Microsoft needs focus, gets bigger org chart
By Robert Cyran
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer says the software giant must speed up and focus on what customers want. That at least is the gist of two sprawling memos justifying a sweeping restructuring, unveiled on Thursday. Yet the Microsoft organization now looks more complex. And the company is vague about its purpose.
Ballmer is right that the nearly $300 billion Microsoft cannot continue on its current trajectory. The PC market is in free fall. Shipments have dropped for five consecutive quarters, with an 11 percent decline in the second quarter according to figures just released by Gartner. That hasn’t noticeably affected Microsoft yet. It can only be a matter of time, however, until the company’s two cash cows – the Windows operating system and business software like Office, which account for about 80 percent of profit – eventually suffer.
Microsoft was organized into eight divisions based on products such as Windows, Office and Skype. The company’s argument that these distinctions are increasingly artificial has merit. Microsoft’s tablets and smartphones, for example, must combine its software, online services and other offerings into one complete package.
So Ballmer is right to rethink reporting lines. The company will now have four engineering areas: operating systems, apps, the cloud, and devices. That sounds a sensible way to organize a tech company. But things deteriorate somewhat from there.
Engineering is just one of eight new so-called functions at Microsoft, the others including the likes of “business development and evangelism” as well as more typical groups like finance and legal. Another group called Dynamics – Microsoft’s enterprise planning software business – will remain separate. Though it may stop silo-like businesses engaging in unnecessary internal competition, the new organization still seems likely to frustrate rather than encourage engineers with smart new ideas.
Moreover, even after nearly 6,000 words across the two missives, it’s not really clear what Microsoft wants to be. Both memos say, in bold type, that Microsoft should create devices and services that “empower people around the globe at home, at work, and on the go, for the activities they value the most.” Ballmer signs off his screed with a “Let’s go.” But where to? If Microsoft can’t clearly define its destination, a confused organizational structure isn’t going to help it get there.