10 questions Nadella must address to strengthen Microsoft's enterprise position

As Satya Nadella steps into his new role as Microsoft CEO, he faces a big challenge: How to keep the company competitive in the enterprise market.

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Microsoft began as an entrepreneurial company in 1975 and blossomed into a mega-empire in the 1990s, the "golden days" of its Windows and Office products. Although the company has maintained its de facto dominance in the office software market, strong competitors now surround it in areas of cloud computing, enterprise computing, mobile computing, and even office desktop applications.

The company is at a definite inflection point, and the appointment of Satya Nadella as Steve Ballmer's successor certainly underscores that fact. Here are 10 enterprise computing questions that should be on Nadella's checklist.

1: Do we reinvent the office again?

When the Office suite swept into enterprises across the country in the 1990s, there simply was nothing better than the package of spreadsheet, presentation, word processing, and database capabilities Microsoft offered. Office remains the standard for business today, a testimony to its continuing value as productivity software for the enterprise. Since its debut, Microsoft Office has vastly expanded in features and functions. But this decade could be the one where the workplace (and the software) are transformed into a next-gen offering, with greater injection of video and voice into projects, communication, and collaboration.

2: Should we focus our cloud efforts on IaaS and VDI?

Microsoft's strength in the enterprise may lie with office applications, but workflows in offices are changing, as they are everywhere else. It's no secret that many enterprises would like to outsource their business applications and migrate to a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Unfortunately, getting there has not been so easy. Many companies that have tried VDI have experienced performance degradation issues, support issues, and questionable returns on what they initially thought would be major savings by eliminating physical resources and software licenses. If Microsoft can develop an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and VDI offering that's easy to use, economical, scalable, and worry-free, it could be a major contributor to reinventing both the office and Office.

3: Can we optimize our core competencies?

Microsoft was originally valued for its innovation and the ability to connect with the users of its products. Today, enterprises are looking for easy-to-use, collaborative tools that integrate well with new and more fluid workflows. If Microsoft can direct more innovation to the "fit" of its products within these evolving enterprise workflows, it potentially could eliminate many of the obstacles and information breakdowns that plague enterprises today.

4: Do we support more open architectures?

In a day when most technology vendors are participating in the open source community and improving the compatibility of their products with those of other manufacturers, Microsoft is still largely proprietary in its product offerings. Nadella needs to consider whether a proprietary strategy will continue to make sense in an IT environment that is increasingly becoming more open.

5: Do we make QA a first-class citizen?

Most of us are accustomed to periodically rebooting our Office software when it goes haywire. But contrast this with the enterprise executive who says that in his 30-year career, he has never seen a mainframe go down unless it was for a planned maintenance. If Microsoft can improve the reliability of its products and releases as they go out the door, it will go a long way toward gaining higher levels of enterprise endorsement.

6: Do we expand our education initiatives?

Microsoft has done a magnificent job of constructing formal certification programs for most of its products that enterprises pay attention to. It can build on this solid platform by further collaborating with universities and enterprises to foster next-gen skills and curriculum development that uses real-world IT scenarios to train students.

7: Do we become more transparent?

There are still many IT managers who remember the rigors of Y2K, and how difficult it was to work with some vendors (including Microsoft) because they didn't publish all the areas of interfaces and code that had date problems — and you didn't uncover the problems until your software crashed. Developing more transparent, open exchanges with enterprise decision makers would strengthen Microsoft's enterprise position.

8: Can we stabilize the company within?

The past few years have seen Microsoft go through numerous product direction changes and organizational realignments. This scares employees and stultifies innovation. New CEOs bring cultural and organizational changes, too. Nadella must be mindful of the changes that employees have already been through and he must do the difficult: effect purposeful transformation in an environment where stability can also be established.

9: How do we optimize our acquisitions?

Like other large technology companies, Microsoft will continue to acquire capabilities through corporate acquisitions. Nadella should orchestrate end-to-end plans for optimizing these investments, going beyond the initial acquisition of IP and people to strategic and operational roadmaps of how these acquisitions are going to fit into products and the enterprise marketplace.

10: Do we have the right partners for the enterprise market?

The enterprise market is challenging and highly competitive. It will be vital for Microsoft to continue to find strong and credible business partners that understand and serve specific enterprise verticals and intimately know the challenges and pain points these verticals need to solve — and how IT from Microsoft can help them.

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By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...