CIO experts react to anointment of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Read what our hard-nosed CIO experts have to say about the challenges faced by new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

The appointment of Satya Nadella as Microsoft CEO lit up the Web, sparking more than 1 million online reactions. As well it should. Nadella, 46, is only the third CEO in the company's 38-year-old history. A native of Hyderabad, India, and trained in computer engineering and business, he is by most accounts also an altogether different character from his often brash and bombastic predecessor, Steve Ballmer, 57, whose background was in sales. Nadella joined the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant back in 1992, when founder Bill Gates' revolutionary ideas about the power of an operating system were being played out on virtually every desktop in the world.

The changing of the guard also entails a new role for Gates, who stepped down as board chairman to act as an adviser to Nadella. In a statement announcing the appointment, Gates praised the new chief as a "proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together." Our expert CIO contributors Harvey Koeppel, Niel Nickolaisen and Ravi Ravishanker say the Microsoft CEO will need all that and more to make Microsoft the revolutionary technology force it once was.

Harvey KoeppelHarvey Koeppel

Harvey Koeppel

Satya Nadella and his two predecessors have lived, slept, played, drunk and worked at Microsoft for most if not all of their professional careers. The brand and all it stands for runs through their veins like fine wine pouring from a carefully aged barrel. This is a good thing.

Nadella was also heavily involved in Microsoft's cloud development program, which, from a strategic perspective, is a very good thing. As the company is still playing catch-up to rival industry giants in this space, notably Amazon and Google, Nadella certainly has his challenges cut out for him.

If I were an investor in Microsoft (which I am not), I would like to see someone sitting in the CEO seat who has had some prominent experience walking a mile in the customer's shoes. No matter how fine the wine, there is simply no substitute for having the wisdom that one gains from traveling a path that includes a diversity of perspectives, especially those of your customers.

Harvey Koeppel, former CIO of Citigroup's Global Consumer Group, is the president of Pictographics Inc., a management and technology advisory and consulting services firm. He is also vice chairman of the World BPO/ITO Forum, a leading outsourcing industry association.

Niel NickolaisenNiel Nickolaisen

Niel Nickolaisen

Some days I think about what a really rotten job I have. I have to be on the edge of innovation; make sure that my legacy systems never fail; deal with new technologies and demands; and attract, build and retain an IT staff in an increasingly competitive market for talent. On those days when my job seems overwhelming, I find comfort in one thought: At least I am not the CEO of Microsoft.

Why does that make me feel better? Because at least I know what business I am in. Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO, has a really vexing challenge. In an age of increasing IT specialization and dynamic technology change, where should Microsoft focus?

My own experience teaches me that a key to long-term success is an intense focus on doing a few things better than everyone else. If so, where should Microsoft focus? On its Windows operating system? On Windows on the device or server? On the consumer market with Office? On the organizational market with Office 365? On the cloud? (Let's be honest, how many people do you know who use Azure over Amazon Web Services?) On the device market with Surface and Windows phones? On search?

Can Microsoft be the market leader in every category? In every market? Without a clear focus, does Microsoft settle into being a solid, non-growth, marginally innovative company with a broad range of decent products? Or should Satya create a clear focus, even if it requires de-emphasizing certain products and markets? On days like this, I am glad that I am a lowly CIO with a merely rotten job.

Niel Nickolaisen is the chief technology officer at O.C. Tanner Co., a Salt Lake City-based human resource consulting company that designs and implements employee recognition programs. He is a frequent writer and speaker on transforming IT and IT leadership.

 Ravi Ravishanker Ravi Ravishanker

Ravi Ravishanker

First off, I am proud that a person from India is being selected to lead Microsoft. During the past several years, I have been really confused about Microsoft's strategy and missteps. They have been consistently late to the game and have lost the first-mover advantage that the others have enjoyed.

So, Satya has the impossible task of redefining the focus for the company and getting buy-in from his complex organization on the one hand, and on the other, bringing back the customers through new and exciting offerings. I wish him lots of good luck, because he will need it!

Ravi Ravishanker is CIO and associate dean of WellesleyX at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where he has radically reorganized the delivery of IT services since his arrival in 2012. He is frequent commentator on IT issues.

This was first published in February 2014

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