Microsoft WPC: Can Nadella Back it Up?

This was the moment we’d been waiting for – Satya Nadella’s first public address to Microsoft partners as CEO.

After opening with some thanks, Nadella addressed what he and fellow Microsoft executives have been filtering into every single public announcement since his takeover in February: the cloud first, mobile first mantra.

Having seemingly been accused of not being able to count (‘How can two things be first?’) Nadella knocked this on the head by saying that without the cloud, there isn’t going to be a genuine mobile experience. And vice versa.

Then – onto the wider vision:

There are 3 billion people with internet connected devices and 212 billion sensors, devices and ‘things’ that will be internet connected by 2020. This is the next generation of computing, and it’s Microsoft’s aim to create an operating system for all human activity, across all devices.

Now…that sounds very ambitious to me. Not that I’m surprised – it’s Microsoft. But we’re talking about the creation of something that enables you to do anything, from anywhere. ‘Dual use’ is what Satya Nadella calls it – supporting everything across digital work and life experiences, and making everyone more productive.

This is where Microsoft want to thrive, but it sounds so general. In fact, Nadella has started to be accused of not backing up what he says when he makes these kind of public addresses, or public emails like the one he sent to partners just before the start of this conference.

Here’s one article, ‘Microsoft’s new CEO needs an editor’ written by Jean-Louis Gasee, which really challenges Nadella to be more sharp and direct:

“Any text that relies on platitudes says not much at all; in a message-to-the-troops that’s supposed to give direction, irrefutable statements are deadly.” Or at least they are if you don’t back them up with examples.

One of these irrefutable statements made by Nadella is, “Together we have the opportunity to create technology that impacts the planet.” Of course they do – but then, anyone could say that.

So, did he back it up on stage at the World Partner Conference?

For the most part, yes. There was a degree of repetition from previous talks and memos, but here I want to try and get under the skin of what Nadella really means by terms such as ‘keeping people at the centre’ and ‘shining for productivity’ by talking about a couple of the live demonstrations.

First up – Machine Learning. This is all about creating the tools that will allow businesses to understand big data better, and make more informed decisions based on insights and predictive analytics. For this, Nadella brought Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller Steve Clayton onto stage.

Steve showed the schematics of a global elevator company (sorry, global lift company 🙂 ) who were in charge of 1.1 million units. All the data from those lifts were pulled in via sensors in Azure Machine Learning.

Azure Machine Learning is a new service by Microsoft which is designed to make advanced predictive analytics and data science available to any business, across any industry.

All the data is real time, and Steve pulled up the schematics of the lifts contained within the Virginia Mason Athletics Center. We could see the lifts moving, whether they were passenger or freight type, the location, and, most importantly, their predictive health.

You could see on the dashboard when a scheduled maintenance for a lift was due, and based on the information you could decide that actually this particular lift needs to be looked at 3 days prior to its scheduled maintenance. Azure Machine Learning is about reasoning over data to find out why something happened in the past, and using that same data to prevent it happening again in the future.

This stuff can be transformational, if the analysis is done right. And that’s a culture thing – check out ‘Technology Doesn’t Replace Talent: Part 3’ for a deeper insight into this.Another demo which I loved (even if it didn’t always go exactly to plan) is a new planned feature for Skype: live language translation.

Steve talked about his own experiences of not being able to communicate well with his mother-in-law.

No – it’s not for the reason that you’re thinking :). Though Satya Nadella did crack the ‘I would have thought that was a virtue’ joke.

Steve’s mother-in-law is Chinese and doesn’t speak any English. And Steve doesn’t speak any Chinese. But he would like him and his children to be able to have a full conversation with her.

Steve then demo’d Skype’s new live translation tool by having a German friend of his (kitted out in the national team’s football kit, of course) call him on Skype. Steve asked her how she was, and Skype instantly spoke those words in German for Melanie, who replied back in German. And we heard the English translation straight away.

It wasn’t flawless, but they did have quite a lengthy, complicated conversation and it came across as quick and effortless. Steve said this type of tool would change his life, and that’s exactly the theme that Satya Nadella is talking about.

These two examples which I’ve talked about here absolutely have the potential to make a big difference. The opportunity is here for us to build things that change the way we work and the way we live our lives, with the technology that is coming out today. And Microsoft are leading that charge, I firmly believe that.

This week, Satya Nadella and his team have really demonstrated that they do have the deep technical expertise of what technology can do and what impact it can make on both our business and our personal lives.

And he isn’t afraid to collaborate with unexpected sources to make that vision a reality.

Today’s news about 18,000 jobs being eliminated at Microsoft (around 70% of that will be in the Nokia division), whilst far more than was anticipated, is also about placing their bets for the new financial year. In the past, the Microsoft vision was putting a PC on every desk.

That’s just not the reality now. Microsoft need to have a clear focus of where they believe their strengths are in the marketplace. And this is the extremely difficult part of that.

You can read Nadella’s public email to all employees here.