New Microsoft CEO says partnering “is in our DNA”

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Solution providers looking at hints at what to expect from new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got a little bit of a mixed bag in the new chief executive’s first public appearance Tuesday. In a Webcast Q&A session held in front of some of the company’s customers and partners Tuesday afternoon, Nadella said partnering was vital to Microsoft’s past, present, and future success. But he also seemed to suggest that the definition of a Microsoft partner will have to evolve as the market does.

“Just like software competencies, [partnering] is in our DNA, that’s how we approach it,” Nadella said. “We were built on the thesis of enabling broad partner ecosystems, of enabling broad partner opportunities. The PC ecosystem is one of the broadest ecosystems that has ever existed.”

But in a presentation where Nadella frequently reiterated the company’s need to focus on innovation and evolution as the market and customer expectations change, the new CEO said the company’s partner base will have to change as well. New ecosystems have been created, he said, pointing to the rise of app stores in all their various flavors as a significant change for the software vendor, one that changes channel relationships and introduces new types of partners to the mix.

“We need to redefine the ecosystem, to make sure that in everything we do, we bring new partnerships to bear,” Nadella said. “It’s not about being static in terms of defining business or partnership models, it’s about evolving that world forward.”

Nadella said that Microsoft has to focus on innovation, and in particular innovation around customer experiences with technology. While hardware and software are becoming increasingly inseparable – he offers the company’s own Surface tablets, as an example of that – it will be software, Nadella suggested, that will define those new experiences. Thus, even in a world of devices and clouds, software remains key.

“Software is the most malleable thing we have that’s going to define the experience. That capability is still very relevant, but we have to renew it, we have to do new things. But we should be confident of our abilities,” he said.

Although his most recent background has been with the company’s cloud and enterprise group, Nadella said the company should not compartmentalize business and consumer end users, particularly as the lines between the two continue to blur in the age of BYOD.

“We think about the user. It starts with the user, with their life at home and at work, and how we bridge that as more and more of what they do digitally-mediated,” he said. “That’s what we’re centered around.”

But that doesn’t mean kicking IT from the table. Nadella said the company has to work to meet the needs of both end users and IT departments. “Users get the experience they want, IT gets the control they want,” he said.

Nadella said he would continue the company’s current services and devices direction, and perhaps took it a step further, saying the company needs to be “mobile-first, and cloud-first” in everything it does.

In the short term, Nadella said he intends to spend “a lot of time” with the compayn’s customers, partners, and investors to get the lay of the land and to get a better feel for what Microsoft needs to be in the future.

“Being in touch with their perceptions, and grounded by their reality, is what’s going to help us run our business,” he said.