With end of support for Windows 7 coming to a close on 14 January 2020, the channel is preparing to capitalise on increased appetite for technology refreshes across Asia Pacific.
Partners are being advised to take advantage through adopting a wider transformation strategy aimed at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), moving away from fixating on the actual date to bigger picture customer changes.
“This is less about a specific date and more around how businesses are transforming in general,” said Belinda Widgery, marketing lead of channel and devices at Microsoft Asia. “The market needs to move away from the end of support date and think about how SMBs can transform through our ecosystem of partners.
“This is a moment in time but we are focusing on assessing how people work today, how they are being productive and how the workforce is completely changing.”
Speaking exclusively to Channel Asia at Microsoft’s regional headquarters in Singapore, Widgery said the channel - spanning partners, distributors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) - is well-placed to take advantage of an SMB market struggling to transform.
“Our priorities are helping customers transform, ensuring OEMs have a great range of devices to offer and that our channel partners are offering new routes to market,” Widgery explained.
“The date isn’t everything, this is more about moving the whole ecosystem and ensuring customers become more productive with the latest operating system [OS] and device - the two must go together.”
End of support
After launching Windows 7 in 2009, Microsoft issued a commitment to provide 10 years of support for the OS, with technical assistance and software updates no longer available post 14 January 2020.
In response, Redmond is “strongly recommending” customers to upgrade to Windows 10, as outlined through a string of initiatives during the past 12 months, including push notifications and prompts.
While the vendor has made some exceptions for valued enterprise customers through “Extended Security Updates”, the majority of the market will, at some point, be forced to make the transition.
“Discussions between Windows 7 and Windows 10 centre around old comfortable familiarity vs. uncertain new territory,” observed Widgery, in reference to adoption challenges at SMB level.
“What will pull the SMBs into the new world is an understanding of the new needs of the workforce, this is a workforce which works so intuitively which they can’t do on an older OS or device.”
According to Microsoft findings - in surveying almost 2000 SMBs across the region - more than a third of SMBs (36 per cent) still own PCs that are more than four years old, PCs which are running older OS’ such as Windows 7.
Alongside impacting work efficiencies, Widgery cited security concerns with 62 per cent of SMBs in Asia Pacific experiencing a breach during the past year.
Delving deeper, 54 per cent of Asian SMBs either have no PC refresh policy or are not following it - 31 per cent are also currently using an outdated Windows OS.
Specifically, the number of SMBs using old devices stands at 34 per cent, 33 per cent and 34 per cent in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand respectively, with the number higher at 43 per cent in India. Conducted in association with Techaisle, the Asia-wide research also included SMB decision-makers from Japan and South Korea.
“Technology can be a real enabler for businesses, both small and large, and SMBs should continue to recognise the value that IT investment can bring to their present and future growth,” Widgery said. “SMBs employ over half of the workforce in the Asia Pacific, significantly contributing to the region’s economic growth.
“Employees in this region, most of whom are young and mobile, are digital natives and appreciate modern work environments and tools that allow them to work smarter and more effectively. We want to work alongside SMBs in Asia to help them realise their ambitions and succeed in this competitive marketplace.”
According to findings, the “continued delay” in the adoption of newer technological infrastructure across business functions at SMB-level was due to factors such as perceived app incompatibility and high costs associated with acquiring and maintaining new IT hardware and software.
“Are SMBs aware that they need to transform to align with the needs of the workforce?” Widgery asked. “Digital transformation isn’t something they can just turn on and off. But the challenge with Windows 7 is that SMBs are comfortable with the software.”
In accounting for 97 per cent of the enterprise market in Asia Pacific, Widgery said SMBs will soon operate in a market housing more than 50 per cent of millennials as workers, placing new demands on productivity strategies as a result.
“Regardless of the date, this is about SMBs using the most productive devices and Windows 10 to increase productivity and collaboration tools and to be secure, which can no longer be achieved through Windows 7,” she said.
“The first place to start in creating a transformation strategy is at the heart of the IT solution, which is the PC. Millennials need to be productive and with that comes a need for mobility and security.”
However, the reality is that the lack of a strategic PC refresh policy can result in greater repercussions in the long-run, Widgery claimed.
Citing research, Widgery said there is a 3.1 times higher chance of old PCs requiring repairs, which can amount to economic costs of at least US$2,657 per PC per year, and result in at least 157 hours’ worth of productivity time lost.
“SMBs that don’t have a strategy usually wait until the technology breaks,” Widgery acknowledged.
One way to narrow the technology adoption gap is through cloud, Widgery added. More than half (54 per cent) of SMBs are aware of PC-as-a-service offerings, with 40 per cent planning to adopt them within the next year.
Key motivators for this include having the option to acquire the latest technology faster (57 per cent) and reducing IT support workload across business functions (55 per cent).
“As-a-service represents a huge opportunity for channel partners and distributors,” Widgery advised. “SMBs don’t have an IT department which means they require a service and that often includes support, maintenance, back-end IT and all of the add-ons.
“This represents a chance for the channel to move away from being transactional and selling devices on price. Instead they can move into another area of service such as subscription type models which will help transform their own business as well.”
On the flip side however, Widgery cautioned that to capitalise on such potential, the channel must also evolve alongside changing market dynamics.
“Partners must embark on their own digital transformation strategies through adopting Windows 10,” Widgery said. “If the channel is living and breathing Windows 10, they will understand the benefits. Partners can’t provide a consultative solution if they’re not using the offering.”
The call to action - it must be noted - comes more than six months after Redmond issued a climbdown regarding internal use rights (IUR), following a global channel backlash.
Launched by a Melbourne-based partner, the channel rallied against plans to remove IUR for product licenses for partners and the access of on-premises product support incidents as part of the Microsoft Action Pack and competencies.
“Microsoft provides training and information helping our customers and partners to transform,” added Widgery, in direct reference to Windows 10.
Windows-as-a-Service was also cited as another way SMBs can refresh older PCs through the provision of security patches and regular OS updates, Widgery outlined.
“We still have some work to do,” she assessed. “We would suggest the refresh is done all at once to ensure employees are trained on the new OS and devices at the same time.”