Top 5 questions for Microsoft's new boss

When it comes to leadership transition, Microsoft has opted for continuity over disruption. Satya Nadella's task is to propel Microsoft’s evolution not bring about a revolution.

Microsoft has decided against rocking the boat when it comes to leadership with veteran executive Satya Nadella now confirmed as the third chief executive of the software giant in its history. Evidently, he is going to have some heavyweight assistance as well with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates set to take a more active role in product development.

The shuffle also sees Microsoft welcome director John Thompson as a chairman, who will no doubt have his work cut out keeping Microsoft investors in line.

With the Nadella, Gates and Thompson trio now with the keys to the kingdom the leadership transition in Microsoft has opted for continuity over disruption. Former CEO Steve Ballmer isn't completely out of the picture either and remains as a board director.

Nadella has told Microsoft staff in an email that he is focused on ensuring that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world, again in line with the ‘devices and services’ strategy that Steve Ballmer set in motion before his departure.

So taking a bold new direction is unlikely to be on the agenda, which is understandable, given that Microsoft investors bemoan every endeavour and the company has developed a habit of under-delivering on promises.  

Having said that, there is no doubt that Nadella has everything in his arsenal needed to take the helm at Microsoft.

Forrester Research analyst James Staten says that Nadella’s ascension is good for Microsoft.

"He is a visionary, has passion for change, is making it happen and knows what it takes to drive change in the unique Microsoft culture,” Staten says.

 “An outsider would have a hard time accomplishing this coming in fresh. And time is of the essence."

When it comes to the Cloud and leading Microsoft towards an internet-future, Nadella has the chops but he will need to address some critical issues.

The team at Forrester Research has put together a handy guide of questions Satya Nadella needs to answer to reinvent Microsoft.

Here’s a summary of the top five.

How to ride the mobile wave?

The shift to mobile computing is the biggest threat to Windows’ dominance in the enterprise space. To do this, the Forrester team says, Microsoft must become more developer friendly because making ‘Windows Mobile’ the main platform in the enterprise space will require Microsoft to seriously invest in the ecosystem.

Should Office go to other platforms?

Microsoft may be taking baby steps in the mobile space but the Office software is one of its strongest offerings. Rather than trying to use it as leverage in the mobile platform wars, the report says that Microsoft should make Office available to everyone, not just Windows customers.  When Microsoft released Office 2013 it did indicate a willingness to make most of the Office applications available on iOS and Android devices. That still hasn’t happened.  

Just how valuable is the SMB market?

The start-up and small to medium business space are far more integrated into the cloud, and that provides Microsoft with an obvious advantage. The trouble is that everyone (from small upstarts to Google, salesforce.com) wants a piece of that action. Microsoft’s cloud business posted a revenue of $609 million in the last quarter but to make that number even stronger, the Forrester team suggest that Microsoft may require to leverage the power of Office 365 in the SMB space.

That means aggressive and nuanced marketing that understand the needs of this segment and isn’t afraid to sweeten the deal from time to time via free offerings. Another aspect of this would be to further nurture consumer offerings like OneDrive and the consumer version of Outlook and convert those to paid business relationship.

How to make SharePoint the place to interact?

With the next big wave of spending on customer-facing applications underway, SharePoint could be designed to become a true customer engagement product. To do this Microsoft must shift the focus from internal to outside-in collaboration. And beef up SharePoint’s mobile and multichannel features, the report says.

Can Windows 8 be saved?

Windows has ruled the roost in enterprises but Windows 8 hasn’t exactly been a hit. Microsoft’s gamble that enterprises will embrace an operating system that supports both PCs and mobile devices has failed to gain traction. According to Forrester's team, the dual personalities of Windows 8 are a problem and Nadella needs to find a way to reconcile this problem.

This is just a taste of what lies ahead for Nadella and ostensibly Gates as well.

After falling behind in the mobile race to Apple and Google, but there’s ample evidence that so far juggling the mobile narrative while ensuring that its core strength in software isn’t eroded has proven to be difficult. Nadella has a very clear idea of what he needs to do to propel Microsoft’s evolution but he’s an unlikely candidate to usher in the revolution.