Ballmer departure changes the Microsoft game for enterprise CIOs

In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, chairman Steve Ballmer announced his departure from Microsoft’s board of directors. While Ballmer still retains 4% of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), he relinquishes his last official leadership title. But the departure of employee number 30 and former CEO signals a deeper change at Microsoft that enterprise CIOs will want to watch.

Ballmer, and founder Bill Gates before him, brought significant value to enterprises. The relationships they built touch just about every corporate entity on the planet. Even today, Microsoft maintains one of the strongest relationships with enterprises today. Many of those relationships are based on client operating system and productivity tools; namely Windows and Office.

However, as cloud became more prevalent in the enterprise world, Microsoft seemed steeped in their traditional form and only made modest course corrections. Arguably, changing a $300B+ publicly traded corporation is not for the faint of heart. But the appointment of Satya Nadella to the CEO role was no mistake in a carefully orchestrated set of maneuvers intended to change Microsoft’s path. Nadella was formerly Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Cloud and Enterprise. Ballmer’s role on the Board of Directors left him in a very influential position. His departure signals an opportunity for Nadella to shine.

And that shine is just what Microsoft needs to turn the corner. Now is the opportunity for Microsoft to take actions that fully embrace cloud in a holistic manner. For the enterprise CIO, this means looking at Microsoft beyond just Office 365 and Azure. Microsoft, historically, created a broad ecosystem that was Microsoft-centric. In order for Microsoft, or any cloud provider, to succeed, the ecosystem must be open and extend beyond the boundaries of their existing portfolio of products and services. For Microsoft, this shift becomes more personal away from on-premises enterprise products and shifting toward open cloud-based services like Office 365 and Azure.

Under Ballmer’s reign, this shift would have been challenging at best. Ballmer was a great leader who drove Microsoft hard in a direction that founder Bill Gates started. Now it is Nadella’s turn at the helm to take Microsoft in a completely different. And that very direction, toward cloud-based services, is just what the enterprise needs. Microsoft, with their existing deep enterprise relationships, has the opportunity to capitalize on this shift. For the enterprise CIO, sticking with a Microsoft ecosystem brings a level of comfort and attractiveness. Before the leadership change, one might question if Microsoft was capable to making the turn. With Ballmer’s departure, it should give the enterprise CIO renewed interest in seeing what transpires next. The question is: Can Microsoft really make the shift happen quickly enough. The next few months will be interesting to watch.