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Nokias New CEO Needs To Make Sure It Stays On The Map

Nokia is heading in a new direction without its mobile-phone division. The man charting it: Rajeev Suri, whom the Finnish tech company appointed as its CEO on Tuesday.

Suri, the former head of Nokias networks division, will serve as the companys CEO starting May 1. He will take over duties from company chairman Risto Siilasmaa, who has served as acting CEO since September, and succeed former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who joined Microsoft (along with several other company executives) when the company purchased Nokias devices and services division last September in a deal worth roughly $7.2 billion. The acquisition was finalized last week, and Elop now serves as the head of Microsofts new mobile division.

So where does he take Nokia from here?

Suri will have to focus on Nokia's remaining products and servicesnamely, its lucrative if boring network-equipment business and its Here location-services division, which makes navigation apps for consumers and licenses maps data to other businesses.

What Suri Means For Nokia

Suri is known as a turnaround specialist, but that's not what Nokia needs. Instead, it must build new businesses. That's where Suri could turn back to the early days of his career at Nokia, when colleagues credited him with driving revenue at Nokia Networks, the companys telecom-equipment division, and creating a new services hub in India.  

To bring in revenue, the company will largely rely on its network-equipment business, which accounts for roughly 90% of the company's sales. It helps that Suri knows this business well. In this space, Nokia needs to fight off Ericsson and Huawei Technologies, so Suri will be charged with making the company more focused, and efficient.

But that business is uninspiring, and doesn't paint a future for growth.

Mapping A Future

Suri would be wise to focus on expanding Here, Nokia's cloud-based location services and mapping solutions. Google Maps is a dominant presence in this business, and has largely locked up the Android world for mapping and navigation tools; Apple is trying to exert similar control over maps on iPhones with its own service.

As such, Nokia is a critical counterweight. Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo, among others, use Heres location data in their online services.

Maps will be a big focus in software this year: Apple is expected to announce big improvements to its Maps in June, while Google keeps adding new features, like Street View's new Time Machine.

Nokias Here has features like guided voice navigation, live traffic information and even heatmaps to show popular areas for food and nightlife in select cities. The company also has a great deal of indoor maps available49,000 buildings in 45 countries. If Nokia hopes to compete with Apple and Google in this field, the company will need to expand those offerings further and improve its mobile experiences on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. In not being tied to a mobile operating system, Nokia has a chance to win partners and court developers who don't want to depend on a single platform.

There are other areas where Nokia could innovate. It has kept its large pile of patents, and it has retained an office of the CTO, a group that explores new technologies.

In shaping what remains of Nokia into a coherent company, Suri must shed his reputation as a turnaround artist and instead become a builder. If Here does not become the company's iconic new product, he'll have to invent one. Can Suri make Nokia the world's biggest startup? It's a tall order for someone who has spent most of his career as a company man. 

Image courtesy of Reuters

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posted at: 12:00am on 30-Apr-2014
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Box Makes Challenge to Microsoft: Give Us Your Office Docs

In an apparent effort to win over more users for its online-storage service, Microsoft said that OneDrive for Business customers would now get a full terabyte of storage for their documents, up from 25 gigabytes. But it's the way Microsoft announced the news that is turning into the real story. John Case, the Microsoft executive whose byline is on the post, used the headline "Thinking outside the box."Subtle, Microsoft. Real subtle. The point wasnt lost on Box CEO Aaron Levie, who responded in kind, calling on Microsoft to open up Office to other online-storage options besides OneDrive.

Boxing Office Users In

Case alluded to both Box and Dropbox in the blog post. He described Box as a "point solutiona typical dig in the old enterprise-software world, but one that ignores the ease of integration now possible through application programming interfaces. The reality is that Microsoft has always been protective of its lucrative Windows and Office products, and its recent moves back this up. It launched Office for the iPad without the ability to use documents from any other cloud service besides OneDrive.Boxs Levie wrote that he looked forward to working with Microsoft in the cloud, and called on Microsoft to allow online Office users to store documents in other services, including Box. (Users of the desktop version of Office can store documents anywhere, including Box and Dropbox.)The odd background to this very public tiff is that Microsoft and Box have collaborated in other areas. Levie appeared last year on stage at Microsofts Build developer conference, which highlighted the software giants collaboration with smaller companies.

Old Microsoft, New Microsoft

The strategy of OneDrive lock-in feels like classic Microsoftbut not like the open, partner-embracing company that new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is trying to build.Case ended his post by mentioning how the cloud is about lowering barriers between people and information, and not creating islands. As Levie pointed out, the lack of other cloud services included in Office for the iPad is exactly the kind of barrier Microsoft is sort of claiming it would like to see less of.Furthermore, the kind of island Case describes is also evident in OneDrive. As with Office for the iPad, OneDrive users are locked into Microsofts cloud, and arent able to import documents from other cloud systems directly on mobile devices.That's the tension in today's Microsoft. On the one hand, it wants to cater to all the tools and services developers prefer, and its made a big effort to communicate its support for non-Microsoft services and platforms. But it also wants to build a big, successful cloud-software business, which means signing up businesses and consumers as subscribers to Office and OneDrive. We asked Microsoft for comment on whether it planned to 

Feature Attraction

Levie has a point. The loser here seems to be Office users, who have to download documents from OneDrive and share them by email to work around MIcrosoft's limitations. Thats not the kind of workflow that makes things easier for customers, Levie pointed out in his post.For example, Microsoft took a month to add a feature that let users print Office 365 documents from its iPad app.  Google has had cloud printing for a while, and Box has a couple of apps that allow printing of documents from the cloud.Printing is just one example of a missing feature. In a cloud-first, mobile-first worldthe world Microsofts Nadella says the company now lives inthe days when software companies had to build all their features themselves are long gone. If Microsoft had launched Office for iPad with Box integration, it could have offered customers a convenient option while it worked on its own native printing feature. Until it sheds old, bad habits, Microsoft is going to remain stuck on its own software island.Photo of Satya Nadella by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite

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posted at: 12:00am on 30-Apr-2014
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Hey Google Hangouts, Skype Now Offers Free Screen Sharing And Group Calls, Too

Skype is liberating group calls and screen sharing for all users, which are two powerful additions that should please businesspeople and enterprises everywhere.Group calls had long been available to Skype Premium customers on Mac, Windows and even Xbox One, but now its rolling out to anyone using those systemsfree of charge.Microsoft GM of consumer marketing Phillip Snalune said free group calls will eventually roll out to people using mobile devices and other systems, but for now, its just available for Windows, Mac and Xbox One users. Its a solid start, however, especially when you consider Microsoft was likely feeling pressure from Google Hangouts, which is also free, but doesnt need to be downloaded like Skype. Of course, Google Hangouts also works on mobile devices, which Skype is still working on.Skype also made screen sharing free for all group video calls, which is a key for businesses that collaborate remotely. So even as it looks to compete against popular consumer-oriented tools like Google Hangouts, Skype's focus on appeasing the enterprise shows that Microsoft still knows where its bread is buttered.Image by Joe Shlabotnik from Flickr via Creative Commons license

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-Apr-2014
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GitHub Tries Again At Transparency

Last Monday I published the least open and least transparent blog post GitHub has ever written.

Its a powerful first line from GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath in his latest official blog post.

Wanstrath elaborated on the internal issues that have plagued GitHub this past month, including the least transparent post in question, which vaguely addressed a third-party investigation into gender discrimination at the company. Developer Julie Ann Horvath alleged an environment so toxic that she quit, and former CEO Tom Preston-Werner resigned shortly afterward. 

Paired with GitHubs statement that no evidence was found of gender discrimination, users reasonably found the turnover a little strange, and perhaps less than truthful. 

Mondays followup delves into the details Wanstrath missed the first time around. On Monday, he named the independent investigator who examined the case, Rhoma Young, and noted that GitHub had never worked with her prior to this probe. Wanstrath noted that Young took full control of the investigation, interviewed 50 employees, and even reviewed internal repositories commit histories. 

Wanstrath also defined exactly why Preston-Werner resigned from the company. While the earlier post simply stated that the investigation found no legal wrongdoing, this one makes it clear that Preston-Werner wasnt exactly blameless:

The investigation found Tom Preston-Werner in his capacity as GitHubs CEO acted inappropriately, including confrontational conduct, disregard of workplace complaints, insensitivity to the impact of his spouse's presence in the workplace, and failure to enforce an agreement that his spouse should not work in the office.

Finally, Wanstrath said GitHub will be announcing new initiatives in May. We can only hope these actions are centered around bringing diversity to the company and the greater tech community.

Wanstrath noted how many GitHub employees, fans, and critics offered feedback for how GitHub could do better. Its too soon to see the general mood, but Horvath already tweeted her opinion of the new post shortly after it went live:

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-Apr-2014
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