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What's Microsoft going to look like after Ballmer?

He's locked his successor into a plan with little wiggle room

By , Network World
December 23, 2013 08:14 AM ET

Network World - Like a juggler walking away with dozens of objects suspended in the air, Steve Ballmer is leaving his successor at Microsoft not only a tough act to follow but an even tougher act to continue.

Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer

During his last months at the company, Ballmer has set in place a string of changes that won’t be anywhere near completion when he goes, even if his replacement doesn’t come on board until next August, the deadline for him to leave.

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That means whoever it is has to come up to speed fast and have the talent to implement Ballmer’s plans or to change them mid-course without having things fall apart.

Here is a look at some of what Ballmer leaves and how it might affect the products and services Microsoft sells.

The big management picture

Ballmer is responsible for One Microsoft, the overarching plan announced in July that that relaxes the divisional separations under which the company was organized before.

“This means we will organize the company by function: Engineering (including supply chain and data centers), Marketing, Business Development and Evangelism, Advanced Strategy and Research, Finance, HR, Legal, and COO (including field, support, commercial operations and IT),” Ballmer said in the memo announcing the changes.

This calls for Microsoft’s disparate products to be seen as part of a larger coherent whole, something not immediately obvious considering they range from gaming consoles to data center infrastructure. “All parts of the company will share and contribute to the success of core offerings, like Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox, Surface, Office 365 and our EA offer, Bing, Skype, Dynamics, Azure and our servers,” Ballmer wrote. “We will see our product line holistically, not as a set of islands.”

Big ideas but even in his overview of how they will be implemented Ballmer leaves a lot to sort out.

For example, Tami Reller is executive vice president of marketing under the new organization, but here’s what Ballmer says about the job: “Mark Penn will take a broad view of marketing strategy and will lead with Tami the newly centralized advertising and media functions.” This begs the question of who exactly is in charge.

There is similar ambiguity with Dynamics, Microsoft’s ERP and CRM software lines. “Kirill Tatarinov will continue to run Dynamics as is, but his product leaders will dotted-line report to Qi Lu, his marketing leader will dotted-line report to Tami Reller and his sales leader will dotted-line report to the COO group.”

Tony Bates runs business development and evangelism but also has some uncertain sway over OEM partners. “OEM will remain in [the sales marketing and services group] with Kevin Turner with a dotted line to Tony who will work closely with Nick Parker on key OEM relationships.”

The new CEO will be expected to execute these sometimes unclear directives or to sort out who’s in charge in particular instances. The structure is flexible, but it leaves some individuals answering to two masters.

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