It’s a question the tech industry has been asking since 2008, when Bill Gates last held a full-time position at the company. Since then, observers have anticipated an Apple-like turnaround of Microsoft, patiently waiting for the software giant to stake its claim in the post-desktop world. Now, with the appointment of a new CEO, Satya Nadella, and the return of Gates in a tech advisory role, Microsoft is redirecting the conversation about its reinvention from the can to the how.
In an interview with the New York Times last spring, Nadella spoke of what he believed was a more "interesting and challenging" question--"How can we renew ourselves?" Nadella's question suggests a larger existential point: The term innovation is now so common that it even played a role in President Obama's last State of the Union address. With the growing emphasis on cloud computing, the launch of more and more wearable technologies, falling stock prices of newcomers like Twitter, and phones flooded with apps by young programmers all hoping to become The Next Big Thing, we find ourselves asking, “What comes after innovation? What will be the force driving successful companies into the 2020s?”
Perhaps it takes an innovation pioneer to set an example for newcomers struggling to monetize and make sense of their own ambitions. Today, reinvention is innovation--and Microsoft is poised to take the lead in this arena. With Nadella's appointment, Microsoft appears to be making a belated response to the industry's shift toward cloud computing. But when you're no longer competing to be the first to launch a certain technology, timing matters less and execution and breadth matters more. Consider Apple’s resurrection at the hands of Steve Jobs. Apple was late in launching its own portable digital music player, the iPod, but went on to completely dominate that market.
Microsoft's reinvention will not rely exclusively on how innovative its future products will be. Instead, unique and interesting combinations of existing technologies will drive revenues and new growth. Steve Jobs was seen as a great innovator because he was a greater editor. He knew how to revise and revise and revise, and that proclivity laid the foundation for his company’s incredible success.
Providing its consumers with comprehensive cloud-powered enterprise technologies, defining what's next in console gaming, and delivering a tablet that offers a truly seamless personal and enterprise user experience--these are the new markers of innovation in IT that can bring Microsoft to the forefront of its industry once again and, in the process, set an example for how other organizations struggling to innovate can renew and recharge their business models.