In a bet that enterprises will snap up Surface slates with strong channel support, Microsoft is launching a business channel expansion aimed at luring corporate IT departments. The company today announced the new Microsoft Devices Program, a move that could potentially help boost enterprise adoption of the software giant's in-house line of Windows 8 and RT tablets.
Describing the program's launch as a "very important milestone," which also happens to fall on the beginning of the software titan's fiscal year, Jenni Flinders, vice president of the U.S. Partner Business at Microsoft said during a press call July 1 that Microsoft had kicked off the "first phase to make Surface available to commercial customers" in the United States. She added that the company plans to "expand to other countries in upcoming months."
In a Microsoft US Partner Team blog post, Flinders detailed the two-tier nature of the commercial channel program. Ingram Micro, Synnex and Tech Data are the "inaugural device authorized distributors." They, in turn, will "sell Surface to a newly designated group" of authorized resellers, which includes CDW, CompuCom Systems, En Pointe Technologies, Insight Enterprises, PC Connection, PCM, Softchoice, Softmart, SHI International and Zones Inc.
Apart from making it easier for corporate buyers to purchase Surface tablets, the program allows resellers to bring a variety of "value-added services to the Surface family such as asset tagging, custom imaging, kitting, on-site service and support, device recycling and data protection," stated the company in press remarks.
Hinting that Microsoft learned its lesson from the Surface's restrictive distribution strategy at launch, Flinders added: "This program greatly expands the reach of the Microsoft devices-and-services strategy, extending our family of devices enabled by cloud services to more organizations."
Surface failed to set the tablet sales charts on fire after it launched alongside the Windows 8 operating system on Oct. 26. Claiming that the Surface distribution model was in "disarray," Boston-based brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton placed the blame squarely on Microsoft.
UBS estimated that Microsoft sold just 1 million Surface RT tablets in the fourth quarter of 2012, the quarter of its release.
Microsoft isn't only relying on a new channel program to stimulate demand. The company is also courting software makers.
During the call, Cyril Belikoff, director of Surface marketing, unveiled AppsForSurface, a new program for independent software vendors (ISVs). Stating that Microsoft's goal is to "partner with them to essentially build great Windows 8 applications," he added that his company is seeking to parlay its years of developer engagement on the desktop application side into a rich ecosystem of touch-enabled Windows 8 work apps.
AppsForSurface "provides devices and funding for app design intended to get key enterprise apps on Surface and Window 8," noted the Surface team in a blog post. Already, some key partners have lined up, including "a great health care partner" and "great powerhouse in the industry," teased Belikoff.
That health care software maker is AirStrip, revealed the company in the Surface Blog. Citrix, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and accounting software maker Sage also joined the AppsForSurface program.