Nadella is pulling Microsoft into the 21st century

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Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, is pushing hard to change the way that the tech behemoth thinks about the world and Microsoft’s place in it. He is actively moving the company away from a packaged products mindset and skillfully crafting a new lens, a new set of metaphors to help guide a major transformation of the company.

He’s been using the phrase ‘mobile first, cloud first’ (along with Gini Rometty at IBM) to suggest one part of this shifting view. And in a talk yesterday in San Francisco, he’s added some new insights, as reported by Reuters:

“Every aspect of Microsoft’s business is being fundamentally transformed because of data,” said Nadella at a presentation in San Francisco on Tuesday. “You have to build deeply into the fabric of the company a culture that thrives on data.”

We’ve seen recent moves by Microsoft to transition Microsoft Windows and Office products to foundations for the use of other services. For example, the release of Office for the iPad came with a zero price tag for viewing and displaying documents, but requires users to sign up for Office 365 — and a monthly subscription fee — to create or edit documents (see Office comes to the iPad, at last). And similar shifts in the thinking about licensing have led to free Windows on small display devices, and soon, I bet, on everything (see Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free).

Even Office is being recast as a set of tools for manipulating and visualizing data, in Nadella’s data first world:

“Think of Office as the canvas, or the surface area, or the scaffolding from which you can access the data,” said Nadella.

So, the new mantra is mobile first, cloud first, data first, it seems.

Of course, Nadella was speaking at an event related to SQL Server 2014 and Microsoft’s Analytics Platform System, as well as Microsoft’s Hadoop offering, HDInsight, a cloud-based data management solution to help companies analyze big data in the cloud.

Nadella makes the case that companies — including Microsoft, I suspect — have to first change their thinking, and adopt a ‘data culture’ mindset, before taking full advantage of technologies of the sort Microsoft is bringing to market. I bet we’ll be returning to ‘data culture’ a great deal in the years to come.