Microsoft's aversion to change would make it a relic from a distant past, trying to compete in a high-velocity online world with outdated and overmatched tools.
As Ballmer put it in his concluding remarks in a public speech late last week at the University of Washington, "The field of endeavor keeps moving forward. And for all of us—companies and individuals alike—that's a great opportunity. This is the time, this is the opportunity, and the cloud forms the basis."
Ballmer said in that speech that he's been very aware of the doubts some have had about his company to catch this new wave around the cloud: "Can they move, can they turn, can they dial in and really focus and embrace the new opportunities and the new disruptions? And for us, that's where we're built today, that's where we're programmed."
Toward that end, Ballmer said that right now 70% of Microsoft's 40,000 employees are "doing something that is designed exclusively for the cloud or is inspired to serve" Microsoft's five cloud initiatives.
"And by a year from now, that'll be 90%."
As Microsoft's people have evolved, so have its core enterprise products: "Windows Azure and SQL Azure, products born of Windows Server and SQL Server, start with the cloud as their design point," Ballmer said. "Microsoft Office, as well as Exchange and Sharepoint—which are the back-end facilities in the professional set of tools—are all really focused in on the cloud today.
"This is the bet, if you will, for our company."
I think this is a terrific move by Ballmer because Microsoft was in danger of becoming something like a holding company of diffuse and diverse stuff, from Xbox gadgets over there to data-center tools over here to small-business apps somewhere else and operating systems and some of them didn't have any connection whatsoever to others.
Ballmer's burn-the-canoes approach changes all that: his company has new purpose, a new vision, and new direction. And if anyone thinks the bet looks risky now, just think what Ballmer's prospects would have been a year from now had he decided, in the face of tumultuouos industry upheaval, to do nothing.
Bets that aren't risky are bets that usually aren't worth the trouble it takes to make them. So kudos to Steve Ballmer—more than betting the company, he has saved the company, and given himself and Microsoft a chance to be at the table at this time next year with a much bigger stack of chips in front of them.
All in. Indeed.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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