Microsoft Partners Gearing Up For Windows 8 Opportunities8:00 AM EST Wed. Oct. 24, 2012
Microsoft channel partners see introducing Windows-based tablet computers to their business customers -- and replacing all those pesky iPads that have infiltrated corporate computing environments -- as the biggest opportunity created by this week's launch of the long-awaited Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems.
"We're investing a lot of time and effort into Windows 8 just because the mobile story is so exciting," said Mike Snyder, a principal with Sonoma Partners, a Chicago-based Microsoft Gold partner.
Solution providers say the availability of Windows 8 and Windows RT, the latter for ARM-based tablet computers, will create a wide range of opportunities, not least of which is selling new desktop and laptop computers with Windows 8 and helping customers upgrade PCs from older editions of Windows to the new release.
But, the biggest opportunity for Microsoft channel partners may be the chance to use Windows 8, which is designed to run on tablet computers as well as traditional desktop and laptop computers, to help IT managers resolve the dreaded bring-your-own-device (BYOD) dilemma.
Business executives and employees have been using their own iPads for business tasks. That gives IT managers nightmares because there's no effective means of centrally managing and securing the devices. "Right now, there's no management story around iPads," said Jason Sandys, principal consultant and technology evangelist for Catapult Systems, an Austin-based Microsoft Gold partner. With Windows 8, "the IT department now has an answer."
The value proposition solution providers anticipate offering their customers is the ability to provide application compatibility and a consistent Windows "user experience" from the desktop to laptops and tablets and even to smartphones based on Windows Phone 8.
"I believe [customers] will swap out the iPads," predicts Randy Lenaghan, CEO of Navantis, a Toronto-based Microsoft Gold partner. "Windows 8 will become the de facto standard" for business tablet computers.
"CIOs are excited about having an alternative to the iPad," agrees Syd Millett, vice president and North America general manager at Infusion, a Toronto-based Microsoft partner that focuses on designing and developing Windows-based applications.
IT departments will be able to manage Windows 8-based tablets using Windows Intune and Microsoft System Center 2012, tackling such chores as patch management and setting security controls, said David Geevaratne, president and co-founder of Microsoft Gold partner New Signature. "That, in turn, allows IT departments and consulting firms like New Signature to focus on IT initiatives that are more strategic," he said, such as integrating Windows 8 applications with Microsoft Lync unified communication software and SharePoint collaboration system.
NEXT: Uncertain Early Demand For Windows 8 Upgrades
Of the roughly 1.1 billion copies of Windows deployed throughout the world, only about 48 percent are running Windows 7 -- the newest edition prior to Windows 8 -- with 45 percent still running on the decade-old Windows XP and 7 percent on Windows Vista, according to Net Applications. Many of the businesses using older editions should be ready to take the plunge and upgrade.
Just how quickly they will do so, however, is the billion-dollar question.
While the IT culture differs from one company to the next, more conservative companies will be cautious about upgrading to Windows 8 too quickly, predicted Paul Szemerenyi, vice president of North American channel sales at 1E, a New York-based IT efficiency solution and service provider. "There's going to be lots of watching, lots of waiting to see what happens," he said.
Forecasts are decidedly mixed. A Gartner report being issued later this week predicts that 90 percent of enterprises will hold off on broad-scale deployment of Windows 8 at least through 2014.
On the tablet side, the report forecasts that Windows-based tablets will account for only 13 percent of worldwide media tablet sales in 2013. While that's up from 3 percent this year, it's still far behind the Apple iPad, with 44 percent in 2013, and Android-based tablets, with 40 percent.
For those still on Windows XP, "they should be looking to go right to Windows 8," said Sandys at Catapult Systems. But, what about those who have already moved up to Windows 7? "That may be kind of a hard sell," he acknowledged.
Still, Catapult has taken its "Intro to Windows 8" show on the road, briefing customers and prospects in Dallas, Houston, Austin, Washington D.C., Denver and Tampa, among others, to demonstrate the new operating system's capabilities. About 70 turned out for a recent meeting in San Antonio and, to Sandys surprise, about 20 had never seen a Windows 8 demonstration.
Many will upgrade almost automatically, receiving Windows 8 as part of their Software Assurance contracts and through their Windows Intune subscriptions. But, there will still be lots of work for service and solution providers, such as helping customers migrate data and applications to Windows 8-based computers.
"It's not just about delivering Windows to offices," Szemerenyi said. "The pull-through revenue that partners get has been immense." He should know. His company recently completed a 90,000-seat Windows 7 deployment at a major telecommunications customer.
One service that Szemerenyi expects to be in demand is helping businesses migrate applications and user data to Windows 8 from older versions of Windows. While much of that process has been automated, he said there is a lot of planning and decision making needed to decide which applications need to be moved quickly and which ones can wait.
"It's not a trivial thing to load an operating system onto a PC when all that user's data is sitting on that computer," said Sandys. "And app compatibility is a huge piece of the job."
NEXT: Integration Services, Custom Development Seen As The Big Opportunities
A number of solution providers view upgrade services as a way to get their foot in the door of their customers' IT departments and have a conversation about their IT goals, problems and priorities.
There are also lots of custom applications that need to be adapted for Windows 8 -- or new custom applications to be built. Infusion is developing its Personif video auditions application, best known for its use by American Idol producers to screen potential talent, to work with Windows 8. The company, Microsoft's 2012 Cloud Partner of the Year award winner, also built the first Windows 8-based mobile banking app for client ING Bank of Canada.
Infusion buys into Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's vision of Windows 8 serving as the front end to line-of-business cloud applications. "And for that you need to be talking to your customers about their business computing needs and goals," Infusion's Millett said. "Our bread-and-butter is building business-facing applications."
"We've got a bunch of guys with .Net [developer] experience who can build a .Net app in their sleep," said Snyder at Sonoma Partners. "It's going to open up a ton of opportunities for systems integrators like ourselves." Sonoma Partners, which resells Microsoft's Dynamics CRM applications, sees opportunities to extend CRM capabilities to Windows 8 tablets used by mobile sales representatives, for example.
Looking beyond the immediate Windows 8 launch, Lenaghan at Navantis said next year's availability of Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013 will provide additional opportunities for integration with Windows 8. And, all that needs to be linked with Microsoft cloud services like Office 365 and SkyDrive in a way that's secure and manageable.
Geevaratne at New Signature even sees integration opportunities with smartphones running Windows 8 Phone, which is scheduled to make its formal debut next week.
Solution providers say they haven't had to wait for this week's Windows 8 launch before making money from the new product.
Infusion had 35 Windows 8 engagements by the time of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July, according to Millett, with another 10 or 15 added since.
"Windows 8 is generating revenue for us before the software is even released," said Geevaratne, noting that along with custom development work in anticipation of Windows 8, his company has been training customers for Windows 8's new interface, security enhancements and mobility capabilities.
PUBLISHED OCT. 24, 2012