Microsoft Tries to Court IT with Surface

If Microsoft is trying to court IT with its new Surface tablets, it could be using an outdated strategy in the BYOD era.

When Microsoft announced its two new tablets, dubbed the Microsoft Surface, last night, it seemed these devices were aimed directly at IT, but in a BYOD world where users often choose their own devices, is this wise strategy?

If you want to see a range of analyst’s reactions to the announcement, The Guardian has a nice round-up, but the bottom line, as Francisco Jerome from IDC pointed out in The Guardian post, is that if Apple is the consumer tablet, he reasoned, Microsoft wants to be the corporate one. But there is a giant flaw in this approach.

Apple is already inside the enterprise today, and it’s the iPad that forced its way in and helped define the Bring Your Own Device meme. It really started when executives bought iPads, brought them into work and asked IT to support them. After that, the flood gates opened and suddenly everyone wanted to bring their own devices.

But trying to appeal to IT is not a new approach. Tablet makers having been trying to create corporate tablets for some time. In fact, as far back as March, 2011, I saw a myriad of tablets running Windows (pre- Windows 8 mind you) at the CeBIT trade show in Germany.

As I wrote at the time, clearly these companies were trying to court IT by offering devices with more security or with a keyboard or larger screens — with anything to let IT know this was a business-friendly device.

But is there a huge market for devices with an IT focus anymore? I know you probably want to believe there is, but look at the corporate mobile poster child, RIM and see where that is today. RIM always had the advantage of being that secure, rock-solid business device. IT loved them and could work with them.

But today, RIM is teetering on the edge of oblivion. Nobody is buying new RIM devices (at least not in the US market) and that’s precisely because IT has ceded choice in many instances to the user.  That means that a corporate-friendly laptop, tablet or cell phone, which might have sounded great two or three years ago, suddenly doesn’t have the appeal it once did.

As I wrote in another post today, Microsoft is trying to be all things to all things to all people.It wants to be a PC and Post-PC device in a single gadget. It wants to be a cool consumer device with nifty colors and it wants to be the device of choice for IT — compatible with Windows and easier to integrate with existing systems.

And as Philip Easter, Director of Mobile Apps at  American Airlines pointed out at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, companies have .net developers. They have a lot of Microsoft infrastructure like Exchange servers in place. IT might be comfortable with a Windows platform.

I’m just not sure that users are going to want this type of device, anymore than they want to use a Blackberry. They want to use the devices they choose and that’s the reality these days in many companies.

But if your company is looking for a corporate device, this may be one worth looking at simply because of those factors that Easter identified, or you might want to wait until you see a proposed ship date and cost and compare with the OEMs and then decide. But for now, it seems Microsoft might be trying to solve a problem that may not exist anymore in a world where users are choosing their devices.

Image courtesy of Microsoft.

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