Australian CIOs sold on Microsoft's Surface tablet

Australian CIOs are betting on Microsoft's Surface tablet.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Australian chief information officers (CIOs) have been impressed with Microsoft's answer to the iPad — the Microsoft Surface — which was announced last month.

Two tablet variants have been announced; one running Windows RT on an Nvidia ARM processor, and the other running Windows 8 Pro on an Intel Core i5 system. Both devices have a 10.6-inch display employing Corning Gorilla Glass 2.

Because Microsoft is so late to the market with its tablet — the iPad was launched in 2010 — it has been stated that the Surface's only chance of success is in the business market, which will be lured by the desktop-like experience of Windows 8.

The kickstand and keyboard included in the case (either a slimmer, multi-touch keyboard or a fatter, mechanical keyboard) are also meant to turn the device into a business workhorse.

We asked the members of the ZDNet Australia CIO jury what they think of the Surface.

The question asked was:

Will Microsoft's Surface tablet provide a real alternative to the Apple iPad?

Of the first 12 CIOs who answered, eight said yes and four said no, although two CIOs voted both yes and no (we awarded half a point for each side in these cases).


(Credit: CBSi)

David O'Hagan, CIO, Queensland Department of Education and Training corporate services division, is convinced by the Surface's USB port, expandable storage and direct access to the file system — all features that the iPad lacks.

BUPA Aged Care CIO Paul Berryman pointed to fact that the tablet should work better with existing enterprise systems than the iPad, saying that Apple hasn't yet provided adequate enterprise management features.

Rondo Building Services group manager of IT services Andrew Paton agrees that features like the USB port are a must for Microsoft's tablet to come out on top, and that its integration with other Microsoft products might help the device win the day.

"Coming from a Microsoft-based environment, it will certainly have to be considered as a potential laptop replacement for the likes of sales representatives in the field," he said.

Sydney Opera House head of information systems Daniel Johnson is also a fan because Windows 8 would make it easy to connect to corporate networks. However, he did have a caveat: "It will be dependent on performance and ease of use of the tablet to win over iPad users," he said.

David Beveridge, who acts as CIO for a number of small firms, said that enterprise would be the Surface's heartland. Consumers won't take to the device, he added, however (making him one of the CIOs who gave both a yes and no response).

Royce Michael Lee, BVN Architecture IT director, is also of two minds. He is impressed with Microsoft for coming up with fresh ideas of its own: the user interface and hardware design in particular. He hopes that Microsoft might become a successful competitor, because a strong Apple rival would stimulate competition and accelerate innovation.

He is not sure, however, of whether the Surface will succeed, because Apple has a better user-experience track record — something very important for tablets and smartphones.

"Also, Apple has been able to use its head start to focus on optimising supply chain, manufacture and distribution processes, giving it a massive advantage over new market entrants," he said. "And, while I'm enthusiastic about Surface, I just keep thinking about the Zune."

Hume Rural Health Alliance IT manager Chris Reeve believes that the cost will be the biggest factor in whether the Surface "could really be an iPad killer". (Microsoft has not yet provided information on cost and availability.)

Quick Service Restaurant Holdings group manager of information systems Peter Smith, on the other hand, doesn't even think that a competitive price would save the tablet. He thinks that Microsoft has missed the boat.

"I am not sure [Microsoft] can make up the lost ground to IOS or Android devices. It is not really apparent whether Microsoft is trying to position the product as a tablet or an ultra-light laptop. Reviews in the intuitiveness of the interface are not particularly positive, so it sounds like Microsoft still has some work to do," he said.

Despite Smith's scepticism, though, it's clear that the Australian IT industry is excited about the possibilities of the Microsoft Surface. If enterprise IT shops are looking forward to a device that works seamlessly with their systems, all Microsoft has to do now is deliver that device at a reasonable price, and watch the money roll in.

Thank you to all of our ZDNet Australia jury participants. This question's CIO jury comprised:

  • Paul Berryman — CIO, BUPA Aged Care

  • David Beveridge — acting CIO of multiple SMBs

  • Craig Columbus — CIO, Russell McVeagh

  • Fiona Floyd — CIO, Suncorp Life

  • David Houslip — CIO, Cancer Council Queensland

  • Daniel Johnson — head of information systems, Sydney Opera House

  • Royce Michael Lee — IT director, BVN Architecture

  • Brendan McHugh — former CIO, Rebel Group

  • David O'Hagan — CIO, Queensland Department of Education and Training corporate services division

  • Andrew Paton — group manager of IT services Rondo Building Services

  • Chris Reeve — operations manager, Hume Rural Health Alliance

  • Peter Smith group manager information systems, Quick Service Restaurant Holdings

This question has been asked in other regions, with the result being that not only Australian CIOs are sold on the tablet. UK, US and Asian juries were also convinced that the Surface would be a real competitor to the iPad.

If you would like to be part of our CIO jury, contact us at ciojury@cbsinteractive.com. More details can also be found here.

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