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:
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.