More IT shops consider Surface Pro, Windows tablet PCs

Windows-based tablet PCs are gaining slight traction as the enterprise deploys the devices for business applications.

Lack of enterprise adoption of Windows 8 and the anemic response to Windows RT has overshadowed the fragile inroad that some Windows-based tablets have made in the enterprise.

Despite recent attention paid to the lack of enterprise demand for Microsoft's first-generation Surface Pro tablet, there appears to be growing interest in the enterprise deployment of some Windows-based tablet PCs. Exploration of Windows-based tablets is a natural progression for the enterprise, as consumerization and bring your own device, or BYOD, movements have gained acceptance within the last few years.

Businesses are simply extending their Microsoft-based corporate environment and investigating the ways Windows-based tablet PCs, as well as hybrid notebooks, can offset manageability issues for the future. 

"Apple is a strong consumer play, but when you get 10,000 devices, it's more difficult [to manage]," said Dan O'Hara, vice president of mobility for Avanade Inc., a Microsoft managed solutions provider based in Seattle. "Now, the question is which [Windows tablet PC] is rugged enough, or which one is good for healthcare that complies with HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] requirements," he said.

Indeed, vertical markets -- education, insurance, healthcare, utilities and others -- are eyeing Windows-based tablets more seriously. That could mean deploying either Microsoft's own Surface Pro tablet or Windows tablets from Lenovo, Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP) or Samsung.

For example, Independence Blue Cross, a Philadelphia-based health insurance company that recently developed a consumer-facing mobile iOS and Android application, intends to support the Windows phone and Surface tablets in the next version, said Greg Barnowsky, the company's chief enterprise architect. The insurance provider used Kony's application development tool to develop code that can easily port its applications across different platforms. Adding Windows-based functionality for Windows Phone and Surface is not a big stretch for the company.

Other end users are showing interest as well, such as the Dallas Independent School District, which sent out a request for proposals for 10,000 units of Windows 8 tablets for its students.

Additionally, such vendors as HP and Samsung are beginning to see deployments for their Windows tablet PCs for a variety of business applications.

And some end users have purchased a device on their own because they see the value of a Windows-based tablet for their own needs.

"I'm in a small minority because people don't know how well [the Surface Pro tablet] works," said Dan Nainan, a Surface Pro end user and former Intel senior engineer who now travels globally as a comedian. Nainan replaced his notebook and iPad with a Surface Pro so that he doesn't need to bring all his mobile devices on the road.

End users are doing more interaction and collaboration using tablets and hybrid PCs, according to Jennifer Langan, director of marketing for Samsung's Enterprise Business Division in Ridgefield Park, N.J. "It's a progression from desktops to notebooks to tablets [for] mobility."

Indeed, the adoption of Windows-based tablets will hinge on end-user needs and the applications available for the platform.

Businesses are saying they need to wait for their software to support new platforms, but while they're waiting, they are saying perhaps a Windows tablet can run their applications without those applications being reconfigured, said Karl Volkman, chief technology officer (CTO) at SRV Networks Inc., a Chicago-based network service provider and Microsoft Solutions partner. To date, there has been very little interest in Surface Pro from his customers, he said.

"Now, more than ever, your software and application development roadmap is at a pivot point for what hardware you can adopt. If I'm not developing for HTML5 or a native touch application, it's difficult to deploy Windows 8 tablets," said Ira Grossman, CTO for end user and mobile computing at MCPc Inc., a Microsoft channel partner in Cleveland.

Surface Pro lacks enterprise channel

The enterprise deployment of Windows-based tablet PCs and touch-based hybrid notebooks is important for corporations that have standardized on Microsoft products and want to enable enterprise mobility.

But enterprise IT buys tablets differently from the way consumers do; it uses enterprise channel partners that help with any repair service that may be encountered. In fact, because devices like the Surface Pro are not shipping through enterprise distribution channels yet and are available only through retail, some Microsoft partners won't recommend them to their customers just yet.

"Enterprise needs like a planned lifecycle or common bios are not available on the Surface Pro," according to Grossman. "We're not suggesting they shouldn't explore Windows 8, but they should understand the differences between Microsoft Surface Pro and other manufacturers' Windows-based tablets."

MCPc said it is working with a Fortune 500 company to outfit its sales and field service staff with Lenovo Windows-based tablet PCs.

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