Bill Gates: Run Silent, Run Deep During Microsoft's CEO Transition

[Updated February 7, 2014]

Satya Nadella is Microsoft's new CEO. Check. He's the right person for the job, insider, change agent, provocateur. To see his 10-point todo list, see this Forrester report.

Bill Gates is leaving Microsoft's board to "substantially increase time" spent at Microsoft. Check. What, huh? How can both things be true? How can Bill Gates leave the board, but remain involved in the company?

Here's what I think will happen: Bill Gates will play a critical though invisible role in Microsoft's future. By leaving the board of directors, he won't be making strategic decisions as chairman. He won't be driving the strategic decisions as chairman of the board, but he will be a vital force behind the scenes. Here are three jobs that Mr. Gates must get right:

  1. Be silent on the strategy, transition, and plans. I believe that Mr. Gates new role is to advise and support Mr. Nadella as the new CEO pushes the company faster on a pivot to the cloud. The company has much to do. 1) Mash the products together into SaaS offerings. (Mr. Nadella has already done this with Azure, but now must do with Office 365, Skype, Dynamics, Bing, and much much more.) 2) Create a more comprehensive private cloud offering (beyond Office 365 Dedicated). 3) Break the lock between Windows and the rest of the business. (It's the only way subscription services are interesting to today's consumers and businesses. For example, Office must run everywhere.) Mr. Nadella will need help, not interference.
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Mobile Needs A Four-Tier Engagement Platform

Michael Facemire, John McCarthy, and I recently published a clarion call to the technology industry: It's time for a new architecture! The aging Web isn't designed to handle mobile apps or sites. And it certainly can't handle the real-time demands of connected products.

Here's how we summarize it:

Mobile is pushing aging web architectures to the brink. The three-tier architecture built for a browser-led PC world can't flex, scale, or respond to the needs of a good mobile experience or the emerging requirements for connected products. Mobile's volatility and velocity of change require a distributed four-tier architecture that we call an "engagement platform." The engagement platform separates technical capabilities into four parts: client, delivery, aggregation, and services. The new requirements of modern apps will force content distribution networks, application server vendors, mobile middleware vendors, platform-as-a-service suppliers, a myriad of startups, and enterprises to coalesce around this four-tier architecture. CIOs need to start planning immediately for the migration from three tiers to four.

It's time to throw out the old notion of a three-tier architecture -- presentation, application, data -- and replace it with a four-tier engagement platform that can handle the new demands:

An engagement platform suppports a distributed, four-tier architecture natively engineered to deliver compelling experiences, excellent performance, and modular integration on any device over any network at Internet scale.

 

Figure 1 The Four-Tier Engagement Platform Makes Delivery Its Own Tier

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Plugging The Mobile App Gap

What if you wanted an app on your phone or tablet and it wasn't available?
 
Sounds ludicrous given the million apps available in the app stores. But it's not ludicrous. It's commonplace. The world has 188 million active public Web sites and probably at least that many internal sites. And each one of those sites has (I'm betting) five or maybe 25 different tasks buried in it (each one of which could be an app). Let's do the math real conservative like:
 
(188 million public Web sites + 188 million internal Web sites) x 5 tasks per Web site = 1.9 billion potential smartphone and tablet apps
 
And we have 1 million apps today, a ratio of almost 2,000:1. We have a humongous app gap, defined as:
 
When people want applications on a mobile device but find those apps aren't available.

 

Entrepreneurs do their best to plug the app gap when established companies can't or won't see the opportunity. That's what's driving apps like Evernote, Dropbox, Flipboard, Uber, RoamBI, TripIt, and Expensify.

At home, the app gap might lead to a disruption in your market. If you're not serving your customer on a mobile device, maybe a digital disrupter will. (Yes, I know many Web designers are busily adapting some of the almost 400 million sites to work great on mobile devices. It hasn't plugged the app gap yet.)

In business, the app gap is challenging because employees are happy to plug the app gap at work themselves. That's why they bring their own apps. Here's what it looks like:

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Healthcare.gov's Failure Starts With Leadership, Not Technology

There has been lots of fingerpointing about the digital technology problems behind Healthcare.gov. If I had to net it out, I'd say that government leaders blamed it on technology contractors and the technology contractors blamed it on each other. And everybody acted surprised that this could happen.

But seriously people, Healthcare.gov was doomed to fail at launch:

  • No Web site ever worked perfectly on the first day! There are always glitches. It's always true with complex technology. Nasa didn't shoot a rocket to the moon first. It tested a monkey in space and went through a decade of learning before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
  • It's impossible to test a Web site with 250,000 users before launching. The only practical way to have launched Healthcare.gov would have been to do it a little bit a time, perhaps starting with a few counties in 5 or 6 states. This is what Amazon and Facebook and Google and Twitter do.
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IBM's Global CxO Study Shows That You Irrefutably Live In The Age Of The Customer

Yesterday, Forrester released two important reports: one on the business masteries you need in The Age Of The Customer and one on the Business Technology you need to succeed in it.

Serendipitously, IBM this week released its global study of 4,183 CxOs from around the world. The title? The Customer-activated Enterprise. The study carries irrefutable evidence that we already live in the age of the customer, which we define as "a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers." Here's my analysis of IBM's data:

  • First, CxOs see customers are a critical influence on their company's strategic vision and business strategy. Over half of global CxOs place customers ahead of all other influencers except the C-Suite itself as a strategic influence on the firm. And they don't mean the company's perception of what customers need. They mean customers themselves: eighty-two percent of CEOs believe they include customers in defining new products and services today. That's a ubiquitous desire, folks: CEOs want customers themselves to define the firm's new products and services.
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iOS7 on iPhone 5s Amps Up Apple's Focus On The Business Mobile Ecosystem

Apple's announcement yesterday of a new high-end iPhone running its new iOS7 operating system got lots of attention for improvements in things that consumers care about: fashion, entertainment, photography, device protection, and health, for example. My colleague Charles Golvin went deeper to analyze what these improvements mean to Apple's prospects as a premium phone maker.
 
Perhaps lost in the coverage was what the combination of new hardware and new software means for how businesses can use iPhones at work. The battle now is for business application developers and vendors, and Apple is on it. The formula for business success has become great products + great features for developers to harness + a great way to distribute and sell custom and commercial business apps. Apple's announcement yesterday focuses on the first two elements of that formula:
  • A focus on management APIs in iOS7 gives business software vendors new hooks to provide business-ready solutions. My colleague Christian Kane has written a Forrester report on the five major improvements in the control APIs. While an iPhone will never natively provide all the lockdown that a security-conscious CIO might want, Apple has consistently listened to the needs of mobile device and mobile application management. With these new APIs, the ecosystem of security and management vendors can ramp up their products to support CIOs rolling out BYO iPhone programs. Already, MobileIron has talked about what it will do to take advantage of this.
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Meet The Mobile Mind Shift In Forrester's Podcast Series

A mobile moment occurs whenever someone reaches for their smartphone or tablet. And happens anytime they have an itch to scratch. And it's happening more frequently than ever as your customers and your employees are undergoing a mobile mind shift -- "the expectation that I can immediately get what I want in my personal context on my mobile device."
 
If it's your customer that's having a mobile moment, then you want to be there, don't you?
 
At Forrester, we've been spending a lot of time analyzing how mobile devices change the way companies engage their customers and employees. Across every role we serve, we're probing on what makes mobile different from PCs, different from Web, and different from traditional channels. My colleague Julie Ask and I spent some time recently with Tom Pohlmann, Forrester's Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, to talk the mobile mind shift and what to do about it. You can hear that conversation in its entirety (episode 1) or in topic-sized chunks (episodes 2, 3, and 4) below.
 
 
Episode 1
Title: Embrace The Mobile Mind Shift
Description:  When it comes to mobile, most companies are simply doing “old things in new ways.” Mobile’s great promise is provide new value where organizations will internalize mobile to do “new things in new ways.” 
 
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Microsoft Buys Nokia Devices As A Major Building Block Of Its Devices+Services Strategy

Microsoft acquired Nokia's devices business for $7.2 billion (which is only 27% of Microsoft's 2013 earnings and just 9% of its cash and short-term investments). Microsoft bought the devices and some of the services along with the services of former Microsoft Office leader Stephen Elop, who will run Microsoft's Devices business. By all accounts, Stephen was a much-admired Microsoft executive when he left to run Nokia in 2010.

I'll leave telecom industry analysis of the deal in the worthy hands of my colleagues Thomas Husson and Charles Golvin. I'll leave journalistic speculation to the media. I'll leave personality analysis to the pop psychologists. But as a software+devices+services industry analyst, I'll share my analysis of how this acquisition changes Microsoft's position in the mobile mind shift.

  • First, this acquisition is a clear stepping stone in Microsoft's transition from a software company to a software-led multiproduct company. Apple pioneered the model of vertical integration in devices: device+software+services. Google quickly mastered it. Microsoft has now proven that it is willing and able to make the tough decisions to make a vertically integrated product a cornerstone of its business model.
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Steve Ballmer Steps Down: My Take On The Forces In Play

I don't know Steve Ballmer. I've only met him once. (I've met with Bill Gates more often than that.) But let's face it, he had tremendous impact as a leader. And it's now a good time for him to step aside.

When Steve took over from Bill as CEO of Microsoft in 2000, the company's revenues were $21B and the business was led by desktop software. Under Steve's guidance, Microsoft made massive inroads into enterprise server software and tools while investing but not really winning in consumer services and certainly not in mobile devices. And in recent years, Steve listened to lieutenants like Ray Ozzie and Bob Muglia to turn the Redmond juggernaut towards cloud computing, mobile devices, and software+services.

At the same time, the world has moved faster than Microsoft's licensed software business model could respond. Apple, Google, and Amazon have become enterprise suppliers. Salesforce.com and Amazon are accelerating the shift to cloud computing. Dropbox has grown from zero to 175 million users in five years. So even as Microsoft's revenue more than tripled to $73B in 2012, things didn't feel good.

I think it's a good decision for Steve to step down and pass control to someone else, probably an outsider. Microsoft will then face its IBM or GE moment: Keep the company together or break it apart? Lou Gerstner kept IBM together and that decision had paid off handsomely. Then again, IBM relentlessly focused on a single enterprise market, shedding its PC and other low-margin businesses.

So what's next for Microsoft? I see three forces colliding to drive that decision:

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Mobile Engagement Providers Are A New $32.4 Billion Market By 2018

My colleague and friend John McCarthy and I have just published a new report on the emergence of a new category of vendors we call “mobile engagement providers” that help firms build excellent mobile experiences. I’ll unpack the report in a series of posts over the next few weeks. You can also read a lengthy post in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the report and Forrester clients can read the full report.
 
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Building and delivering great mobile experiences will be the beating heart of your customer engagement strategy for the next 10 years. The challenge of making a simple, intuitive app that fronts a complex system of engagement will stretch the abilities and swamp the resources of most firms. For help, firms increasingly turn to vendors that possess a connected portfolio of engagement competencies and management skills. 
 
The result will be a new market for mobile engagement providers that will grow to $32.4 billion by 2018 (see the Figure 1). No vendor can do all of this today, but suppliers from six categories — digital agencies, management consultancies, mobile specialists, product development specialists, systems integrators, and telcos — are chasing the prize. The payoff for vendors that make this investment will be to earn a seat at your table as a long-term partner in your engagement success.
 
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