Enterprise IT will kick Microsoft Surface to the curb
What a week! Just when I thought Microsoft could never be as cool as Apple, bang! Here comes Surface (no, not that Surface) to shatter my preconceptions about the weather in Seattle and its effect on product innovation.
Surface is sleek, sexy, and, dare I say it, kind of cool. It’s got this rockin’ kickstand thingy at the back, a neat-o magnetic keyboard/cover and is made from some cutting-edge alloy straight out of a Star Trek episode (specifically, Voyager -- DS9 would never stoop so low). In short, Surface has all the ingredients of an iPad killer. But while it may achieve some success in the consumer space, enterprise IT shops won’t touch it with a 3-meter pole.
Sorry, Microsoft, but you should know by now that IT doesn’t shop at the mall. Nor do we buy one-off marvels from an unproven vendor. Sure, you have all sorts of experience designing and supporting enterprise software. However, enterprise hardware is a very different game, with its own rules for how products are developed and introduced.
Surface Breaks the Rules
Rule #1: It needs to be manageable. A sleek, industrial look means little if you can’t remotely diagnose a failed unit. Ignoring for a second the "RT" (i.e. consumer) version, will Surface "Pro" support the full range of pre-boot diagnostics? In other words, will we have the same kinds of robust troubleshooting capabilities that we do with virtually any premium-brand enterprise desktop/laptop? Or will "send it in to IT for repair/replacement" be our only option?
Rule #2: It needs to be engineered for IT. Many large IT shops are intimately involved with the design and specs of the products they’ll purchase. When I worked with Morgan Stanley, the PC platform folks told HP what they wanted in their next generation workstation chassis and the company dutifully complied (see the HP xw6200 for an example of the end result).
Given the secrecy surrounding Surface’s development, I seriously doubt that Microsoft has engaged its enterprise customers at this level. So what we’re getting is essentially a shiny black box. And IT doesn’t like black boxes.
Rule #3: It must have a well-defined lifecycle. IT doesn’t buy one-offs. We want to see a clear roadmap, from conception to deployment to long-term maintenance/support. What do we do when a unit fails? Whom do we call? Microsoft Consulting Services? What plans are in place to support enterprise customers who expect an instant response to technical questions and immediate troubleshooting and/or replacement of defective units? And will these same types of services be available on smaller scale for SMEs?
Bring Your What?
The tablet market is in a state of hyper-development. New product designs and form factors are flying out of the idea labs faster than we can write about them. For Microsoft, the challenge will be balancing the desire to peel-back some of Apple's dominance while still preserving its relationship with core enterprise customers. And foisting an unmanageable, "me too" glamor product onto an unsuspecting IT world is not the way to treat your most consistent source of high-margin revenue.
BYOD was bad enough with all of the RDF "sheeple" toting their iPads to work with them. In that case, we could argue that iOS wasn’t supported for corporate use. But what do we do when they start showing up with Surface? After all, it runs Windows! The corporate standard! How do we say no to it running on a tablet and yes to it running on a laptop/desktop?
Microsoft had better sort this out pronto, or they’ll find that even "Corning Gorilla Glass 2.0" won’t be enough to save their image once enterprise IT kicks Surface to the curb.