I was intrigued by Microsoft’s recent announcement that Windows 10 would be the OS platform’s last major release and that it plans to push smaller updates online as they become available. The news left me wondering what the announcement means for the MSP community.
I took the question to a handful of IT solution provider partners and found their ideas illuminating. What I heard was a mixed assessment of both opportunities and challenges raised by Microsoft’s strategic shift, ranging from business model reinvention to more fundamental product support issues.
Mostly sunny outlook for cloud-based Windows
Overall, the partners I talked to welcome the news. What they most appreciate is the commitment to the cloud that Microsoft demonstrated in its announcement. MSPs expect the new, cloud-centric OS to free the channel from the tedious task of inventorying and updating security patches, firmware versions, and enhancements across all Windows devices. This in turn allows IT solution providers to focus on other, more strategic or higher-margin work.
Control was also a recurring theme in these conversations. One partner who is eager for the transition shared an anecdote about an Office 365-loaded laptop that a client passed along to a son, who then canceled the MSP’s support contract, opting to service the machine on his own. In doing this, the young man unwittingly terminated the Office 365 license. Although the laptop’s new owner threatened to sue the MSP, he quickly learned that he had no grounds for legal action and sheepishly restored the contract.
Another partner, however, expressed concern about losing control. This partner, a support specialist, feels invested in understanding all the intricacies of the new OS and how it interacts with his clients’ legacy programs.
A third partner described the anticipation in more morbid terms: “waiting to see what breaks.” From this perspective, waiting for the Microsoft Windows 10 release means bracing for the likelihood that issues will arise.
It’s never been about the money
The MSPs I spoke with uniformly said that the revenues from license sales were beside the point. What’s important is the hardware sales that these licenses drive. It’s not the margins earned from Windows PC sales that make these sales important, though. It’s the opportunities these sales create for IT solution providers to get a foot in the door.
PC sales open the door for solution providers to perform needs assessments; these in turn lead to all kinds of opportunities, both in the near-term and out into the foreseeable future. It is when conversations turn to a company’s future that the nature of the relationship becomes strategic. In a larger sense then, by enabling PC sales, Windows licenses give MSPs a vehicle for establishing their credentials as a trusted business advisor.
Better margins would be appreciated
I concluded my conversations with a hypothetical: What advice would you offer a Microsoft executive who asks how to better support the IT channel? Not surprisingly, every one of the partners responded the same way: “lower your prices.” And not just on Windows 10, by the way, on Office 365 and Azure, too.
The channel is as important to Microsoft as Microsoft is to the channel. Microsoft needs the channel to maintain its market leadership across the IT space, not just within the OS category. Its Windows environment, however, is a strategic enabler that catalyzes sales in other products and services. IT solution providers are keenly aware of this, of course, and they’re looking for ways to position themselves as vital links in the value chain.
To its credit, Microsoft is launching Windows 10 in a market that has had time to get comfortable with the cloud, even if questions and ambiguities remain. This in itself spells opportunity for MSPs, who bring the technical and business perspective needed to help businesses get the most from the new release, while soothing end-users’ anxieties.