Microsoft appears to be preparing to open its notoriously tight grip on its Surface tablet in the channel. It seems that in the near future, there will be only one qualifier for any Microsoft partner to sell the company’s tablet – they must be based in Australia.
ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley screen-captured a blog post (since taken down) by Stephen Parker, head of Cloud Strategy for Melbourne-based NewLease saying that Redmond is planning a trial program that will allow its Australian distributors to open the floodgates on the Surface tablets.
“I’m over in Redmond for various meetings with Microsoft. At one of the meetings this morning (Monday 7th) it was confirmed that as of today ALL Australian Microsoft resellers will be able to buy Microsoft Surface devices through distribution channels (Ingram, Synnex).
This is an extension of the earlier program with a limited set of 13 ‘authorised resellers.’ Australia is being used as the pilot geography by Microsoft.”
Microsoft’s response to Foley’s follow-up question did little to shed light on the company’s intentions, instead reiterating its long-favoured language of “taking a measured and phased approach” to introducing Surface to the channel. But the timing of the move – just weeks before the launch of Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 on October 22 – makes it seem that Microsoft wants to open the doors wider for its next-generation products.
Stories about the launch of the first-generation Surface quickly gave way to stories about the number of the tablets sold – or rather, those left unsold – in the early months of the company’s launch. A big factor in that was its go-to-market strategy. The company initially limited Surface to being offered on its Web site and in its company-branded retail locations, rankling resellers who were anxious to take the tablet to their customers. Shortly after, it relented slightly, allowing a handful of big-box technology resellers to offer the tablet to customers. Still, the vast majority of the company’s partners, its primary go-to-market route for its business-focused software and cloud offerings, remained out in the cold. The door was opened a smidge further this summer, when the company announced a handful of Canadian partners would be able to resell Surface through the newly created Microsoft Devices Program.
Microsoft has cited inventory management as one of its biggest reasons for limiting routes to market for Surface. The complexities of stocking hardware and managing returns are significantly different from the issues faced around selling software, whether boxed or sold by license. But Microsoft isn’t handling those logistics exclusively itself – in fact, in most geographies, the company’s distribution partners have inventory of the Surface. They’re just being limited in to whom they can sell the tablet. Those distributors, of course, provide exactly the kind of logistics abilities and experience that Microsoft seems to be seeking to develop around Surface. And for their part, they seem to be champing at the bit to get Surface into the broader channel community.
That group gives Microsoft good coverage of many key accounts and areas. But if the company is serious about making its tablet a go-to device for business users across Canada and around the world, it’s going to need to make the tablet available across many more of the thousands of Microsoft customers that deliver the company’s software and services to businesses.
If NewLease’s Parker is correct, the company’s Australian plans show that Microsoft understands that, and is moving to make the necessary changes, very possibly in time for the launch of Surface 2. Microsoft’s Canadian partners might not have been invited in yet, but they should watch the company’s moves in Australia very closely. A successful pilot Down Under might mean Surface will be more broadly available to the channel in Canada and around the world in short order.