Microsoft and Apple: For VARs, the lines are blurring

You’re either a Microsoft VAR or an Apple VAR. Aren’t you?

The dividing line between the worlds of Redmond and Cupertino used to be fairly clear, until Apple made a conscious decision to focus on consumer technologies. This happened, unfortunately, at a moment when consumers also realized they wanted to put the technologies they bought towards work as well as personal tasks.

Back in November, for example, the Board of Internal Economy – a committee which oversees federal spending – issued a ruling that Members of Parliament are not permitted to expense the purchase of Apple’s iPad tablet devices. The Globe and Mail, which recently covered this story, interviewed Liberal MP and board spokesman Marcel Proux for an explanation.

“If I was to call the Hill help desk and say I have a problem with my iPad, they’d say ‘Too bad for you. We don’t know anything about iPads,’” Proux told the Globe. “The House system is totally based on Microsoft.”

Well, so are the systems of at least 80 per cent of other large and mid-size organizations. And of course, MPs make enough money that they can probably afford their own iPads, much like the average white-collar knowledge worker. But the Board of Internal Economy has also warned that those who do had better also buy an extended warranty, and not come crying to the public sector’s IT department. I imagine the same stance has been taken in many private firms as well.

Most of the IT systems that would be affected by the infiltration of Apple products were probably acquired or even set up by partners. These resellers no doubt specialize in Microsoft products as well. But this specialization – both from a partner and a customer perspective – may no longer make sense. As consumers demand more freedom to compute and demonstrate a willingness to increase their productivity or generate more results based on choice of IT tools, it would make sense for employers to accommodate them. And for VARs to prepare to help them.

This is not to say all those Microsoft VARs will (or should) suddenly change stripes and become Apple dealers. But they should be figuring out some strategies that will provide the compatibility, the functionality and most importantly the security between Microsoft back-end infrastructure and front-end Apple hardware. In some cases it might mean forming an alliance of sorts with an Apple VAR who can assist with recommendations and ease the transition.

A big part of this will be education.

Customers like the government will need to understand that you can still be a Microsoft shop without closing the door on Apple. Opting for an iPad will not mean changing over their entire server infrastructure – it might be worth mentioning that Apple recently got out of that game, with its Xserve line, completely. There is no question that being able to help employers like the government make their stakeholders happier will make such resellers more appreciated and influential over time. You’ll be who they call the next time Apple launches something big.

Being a “solution provider” doesn’t simply refer to handing a customer the products they ask for but someone who can solve unusual problems. In 2011 and beyond, I can guarantee you this is going to be one of them.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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