Microsoft shows a refreshing ability to reinvent
itself. On his first day in the job incoming CEO Satya
Nadella told employees:
“Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.”
Those words, slightly rearranged as cloud first, mobile first have been repeated many times since. Microsoft used them as a slogan when launching the iPad version of Office.
While the phrase sounds good, it leaves questions. Not least: what does Microsoft mean and how can two things be first?
Cloud computing and mobile
computing are not distinct categories but two facets of the
- Cloud is all about abstracting data, intelligence and services from place and device.
- Mobile is the means of accessing data, intelligence and services. To a degree that means devices. Mobile can include phones, tablets, laptops and anything falling into the gaps between.
Modern work now revolves around mobile and cloud computing. Nadella's statement acknowledges that. When Microsoft describes itself using the rearranged form cloud first, mobile first, it is telling us it has repositioned its entire business in light of the new reality.
In other words Microsoft understands the challenge. So do Microsoft's rivals: Apple, Google and Amazon. In this context no other company matters.
Apple dominates mobile. The iPhone and iPad redefined mobility while the MacBook Air set the laptop standard. Outside Apple's world it looks as if the company under-performs in cloud computing, but that's not how many happy Apple customers view iCloud.
Google's mobile play is Android. The lion's share of smartphone users and many tablet users get their mobility through Google's operating system, while Google's cloud-based apps offer their productivity tools.
Amazon's foray into mobile devices floundered, but the company towers over all-comers when it comes to enterprise cloud services.
Microsoft is strong in cloud services. It's enterprise cloud business is still small compared to Amazon, but it is expanding fast and has a solid lead in consumer cloud services. Office 365 plus Azure is a powerful combination.
Apple and Google compete head on with Microsoft's Office, OneDrive and Skype. Effectively those companies give their services away for free while Microsoft is still in the business of selling software licences. That's tough when competitors own the cloud and mobile parts of their technology stacks.
All this explains why in a cloud first, mobile first world Microsoft has no choice but to move into devices like Surface tablets and Lumia smartphones. Eventually it needs to move from selling software licences to selling an entire cloud and mobile focused technology stack.