On Thursday, April 24, Microsoft delivered its first earnings call since the appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO on February 4, 2014. Whereas outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer rarely participated in earnings calls, Nadella participated on the Q3, FY2014 earnings call in a clear sign that he intends to claim accountability for Microsoft’s relationship with Wall Street and success more generally. Analysts were almost universally enamored by Nadella’s responsiveness to questions on the call as he began the elaboration of a concise but bold blueprint for Microsoft’s transformation over the next 5-10 years. The basis of Nadella’s strategy for Microsoft is “mobile-first cloud-first” and a “cloud for everyone on every device” philosophy that applies to Windows, Office 365, Azure and its infrastructure division without discrimination. Strikingly, Nadella avoided mention of big data, Hadoop and analytics in what represented a clear strategic move to underscore the critical importance of mobile and cloud technologies to the next phase of Microsoft’s evolution. That said, Nadella did mention that “the ability to reason over and draw insights from everything that’s been digitized will improve the fidelity of our daily experiences and interactions” and that the concomitant ubiquity of computing represents a huge opportunity for Microsoft in the “mobile-first and cloud-first” world.
Three key points worth noting from Nadella’s remarks on Thursday’s earnings call are as follows:
1. Acknowledgement of Microsoft’s need to innovate
Nadella delivered a stark admission of Microsoft’s need to transform itself by noting:
What you can expect of Microsoft is courage in the face of reality. We will approach our future with a challenger mindset. We will be bold in our innovation. We will be accountable to our customers, partners and shareholders.
In noting that Microsoft will be “bold” and look to the “future with a challenger mindset,” Nadella acknowledged that Microsoft had lost its pre-eminence in the technology world and would need “courage” to reinvent itself in the contemporary tech landscape.
2. Mobile-first means “mobility first”
Nadella noted the need to think about user experience on a “variety of devices” including those not powered by Microsoft as follows:
So this mobile-first cloud-first thing is a pretty deep thing for us. When we say mobile-first, in fact what we mean by that is mobility first. We think about users and their experiences spanning a variety of devices. So it’s not about any one form factor that may have some share position today, but as we look to the future, what are the set of experiences across devices, some ours and some not ours that we can power through experiences that we can create uniquely.
The availability of Office for the iPad constitutes one such example of attention to the larger universe of devices used today, but the broader point here is about the creation of user experiences across varied devices that Microsoft “can create uniquely.” Nadella went onto to note that the company’s attention to mobility would require deep thought about how real communications such as “how communications happen,” and “how meetings occur.” He also noted that the attention to a variety of devices would be accompanied by “one cloud for everyone and every device” that could accommodate the heterogeneity of devices and operating systems in the tech world today.
3. The growth of Microsoft’s cloud is enabled by the triangulation of its infrastructure, SaaS-based Office 365 product and its Azure cloud platform
In response to a question from Karl Keirstead of Deutsche Bank about factors that enabled Microsoft’s growth in “server product revenue” on the order 10%, Nadella noted that advancements to its server infrastructure products had accelerated because of their use to power the Azure cloud as follows:
One of the questions I often get asked is hey how did Windows server and the hypervisor underneath it becomes so good so soon. You’ve been at it for a long time but there seems to have something fundamentally changed I mean we’ve grown a lot of share recently, the product is more capable than it ever was, the rate of change is different and for one reason alone which is we use it to run Azure. So the fact that we use our servers to run our cloud makes our servers more competitive for other people to build their own cloud.
Nadella elaborated that Office 365’s growth was also critical to powering the growth of its infrastructure business, creating a cycle marked by differential margins across its infrastructure, Office 365 and Azure business that would need to be carefully indexed in order to effectively understand the drivers of Microsoft’s growth. Nadella’s commentary on the relationship between its infrastructure market, Office 365 and Azure means that Microsoft is positioning itself within the triangle composed of Azure, Office 365 and infrastructure, even as it espouses a two pronged strategy focused around mobility and the cloud. Thursday’s call represented a remarkably rich and informative elaboration on the company’s strategy for an earnings call. Based on Nadella’s performance on Thursday, investors will be looking forward to subsequent Microsoft earnings calls, particularly insofar as Nadella intends on “joining these investor calls going forward” as part of “an ongoing dialogue with investors.”