Microsoft's Future Glimpsed at Analyst Meeting

By Pedro Hernandez  |  Print this article Print

Outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer and other execs discuss the "One Microsoft" approach to software, the cloud and devices.

Top executives from Microsoft held a gathering on Sept. 19 in Bellevue, Wash., to discuss the company, its vision and the state of its operations with financial analysts.

While preparing to retire from the company he helmed for 13 years, Ballmer indicated that Microsoft has already begun to lay the groundwork for ensuring the software giant not only survives the post-PC era, but also thrives in it. On July 11, Microsoft announced a sweeping reorganization effort to speed up the transition from a software company to a provider of devices and services.

To accomplish this, the company is adopting a strategy called "One Microsoft" that is meant to drive innovation by, in part, shaking up a culture that has long been criticized for its glacial reactions to IT trends and highly publicized bouts of internal dysfunction. During the analyst meeting, Ballmer and other top executives discussed how they plan to shape the company's immediate future.

One Microsoft, Four Pillars

"Over the near term there are four things we've got to get right," said Ballmer while discussing the company's new strategy in light of its recent and ongoing reorganization efforts.

"No. 1, Office 365 and Azure have got to be a touchdown," said Ballmer. Encouraged by brisk Office 365 adoption, he predicted "that by this time next year we will overwhelmingly have the most popular paid service in the enterprise, bar none, and we will have an engine really with Office 365 to which we can attach new services and new options, both for the IT department as well as for end users, marketing departments, etc."

Secondly, Microsoft must endeavor "to ensure that the PC stays the device of choice for people when they're trying to be productive in life," said Ballmer. And that job falls to Windows.

The upcoming Windows 8.1 OS update "is a very distinct improvement," he said, adding, "We are going to have to put time and energy, not only into Windows PCs, but into 'brand Windows' overall." Devices, too, fall into the branding strategy. "Our device brand more than anything is brand Windows: Windows Phones, Windows PCs, Windows tablets."

Admitting that "we have almost no share" in the mobile device space, Ballmer nonetheless expressed optimism: "Anything we have low market share sounds like upside opportunity to me. We're paying to do it all day every day."

The Nokia buy is pivotal to capturing more market share and improving margins. Noting that Nokia is responsible for more than 80 percent of Windows Phone sales worldwide, Ballmer said his company is "very excited to have a chance to capture the gross margin upside by actually being the device provider."

Finally, Ballmer talked up the need "to continue to innovate in high-value activities." Using the "meeting experience" as an example, he posed different scenarios such as connecting remotely, working with digital whiteboarding technologies, and perfecting pen-based input for annotation, drawing and sharing during work gatherings. "I guarantee you if we can get just a couple or three of these high-value activities to explode," said Ballmer, "that is absolutely, at the end of the day, the thing that's going to allow us to sell more enterprise services and the thing that's going to help suck through our consumer services and devices."

Enterprises Drive Microsoft

Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner offered a rare look at how his company generates revenues according to customer segment. "Well over 55 percent of the business is enterprise," not counting some OEM business that could otherwise also be lumped into the category, he said.