Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks on video with Morgan Stanley representatives
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks on video with Morgan Stanley representatives

Microsoft CEO Nadella: Leaders Realized, ‘I Won’t Exist if I’m not in the Cloud’

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Few business executives can match Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella for vision and eloquence, so it was particularly striking to hear him say that leaders in every field realized over the past year that “I won’t exist if I’m not in the cloud.”

(Only my weekly Cloud Wars Top 10 rankings, Microsoft has been #1 for more than 2 years.)

Nadella made that profound comment in a video interview with two executives from Morgan Stanley: Rob Rooney, head of technology, operations, and firm resilience; and Keith Weiss, head of the firm’s US software research team. 

Asked by Weiss to describe why the pandemic has been such a powerful force in driving digital transformation, Nadella said leaders first realized that digital technology was the key to resilience, and that that cloud became quite literally an existential requirement.

As always, Nadella offered a compelling perspective underpinned by powerful examples. But in the phrase I’ve shared in the headline—”I won’t exist if I’m not in the cloud”—Nadella has, for the first time of which I’m aware, stated publicly in such stark terms the life-saving performance of the cloud over the past year.

“We all turned collectively to, essentially, digital technology for core resilience. We used to talk a lot about digital transformation before, and then it suddenly became a core priority for any organization to be in the cloud in order to stay in business. It didn’t even become like ‘this is a sort of a transformation project I need to allocate and prioritize’ and instead became, ‘I won’t exist if I’m not in the cloud!’ 

Let that sink in for a moment. Nadella didn’t say that leaders were worried that revenue might slow down or profits would slip—he said that leaders were deeply concerned about their organizations becoming so lost and so paralyzed that they would for all intents and purposes simply disappear.

And Nadella included every type of organization in that near-doomsday scenario.

“That was true for government organizations, schools, hospitals, manufacturing—pick your sector. 

“So one real qualitative change coming out of this is an understanding that your productivity depends on being at the cutting edge of technology because that’s what gives you resilience—that’s one marked structural change.

“Then, take healthcare. We’ve talked about telemedicine forever—but guess what? There’s no going back! Next time you want an outpatient visit, it’ll start with an AI triage tool, then a telemedicine visit, and then you’ll go to an outpatient ward.

“Then there’s retail: curbside pickup is going to be a norm.

“Or manufacturing: this notion that you have to have a digital twin that does lights-out manufacturing of a remote facility—that’s going to be a norm.”

As a result, Nadella said, the tech industry could well become a dramatically larger slice of the global economy than it currently is.

“So I’ve said the tech industry, for all its strength and penetration, is still just 5% of GDP. So I always say that as the world gets more digital and OpEx is getting a productivity boost because of digital, [that percentage of GDP] will double. 

“And I think that doubling may happen faster because for any company to be competitive means they need to actually be able to build their own digital capability on a much faster clip.”

I think it’s not a coincidence that Nadella mentioned the manufacturing sector twice during this excerpt from the Morgan Stanley video. In Microsoft’s accelerated push into the booming category of industry clouds, it launched its manufacturing cloud a few weeks ago (please see Microsoft Faces Off with Google, SAP, Oracle in Industry-Cloud Blitz).

And just this week, Microsoft acquired a rapid-prototyping advanced-technology boutique specifically to boost its capabilities in industrial markets.

Because, as the CEO of the world’s largest and most-influential cloud provider just said, those companies and a whole lot of others need the cloud—and desperately so.

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