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Microsoft partners: New CEO must allay channel fears

Partners want the company to leverage its large enterprise installed base with an aggressive mobile strategy

Microsoft partners: New CEO must allay channel fears
Rughwani is hoping the new Microsoft CEO acts faster in innovating products around the mobile segment.

Middle East-based Microsoft partners have said new CEO Satya Nadella must move quickly to fix what they see is a channel detached from the company's mobile and cloud computing strategy for the region.

Although partners have welcomed the appointment of Nadella, they said the biggest challenge the new chief executive faces is a channel that is disengaged from the company's cloud computing and mobile solutions strategy in the Middle East.

The channel uproar among partners especially around the mobile strategy comes in the wake of Microsoft’s lack of strategy on how enterprise-focused solution providers will be engaged with the mobile business, given the large Windows installed base in the enterprise segment in the Middle East.

Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran, previously was executive vice president of the company's cloud and enterprise engineering group. He has been widely credited with leading the technical shift across the company's products and services, including its cloud computing initiatives.

"While we welcome the positive move that Microsoft has made by naming Nadella as the new CEO, we are also hoping that he addresses the challenges with the product strategy and development especially around its mobility solutions in the tablets and smartphone segment,” said Vasant Menghani, founder and CEO of Touchmate, a Dubai-based smartphone and tablet maker and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.

Menghani said in the last three years, the Middle East IT market has witnessed a rapid shift with the tablet and smartphone business growing tremendously, while Microsoft hasn’t leveraged the large enterprise-focused channel business to push for greater penetration and visibility in the mobile solutions sector. “The biggest challenge with regards to the major transition happening in the market is the mobile strategy for the region and how the company under Nadella will leverage the channel," said Menghani, whose company sells Touchmate branded desktops and notebooks with Microsoft's Windows OS to the MEA region.

He said Touchmate is ready to launch in the market both a Windows-based tablet and smartphone if Microsoft clearly outlines its channel engagement model for the mobility business, improves the graphics user interface (GUI) for tablets and smartphones, and maps out a clear plan that emulates the success of its business apps and OS business in the Middle East. “The new CEO has the opportunity to listen to what partners see as areas where their business can grow in the Middle East and Africa region. We certainly want to work with Microsoft in the mobile space and we are hoping the new head will engage partners more in the mobile space,” he said.

Rakesh Bohra, managing director at WiFi Computer Zone, another Dubai-based Microsoft Platinum Certified Partner that specialises in selling Micrsoft OEM and OS software, said the new CEO will have to convince a skeptical channel that it won't be more of the same as was the case under Steve Ballmer.

Bohra said while this change was long overdue at Microsoft, as the company hasn’t innovated especially in the mobility segment, Nadella needs to ring in changes that will give Microsoft’s competitors a “run for their money”. “If one looks at the sheer dominance that Microsoft has in the enterprise space with its OS business, the same can’t be said about its mobile business,” Bohra said.

He added that Microsoft can’t afford to miss the mobile solutions opportunity as having acquired Nokia’s devices business puts it up there with rival vendors if the right strategy is developed for this business,” he remarked. “We want to see more innovation around its mobile solutions software, devices and a clear channel strategy on how partners will be recruited and engaged.”

Despite Nadella's long tenure at Microsoft, he is a breath of fresh air when compared with Ballmer, added Bohra. “We expect a lot of positive changes as we haven’t seen this coming from Microsoft in the last 10 years. One downside to Ballmer having stayed in the position for so long was that he got himself in a ‘soft corner’, where it was hard for him to embrace change and innovation faster. We hope this will change under Nadella,” he said.

Shailendra Rughwani, managing director at Experts Computer Group, a Microsoft channel partner in the Middle East, said although it’s too early to tell, the new CEO will have to prove that two decades in the company isn't a liability and he is going to be able to see things with fresh eyes and do things differently.

“As a Microsoft partner, we are encouraged that the company has decided to pick a person internally to succeed Ballmer. We hope Nadella puts the focus back where it should be, act faster in innovating products around the mobile segment and uses his technical expertise to benefit the company’s product roadmap,” Rughwani said.

A number of Microsoft partners also said the channel issues around the cloud are heating up as Google and Amazon Web Services are stepping up their own partnering efforts.

Rughwani said from the interaction with DCG members, most are expecting Microsoft to get more aggressive with its cloud and mobile strategy in the Middle East. “We want to see a more aggressive strategy in the cloud and mobile sector in the Middle East. If you look at Microsoft’s revenues over the last two quarters, most of it came from the cloud business,” he said.

Rughwani pointed out that the new CEO should aim to tie in the cloud success with a renewed enterprise approach that puts mobile computing and partners at the centre of the new strategy. “While we are content with the decision to appoint someone from within, we have to wait to see how he intends to take the company forward,” said Rughwani.

Microsoft also said that Bill Gates, previously chairman, will assume a new role on the board as founder and technology advisor and will devote more time to shaping technology and product direction and to supporting Nadella, who will become a member of the board.

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