Above/Below the Surface: Dell and Microsoft’s Latest Partnership

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  September 9, 2015

There are all kinds of IT industry partnerships, from the shallowly ornamental to the deeply strategic. But the best of the lot occur among vendors who recognize that collaborating for particular tasks or processes can deliver far better results than going it alone. Dell and Microsoft’s new non-exclusive partnership around the Surface Pro is a good example of how this can work.

In short, as a result of the agreement, Dell will market, sell and distribute Microsoft’s Surface Pro to customers in North America (initially, with rollouts in other global regions in 2016). Dell will also offer its ProSupport Accidental Damage, Managed Deployment and Configuration Services to businesses deploying Surface Pro solutions.

Is this a big deal? Yes, it is. Why? Because it benefits the companies and their shared customers in ways that would be far costlier and more complex to offer individually. The deal is also likely to have a significant market impact since, according to a recent IDC survey, it involves the #1 (Microsoft w/30.4% share) and #2 (Dell w/14.4% share) global makers of Windows Commercial Tablets.

The first of these points feeds the second. Given the pervasiveness of its Windows OS and associated business and productivity apps, Microsoft works with most of the world’s enterprises. But deploying, managing and maintaining hardware is a whole other thing, especially in organizations where broken endpoints translate into painful inefficiencies and red ink.

That’s where Dell’s ProSupport kicks in, providing options, from complex backend processes to the repair or replacement of Surface Pro devices for employees in the office or on the road. In addition, experienced Dell service techs will readily available to help Surface Pro owners wherever and whenever they need assistance.

This all may seem pretty pedestrian, at least to anyone familiar with the ins/outs of IT endpoint support. But it illuminates some of the complexities Microsoft faces from entering the business hardware market. The company deserves kudos for the popularity of the Surface Pro, but that very success means dealing with customers who want and need the support they deserve.

Working with Dell and other OEM partners should provide Microsoft a comfortable, cost-effective means of achieving that. But this announcement also has competitive ramifications, particularly given Apple’s attempts to more effectively position its iPad tablets for enterprise customers. That effort includes high-profile partnerships with IBM and Cisco designed to bolster the iPad’s workplace credibility and usability.

At this point, the iPad lacks numerous features that businesses prefer or require, including Apple-designed/guaranteed keyboards, support for full-featured enterprise applications and multi-tasking, and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) or other hardware-enabled security functions. Microsoft’s Surface Pro delivers all those and more but Apple won’t remain inactive forever.

The partnership with Dell should allow Microsoft to meaningfully and painlessly bolster its Surface Pro solutions. Plus, the new products will deepen Dell’s already expansive portfolio of Latitude and Venue business endpoints without going out of pocket. In short, the collaboration leverages the companies’ individual capabilities for their own and their common customers’ benefit.

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