Microsoft opens up the channel for Surface devices

Orlando, Fla. – When the Surface device was introduce more than two years ago the channel wanted its opportunity to resell it. Today, at the 2015 Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft has granted the channel’s wish.

Microsoft plans to offer the Surface Pro 3 and the new Surface Hub through the Tier 2 channel model. The software giant has made partnerships with Ingram Micro, Tech Data and Synnex to help them build a channel ecosystem with Surface.

But Microsoft is going one step further with the Surface specifically in Canada. Canadian channel chief Jason Brommet told CDN that Microsoft Canada plans to create a Surface business unit inside the channel group. This unit will have a designated leader who will report to Brommet as well as work with U.S.-based Surface team members. Currently there are two Microsoft Canada employees who are in this group and by 2016 the company plans to add five more to the Surface Canada team.

In April of this year Microsoft Canada embarked on a pilot program to recruit new partners for Surface and they managed to get approximately 100. According to Brommet, these solution providers will be classified as DVARs or distribution value added resellers. This group will complement the 15 Authorized Device Partners such as Softchoice and CDW Canada that already carry the Surface.

“This strategy is similar to the way Microsoft had open and enterprise channel agreements such as LAR (large account resellers). It will be the same approach.

Reginald Howatson, director of sales and marketing for Ottawa-based solution provider NMB Solutions, remembers when Microsoft Canada introduced the LAR channel strategy and said it’s the right plan today for the Surface product.

“You need people who understand hardware and services. This is a new direction for Microsoft, but yet a similar one that they used before. So the channel will be familiar with it even in this cloud first, mobility first strategy,” Howatson said.

The goal of the new Surface team will be to double the 100 partners they have now by 2016. “This is a great opportunity for partners in Canada because Canada is the long tail of the SMB and the channel has the ability to help us extend the reach. Partners can now build on top of the Surface and can even bundle with CSP (Cloud Solution Provider program),” Brommet said.

Expect to see seven people on the Surface team in Canada when done.

The Surface devices is not the only aspect of this channel expansion. Surface Hub will also be a part of it and Brommet added that what Microsoft is looking for with Windows 10 is the universal app model that can scale to all form factors where it’s a low tech ATM machine or a rich experience such as an 88-inch Surface Hub.

With the Surface Hub, Microsoft Canada is actively pursuing audio visual channel partners who are interested in building out their own native intellectual property. Microsoft Canada currently sports five of these partners in Canada, but the plan is to grow that rapidly in 2016, Brommet said.

“If I look at the core portable PC market and the price points that Surface likes to be in ($800 plus) we are at around 10 per cent market share. That means we can go after 90 per cent of the market with partners,” Brommet said.

Microsoft will continue to support its OEM vendor partners. Brommet said that this strategy is more about the Windows ecosystem. “There are people who shop for a premium experience and there is a great opportunity in the SMB in Canada along with the enterprise and vertical scenarios such as healthcare. Those are the experiences we are going after,” he said.

Howatson agrees with Microsoft Canada’s strategy. “By opening it up to the channel it will get it out in mass quantities through partners. People today have a laptop, a smartphone and at least two other devices. With BYOD you are going to see even more devices because it’s not about the office anymore. The home is also important because people do a lot of work at their homes. They had to do more than just the Microsoft store and online. It’s a good acknowledgement by Microsoft Canada to the good work done by the hardware partners in the country,” he said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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