at playing to the very strengths that are currently Microsoft Achilles heel. The sheer diversity of silo’d businesses, recognised under one brand. A fresh approach that “Cuts through unnecessary complications with clear, direct and flexible thinking, looks beyond the obvious, moves freely from established ways of thinking, reappraising old assumptions, finding new answers.”

Redefine Microsoft as a BRAND group entity, which does not mean throwing out the ‘One Microsoft’ agenda, which is a work in progress, should still sit harmoniously in this paradigm as a logical harmonisation. The objectives of One Microsoft is a logical reaction to the market, BUT not driving the market.

Divest independence and spin off each of its core businesses so they can operate freely and with the agility that modern technology entities must do to innovate, evolve and thrive (read shareholder value!). I am not talking about a sell off or break up. Take a lesson from some of the other great brand entrepreneurs. Virgin for example. In the Microsoft case it would be a reverse play, Microsoft has the business diversity, Virgin created it, the end result the same, shareholder value, innovation, agility and a bright future.

What this requires is not a CEO to run a Technology Company, but an entrepreneurial character with the vision to hold a transitional vision together as it is communicated, executed and delivered upon. A requirement for understanding of the current nature of the business and its inherent strengths, a core technological grounding in the consumer and business landscape, and understanding of the unique Partner Ecosystem. Critical to which would be the persistence of experience on the supporting corporate board assuming the individual would be an outsider (as I do not recognise a suitable candidate internally).

In tandem to this unleashing of the true potential of what is contained within Microsoft is the launching on the industry of a core new initiative that will truly transform Microsoft from its technology roots. That of financial services.

Microsoft Partner Ecosystem + Consumer + Business relationships provide a platform to take a nascent concept mainstream, and in doing so take a Global lead and be a defining force in the future of global on-line commerce. Whether this is done through the adoption of an existing digital currency such as BitCoin, evolving it to address some key shortfalls such as its deflationary and commodity characteristics, or creation of a new, is open for debate. The point here is there is a pent up demand for digital currency to go mainstream.  Whilst no central bank appears to have the intellectual capacity or character to take on the challenge of establishing market credibility for any of the current crop of digital currencies, a technology entity with a sizeable on-line transactional customer base such as Microsoft across its XBox, Skype and other platforms, could. This would also offer Microsoft a unique offering to its developer application ecosystem and even customers to go some way to neutralising global exchange rates in licensing and remove licensing price boundaries, subject to regulation 😉

For those of you thinking this is pie in the sky, just reflect on what Richard Branson has achieved with Virgin as a brand. NOT the record label it once was. But the finance business, airline, travel agency, Media Company and Telco it has become. Actually now that I think of it Microsoft ticks many of those box’s itself already, it’s just not structured right and lacks the right leader!! OK Virgin is now suffering from the symptoms of a strong leader in terms of its own business continuity, Microsoft has the opposite problem it needs this, but for now it appears they are not looking in the right place and with the wrong set of criteria.

It can be done, and if something significant does not happen then it will be more of the same, flat lined (dependable) share price for the foreseeable future till ground gets really lost to the faster more agile upstarts taking the headline and high ground across Microsoft core territories.

Whatever happens its going to be an interesting time.