Microsoft (MSFT) recently announced plans to sell Surface tablets to enterprise customers, including educational institutions, through a two-tier partner program called Microsoft Devices Program (MDP). The program authorizes distributors to sell Surface to a newly designated group of device-authorized large account resellers (LARs). Per the announcement, in the US, Surface will be resold through three authorized distributors (Ingram Micro Inc., SYNNEX Corporation, and Tech Data Corporation) and 10 high volume LARs. MDP is likely to be expanded to select partners in 28 other countries by the end of September 2013. As part of the initial go-to-market model, Microsoft is not including its solution providers in the program.
Based on recent media reports, Microsoft’s US partners -- solution providers in particular -- have expressed dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s selective approach towards partnering for Surface. Solution providers feel Microsoft is ignoring the opportunity to deliver “wrap-around services” around Surface, which they could have delivered.
I believe that in the near term, Microsoft is correct in limiting access; but, in the longer term, it will need to open up to other partners, including solution providers that can help Microsoft deliver Surface-based solutions as a means to ensure differentiation in the tablet market and drive margins. Microsoft needs to follow some key guidelines as part of Surface’s go-to-market strategy if it wants to stand above the crowd:
In the original ‘Jurassic Park’ movie (which will be 20 years old this June), the young girl Lex Murphy (played by Ariana Richards) asks Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) what happened to the dinosaurs. Dr. Grant replies with the thesis from his academic works (as quoted here):
Many scientists believe the dinosaurs never really died out 65 million years ago. These scientists believe dinosaurs live on today -- as birds. The dinosaurs were too large and their food supply is too small, so the dinosaurs became a likely example of natural selection -- in short, they were forced to adapt or perish.
The personal computer already experienced a large tectonic shift, evolving from velociraptor to sparrow in just a few years. Back in 2007, end user computing looked very different from today: It was a simpler world of form factors, operating systems, and ecosystems. Even so, in 2007 we predicted:
By 2012, the industry won't include just two form factors, laptops and desktops, but five or more form factors that are universally viewed as differentiated products.
We were correct, and computing “biodiversity” bloomed: smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, eReaders, phablets, or adding in form factors that peaked and fell quickly (like netbooks). In fact, we are living in an era of unprecedented experimentation – a flowering of myriad computing form factors attempting to carve out their own evolutionary pathways. The descendants of the velociraptor include a wide array of connected devices, each blazing its own trail.
Tablets drive worker productivity in part due to their hyper-portability, as I argued in a recent blog post. Workers can (and, we showed with data, do) use tablets in more places, places where they wouldn’t (and don’t) take their PCs.
The top question I’ve received about tablet hyper-portability is this one: “Tablets are very portable, sure, but are people using them as creation devices or as (mere) consumption devices?” The general assumption behind this question tends to be that “creation” activities are equal to “productivity,” while “consumption” activities are not. I believe this is a false dichotomy, however. Consuming the right information at the right time can increase worker productivity in and of itself. Let me offer a few examples showing how that can work:
Retail sales associates using tablets with customers. Retailers are equipping sales associates with tablets to use on the retail floor, creating richer interactions with customers – and driving higher sales.
Physicians conducting patient rounds with tablets. Physicians can gain rich, immediate insight into their patients’ health records – saving time and driving more accurate diagnoses in less time. They also use the tablets to show patients results (like x-ray images), creating a better patient experience.