Microsoft CEO Nadella: Building Cutting-Edge Tech Much Easier Than Changing Culture

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke to partners for the first time Wednesday at the vendor's Worldwide Partner Conference, sharing his vision for "reinventing" productivity and the direction he's planning to take the 39-year-old company.

Nadella didn't stray far from the talking points he outlined in a 3,200-word email to employees last week, but he acknowledged that changing Microsoft's culture is one of his first big challenges as CEO.

"That's the hardest part," Nadella said in a keynote to some 15,000 partners, adding that he thinks building cutting-edge technology is much easier to achieve.

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Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran, has held channel-facing roles in the past. In 2000, he explained to partners the advantages of using the .NET framework in his role as vice president of the Microsoft bCentral small-business website.

"I've worked in so many products and they’ve all been partner-led," Nadella said in the keynote.

Nadella has adopted "mobile-first, cloud-first" as a sort of mantra. At WPC, he talked about how Microsoft intends to "reinvent" productivity by adding new technology to its email, file sharing, communications and collaboration apps.

According to Nadella, Microsoft can help individuals and organizations get their work done more quickly by infusing apps with technologies that make use of operational and social data.

"In all of this abundance of computing power, what is scarce? Human attention and time," Nadella said.

While this approach is already seen in Office and Dynamics, Nadella said Microsoft's efforts won't just be seen in specific products.

"It's not just about one app. We are building an OS for human activity across all of their daily lives and devices," Nadella said.

Microsoft also is focused on making its products useful for both work and personal experiences. This means blurring the lines between products such as Skype and Lync, or OneDrive and OneDrive For Business, Nadella said.

"These all have to be built to excel for dual use," said Nadella. "That's what will drive productivity."

Microsoft under Nadella has already turned away from putting Windows at the center of everything it does. Releasing Office For iPad is an example of this shift, but there are other signs as well.

Nadella said Enterprise Mobility Suite, a bundle of mobile device management, identity and security software that works with Apple and Android devices, and Delve, which infuses Office with big data analytics, are products that reflect Microsoft's embrace of cross-platform technology.

Nadella and Steve Clayton, "Chief Storyteller" at Microsoft, gave a live demo of a Skype language translation service that accurately handled a conversation between an English speaker and a German speaker. It's slated to hit preview stage this year.

It’s these sorts of services that can help get work done and improve interpersonal communications, Nadella said.

"We want to move from app development to productivity tools that can be transformative inside organizations," he said.

Nadella also gave a shout-out to Azure Machine Learning, a new service that became available as a preview this week, which lets developers embed predictive analytics into their apps.

With the services, Microsoft is essentially taking applied machine learning and putting it into the hands of data scientists. The apps that result from this and other coming services could give Microsoft lots to talk about at next year's partner conference.