The Ongoing Strategy of Transforming Productivity

Some weekend thoughts…

When Satya Nadella first became CEO of Microsoft, he talked frequently about transforming collaboration and productivity. I remember sitting and listening to his first keynote as CEO from the press box at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference and liking what I heard, but commented to a couple friends that the proof would be in the pudding. In other words, could Nadella deliver? We all have ideas about what it means to “transform collaboration and productivity,” but how would this vision play out during his tenure?

Image result for satya nadellaMost of us think in terms of some kind of utilitarian, feature-driven view of the world. When a technology executive talks about transformation, our minds go to new products or features for existing products and services. But I’m beginning to see things differently. While Microsoft certainly has areas to improve, the company has shown that transformation is not just about innovation — but changing the way in which you innovate. As someone who spent a couple years as an employee and experienced the Microsoft culture, I can honestly say that the culture has changed.

Over the past 2-3 years, we’ve moved into a world where Microsoft has replaced Apple as the cool kid on the block.

In my mind, it’s not about displacing Apple — or any other company — in the consumer space, but in terms of how the brand is viewed by users. And I’m also not talking about the cult of personality surrounding Steve Jobs versus Satya Nadella, although having a personality that people can rally around is certainly a factor. No, I’m talking about Microsoft’s new direction toward all things productivity, ethical AI, and a culture of listening. The evolution of workplace productivity as envisioned through Nadella’s Microsoft is creating a new sense of optimism, and real excitement. While the Redmond marketing machine is positioning itself around Windows 10, Azure, and Microsoft Teams, where I see greater impact is the productivity to be realized through the Microsoft Graph, incremental improvements to the Office suite and other end user tools, and a more deeply integrated SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.

Can we be honest for a moment? As a long-time SharePoint guy and Office Apps & Services MVP, I may be biased — but my feeling is that SharePoint had been headed in the wrong direction for a couple years, with Microsoft making numerous messaging missteps, and (again, my opinion) losing sight of who their customers are and what those customers wanted from the platform. But with CVP Jeff Teper re-taking the helm and the insertion of several strong community members and MVPs into the organization (Dan Holme and Chris McNulty, among others) Microsoft has shown that they have listened /  are listening — and learning from their experiences and our feedback as a community. For example, they have pivoted their strategy from a very aggressive push toward the cloud to more of a pull model — where customers are able to take advantage of cloud experiences while not giving up their on-premises infrastructure, if that is where they want/need to remain.

Whether it was a masterful strategy or a beautiful mistake, Microsoft has found itself in a great position with competitors like Box, IBM, and Slack by offering more options and solutions for customers with varying degrees of on prem investments.

A few years back (in 2013, specifically), Gartner provided some statistics during their Catalyst Conference in San Diego around movement of SharePoint customers to the cloud, stating that 35% of existing SharePoint customers would never move to the cloud, and within 5 to 7 years only around 15% were projected to be pure cloud — leaving 50% in some kind of hybrid state. Microsoft adopted those stats, sharing them during their annual Worldwide Partner Conference that year. However, since that time Microsoft has acknowledged that the numbers have changed. In the CollabTalk research into Hybrid SharePoint (download the free report) in early 2017, and updated through a survey late last year (2019), what we’re seeing now is that the number of companies claiming they will never move to the cloud has decreased to as few as 20% — while customers projected to be pure cloud in the next 5 to 7 years has also decreased. Hybrid, it seems, will be the new-normal for SharePoint for some time.

Microsoft has had a huge window of opportunity to learn from past communication and strategy mistakes with SharePoint, and has done a tremendous job at once again building some excitement around the platform’s roadmap. I often talk to audiences about user-centric development and change management, and how Microsoft has earned points by adopting smarter, more effective listening tools such as User Voice, the TechCommunity site, and through blogs and social media. And they are most certainly listening, and responding quickly to questions and customer issues.

Nadella talked at length about transforming productivity, and re-thinking how teams collaborate. The task now is to continue helping people bridge the gap between the vision and driving meaningful value to businesses. Realistically, it will take more than savvy marketing and overly-aggressive sales goals to push customers toward this new model of productivity, but inspiring people to move — focusing on pull tactics instead of push — will certainly move people toward this vision more quickly.

Microsoft is learning to inspire through innovation rather than rely on blunt-force marketing. People want to feel inspired, they want to catch a vision of the future — but they also need to see the practical application of that technology, which sometimes means steps, phases, and iterations in that technology. Within the SharePoint space, this has meant giving people that hybrid bridge from the present to the future — and, most importantly, not making them feel cut off or second-class citizen if they decide to take the slow, financially prudent route to the future.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.