Microsoft expands channel access to Surface

Microsoft Surface 3ORLANDO – It’s taken longer than a lot of partners may have liked, but Microsoft has finally confirmed plans to make its Surface tablets, and eventually other Microsoft hardware products, available to a broader group of its channel community.

At its Worldwide Partner Conference here, the company announced plans to expand the number of partners worldwide that can sell the tablets at least ten-fold with the help of distribution partners.

At its launch in 2012, the company went with a direct-only approach with Surface, one that includes such channel dis-pleasing mis-moves as COO Kevin Turner using a WPC keynote to urge solution providers to bring their customers in to Microsoft Stores to see the tablets in action. Although the channel was very interested in the tablets, and wanted to evangelize the new product, the sales model remained a key sticking point.

Microsoft quickly added retail and a handful of large solution providers, with then-channel chief Jon Roskill saying the company was taking “a phased approach” to introducing Surface to the channel, one that sought to minimize pain as Microsoft was still learning the game when it came to stocking the Microsoft-branded tablets.

In Canada, the Surface channel started with eight partners, which expanded to 15 partners as of April, at which time Microsoft Canada was involved in the beta test of offering Surface through distribution to more channel partners. Currently, there are about 100 partners authorized to sell Surface tablets in Canada, and Canadian channel chief Jay Brommet said that number will at least double in the near future as the program goes broader.

“There’s really a high demand from both partners and customers who want more choice in terms of how they acquire Surface,” said Gavriella Schuster, general manager of worldwide partner programs at Microsoft. “We want to go from a couple of hundred partners today to a few thousand partners globally, and we’re working with authorized distributors to make sure we can support all of them.”

Canadian distributors have long had access to Surface and have stocked it for sales to those authorized partners. They have also long been interested in expanding that business beyond the few authorized partners on board, so Microsoft’s decision to take off the kid gloves should play well with distributors.

The distributors play a key role in the new channel plans for Surface, as they, along with Microsoft Canada, will work to define the next group of solution providers to get access.

Brommet said Microsoft Canada is looking for a few qualities in potential Surface partners. First, the company is looking to ramp up on volume. Brommet said the company currently has about 10 per cent share in the space where Surface competes – two-in-one devices priced north of $800. “So there’s still 90 per cent of the market we can go after.”

The company is also looking for partners with heavy SMB focus, as Surface plays particularly well in that space, and is also looking for partner with relevant vertical or solution experience in spaces where the Surface tablet plays well.

Schuster said that in the coming months, Microsoft will introduce a Windows and Devices competency in the Microsoft Partner Network program as a way to make sure that Surface partners are well-represented in the competency model for MPN. There’s no doubt that the company is hoping the launch of Windows 10 later this month will result in a second wave of interest in the Surface Pro 3, as well as the more recently-introduced Surface 3.

At the same time, the company is starting to think about channel plans for its next Surface product, the newly-announced Surface Hub collaboration and communications panel. Brommet said Surface Hub will initially be available through the current members of its Advanced Device Reseller (ADR) program, the same program used to gate access to Surface tablets. But he also hinted that Microsoft would be looking beyond its traditional partner base, engaging more professional AV resellers as well as those with experience with collaboration and telepresence offerings from other vendors as a channel for Surface Hub. That’s not surprising, because the company has big plans for the Hub technology, the ultimate form of the whiteboarding solution it acquired from Perceptive Pixel three years ago. But while Perceptive Pixel was U.S.-only in scope, Microsoft is thinking worldwide with Surface Hub. Microsoft Canda SMS&P boss Dennis Cerasoli said Monday that Microsoft has “ambitions to take over the conference room” with the Surface Pro products.

Behind the tablets, and soon the conferencing panels, Microsoft Canada is expanding the number of channel-facing resources looking after the Surface lineup. Currently, there are two members of Brommet’s team dedicated to Surface, but the company plans to have seven staffers managing Surface in the near future. For Surface Hub, Brommet said Ingram Micro Canada is confirmed as an initial distributor, and said the company is in talks with its other distribution partners.