Microsoft Partners Left Dazed And Confused


Microsoft's Surface tablet misses the tablet mark


Given the revolutionary communications and social networking tools available to us all, it’s amazing how little customer and solution provider input goes into major product, business and sales decisions from the biggest and most powerful IT companies. Fact is, many decisions are based on executives from these behemoths talking to themselves. It’s the equivalent of making life-altering decisions from another planet. Call it Solution Providers Are From Mars, Vendors are From Venus.

Case in point: Microsoft’s recent Surface tablet launch, which made no mention of just what kind of role Microsoft’s business partners -- either solution providers or hardware OEM partners -- will play when Microsoft finally rolls out the products. Also missing were details on pricing and availability. To say partners were left dazed and confused is an understatement.

Ironically, the net impact of the announcement, obviously designed to capture some much-needed tablet mindshare as Apple’s business computing footprint grows with each passing day, is that Microsoft has pushed more partners into the Apple iPad camp. This at a time when Apple has stepped up its channel game and is now working hand in hand with partners of all shapes and sizes to grow its business far beyond its consumer market share into mainstream corporate America.

Denali Advanced Integration, a $200 million company headquartered in Redmond, Wash., a five-minute ride from Microsoft’s headquarters, is a good example of a longtime Microsoft partner that is working closely with Apple to deliver mobile solutions. John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing for Denali, said the surprise Microsoft Surface announcement has left partners “scratching their heads.” He said his company’s Apple mobile solution business is growing at breakneck pace. “At a time when Apple has identified the need to extend their reach into the enterprise by working with partners on the mobile experience with services, integration and security, Microsoft’s failure to discuss its go-to-market strategy and how partners play is baffling,” said Convery. “It’s confusing. Just because you are the big software giant in the industry doesn’t mean you can roll into town and call the shots in the tablet market. There is a big sheriff in town and it’s called Apple.”

Denali often does nondisclosure prebriefings, bringing together its customers with vendor R&D teams to provide feedback on product prototypes, etc. It goes without saying, that did not happen in this case. “Apple is at our offices every week with technical talent and sales guys,” Convery said. “They are taking this very seriously. They are all in with us. We don’t know what Microsoft is doing. What does Microsoft think: We are going to be a deer in headlights and slow down to see what they are going to do six months from now?”

If Microsoft were smart, Convery said, the company’s channel team would pull together key solution providers to discuss Surface product, pricing and mobile solution strategies. “We have a tremendous knowledge of this business and would love to have a discussion about how partners can help,” he said. “There is so much preinvestment a Denali makes to stay ahead of the curve. We have heard nothing from Microsoft about this announcement. We are starving for details and information so we can make intelligent decisions. You can’t sell from an empty cart.”

Selling from an empty cart indeed. That’s just what kind of position Microsoft has put partners in with the Surface Tablet announcement.

BACKTALK: What does Microsoft need to do to improve its strategy around its new tablet? Contact Steve Burke at steve.burke@ubm.com.