The Microsoft Partner Ecosystem is the envy of the IT industry, and an example to any business trying to build channel to market. It is unique as marketing and customer facing engine and a force for good fostering business development and growth especially across the Small Medium enterprise sector. Here in the UK for example these partners employ over 500,000 people and contribute approximately 40% of IT GDP. No other vendor in history I would challenge has fostered such goodwill, contributed such economic wealth generation and supported a clear divide between its own marketing and that of its partners.
The Chinese Wall that has always existed to avoid conflicts of interest with its partners that senior Microsoft Exec’s from Steve Bulmer down, and Bill Gates before him, stood by that they would never compete head to head with their partners is now showing the signs of wear and torn in a few places.
The maturity of this unique relationship is demonstrated by the establishment over the last decade and a half of the ‘International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners’ an independent business collective of Microsoft Partners. An association of more than 5,000 SME’s globally that protects the independent interests of Microsoft Partners within the Microsoft Ecosystem. It has been instrumental for example at policy level and in other global forum’s addressing the realities of many of the Microsoft anti-trust cases that in fact do more harm to the independent Partners than to Microsoft. This last point is something that Google and its ilk should pay attention to if they wish to make friends in the industry.
Cloud computing has been the first challenge to the Microsoft Partner unique relationship. A thin end of a wedge that has just received another tap to widen the crack from yesterday’s announcement unveiling by Microsoft of the Surface Windows 8 tablets.
Microsoft weathered the storm over their foray into direct market compete with partners with its Cloud offerings (Microsoft Office 365 and Windows Azure). It was and still remains a tightrope act as they continue to stumble up the steep learning curve as to how to maintain Partner engagement around these offerings and avoid breaching the delicate covenant that exists.
What now with the Windows Surface Tablet? I thought Microsoft Surface was a table based multi-touch system, but now I am seeing it is a line of tablet ultra-portables? Magic clearly happening as the former Surface experience has been on a diet!
Apart from the fact that once again Microsoft have outdone themselves in the naming stakes and made a complete meal of this. They have managed to build in Windows + Surface + Windows 8 + Tablet into the communiqué that will add to the obfuscation in the consumers mind as to what is going on here.
· Windows = Desktop OS and OS platform.
· Windows 8 = Next generation Windows and OS platform.
· Tablet = iPad generation device NOT associated with desktop functionality.
In my blog only last week, ‘Windows RT – The new Windows OS’ I flagged up Microsoft’s predisposition to naming faux pas only for them to champion the act by coming out with this great mash-up!
Far from consolidate and maximize leverage of a brand this could risk confusion in consumers’ minds and do more damage than good to the desirable adoption curve. Does the Microsoft marketing machine have the light footed marketing ability to reach into the current mind-sets and align them? Time will tell.
The biggest issue here though must be the blatant challenge to their traditional hardware OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Partner channel. Details are thin on the ground but I dare say Microsoft will be leveraging their ability to make margin from their OS licensing with their hardware, a margin play their partners will not enjoy. Or will Microsoft pay itself a license for the Windows 8 software which it imposes on its partners? I doubt it, and thus could end a unique relationship in the industry as Microsoft OEM Partners investments into the Tablet space come up against the mother of all competition!
It is early days and I truly hope to be eating humble pie on this subject, be assured the imminent ‘Microsoft World Wide Partner Conference’ is going to be hot with debate on this and the continued Cloud issue.