Microsoft's App Dev Partners Hoping For Regime Change Under Nadella


Microsoft partners that build cutting-edge Web and mobile applications are critical cogs in the company's devices and services strategy, and ones that CRN spoke with Tuesday are happy to see Microsoft longtimer Satya Nadella get the CEO job.

Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft partner in Carlsbad, Calif., who has met Nadella a few times, described his hiring as "a huge sigh of relief" for Microsoft partners that build apps.

"Satya understands that solutions built on the Microsoft platform are long-term investments that pay off handsomely," Huckaby told CRN. "For the last few years, Microsoft's short-sighted pushes towards licensing, without installation and adoption, have caused myriad problems."

[Related: How Satya Nadella Worked His Way To The Top At Microsoft]

Microsoft's once-solid relationships with developers have become strained as the software giant has stepped up its focus on the consumer market. Rocky Lhotka, CTO of Magenic, an Minneapolis-based Microsoft partner, told CRN this has "alienated" partners that build enterprise-focused apps and they feel like they're getting less attention than before.

"I think they did need to pursue that market, but I don’t think they needed to shut out their existing business and enterprise base in the process," Lhotka said in an email.

A similar situation has been unfolding inside Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) unit, which is tasked with getting developers excited about using Microsoft technologies. DPE has seen a number of popular, high-profile figures leave for jobs with other companies in recent months.

Jeff Sandquist, a 16-year Microsoft vet, left in September to become Twitter's head of developer and platform relations. Eric Schmidt, a 15-year vet who was senior director of consumer applications evangelism at Microsoft, joined Google in October as a cloud solutions architect, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Since the Microsoft empire was built on tight developer relationships (just ask Steve Ballmer), some partners are concerned by what they perceive as a long-term shift toward consumers. But Andrew Brust, CEO of Microsoft-focused research firm Blue Badge Insights, isn't one of them.

Brust said Nadella's background suggests he'll make improving developer relations a priority, while also keeping the strategic consumer push intact.

"He's smart enough to know that enterprise and consumer are becoming ever more inseparable, so it's not like Microsoft is going to retreat from consumer under his leadership," Brust told CRN. "Picking one over the other is a false choice that he’s too shrewd to fall prey to."

In the age of bring-your-own-device, Microsoft has to do something to keep devices from archrivals Apple and Google from becoming further entrenched in enterprises. Lhotka is another partner who's confident Nadella will be able to strike the necessary balance.

"I suspect Nadella will bring some much-needed balance between the need to win over consumer mind-share, and the equally compelling need to retain and rebuild the business app development market," he said.

Huckaby, for his part, expects Nadella to launch a "major revamp" of the Microsoft partner program in which small, highly technical and specialized application development partners such as InterKnowlogy will get more attention and resources than they've been getting in recent years.

For example, Huckaby said he'd like to work with Microsoft's field sales team to implement solutions that fit with the devices and services strategy.

While Nadella's plans for handling enterprise/consumer balance probably won't become apparent right away, Microsoft's app development partners are feeling a lot better about their fate than they've been for a while.

PUBLISHED FEB. 5, 2014