In Nadella’s world view, data generated by, living on, and enhanced by Microsoft’s software is the company’s future. He said the company needs a “data culture where every engineer, every day, is looking at the usage data, learning from that usage data, questioning what new things to test out with our products, and being on that improvement cycle which is the lifeblood of Microsoft.” He talked about “data exhaust,” such as server logs, social-media streams, and transaction data that is meaningless unless it can be turned into “data fuel” for something he called “ambient intelligence.” Getting this right will lead to a “data dividend” for Microsoft’s customers.
I’ll defer on the question of whether or not Microsoft’s products are necessarily the best tools to use. But I will say that all companies need to develop a data culture. Never before have firms been able to generate or harvest as much useful information as today: consumer data, operational data, financial data, social media data, you name it. Summarizing, abstracting, and analyzing that data has never been easier or cheaper. Those who extract value from their data will gain a competitive advantage. Those who do not, will fall behind.