TC2's David Rohde on Telecom

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Microsoft’s tablet entry adds to procurement challenges in mobilizing IT

By David Rohde Posted June 19, 2012

How are Microsoft and corporate telecom managers in the same boat? Both are huffing and puffing to keep up with the tablet revolution.

Okay, I certainly don’t want to give Big Redmond too much credit – or compare them favorably to the critical work you do in the trenches! Yesterday’s unveiling of the Microsoft Surface running Windows 8 is a notable milestone in the rise of tablets, but it comes with a lot of asterisks.

First, right now there’s no firm date when you’ll be able to buy one. Second, nobody really knows its price despite broad ranges being thrown out there. Third, Microsoft is now a company with a lot of products that are far from market leaders. When the Surface gets here, it could be a world-beater or it could stay mired behind the iPad and various Android tablets. Certainly the corporate procurements that are out there right now are iPad-focused.

But let’s face it, Microsoft has a powerful interest in getting its own software deployed on tablets, especially since its partnership with Nokia has done little to push its software onto mobile devices. For Microsoft to take things into its own hands by moving into hardware in a far more visible way than it has in the past reflects how important mobile devices have become to enterprises and all their IT vendors (not just carriers).

This continuing rise of mobile devices, not least tablets, is also forcing users to deal with a key paradox that’s been implicit in the movement from unlimited data plans to data allowances. While most end-users stay well below the monthly allowance, some users – perhaps soon a rapidly growing number – will threaten to break the bank.

How to deal with the resulting double problem – how not to overbuy wireless allowances for some and underbuy for others – requires an up-to-the-minute understanding of corporate usage plans that goes well beyond the headlines of new Verizon and AT&T retail practices. We’re seeing a new phenomenon of pooled tablet plans that allow enterprises to balance power users against more average users in an overall data pool, which can drive down the overall cost of enabling mobility for users.

There’s also obviously the question of best practices in enterprise deals for procuring equipment. Let’s not forget that buying tablets from wireless carriers is not a given, no matter how much the carriers push the idea and how convenient it may seem. After all, Microsoft is a fully entrenched enterprise vendor in a way that Apple isn’t. Think it over: Will enterprises buy Surfaces from the wireless carriers that sell them iPads and smartphones, or will Microsoft be selling them directly under existing Microsoft enterprise agreements?

Those are just some of the questions teed up by Microsoft’s entry into tablets. Don’t just count on “Bring Your Own Device” to bail you out of this issue without knowing the surprising cost and policy traps that lurk behind BYOD. No matter how well Microsoft ultimately does in this space, there’s a lot to chew over as tablets burrow deeper into the fabric of corporate life.

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