In-Depth

Why Major Corporations Are Making the Move to Windows 8

As tablets and convertible PCs change the way enterprises operate, see how companies of all sizes are choosing Windows 8 over the Apple iPad and Android-based devices.

Declining PC shipments have raised debate over the future of Windows but predictions of its demise may be premature. To be sure, Microsoft has an uphill battle to make a large dent in the tablet market. It is understood Windows is no longer the dominant platform for accessing information. In fact, market researchers predict Windows is poised to account for only one-third of all client devices in the next few years. Even if Windows doesn't exceed those forecasts, the pie is exponentially much bigger. That would explain why,despite accounting for a much smaller portion of the pie it once owned, shipments of Windows-based systems are poised to grow this year. And Windows remains the OS of choice in the commercial world.

Indeed, the meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets based on Android and iOS has put the brakes on the PC era that began more than two decades ago. Microsoft's late entry with a next-generation OS for tablets and smartphones has created numerous casualties, including a relatively stagnant stock market share price and the retirement of CEO Steve Ballmer. The number of PCs shipped worldwide declined a remarkable 10 percent last year, according to IDC. The research firm is forecasting PC sales will drop at a slower rate this year, 3.8 percent, before increasing again in 2015.

In addition to arriving years after Android and the Apple iOS, Microsoft's answer, Windows 8, failed to gain critical mass out of the chute. As the Apple iPad and Android-based tablets continued to grow last year, a fraction of developers and end users embraced the Windows 8 tile-based interface. Some critics have left it for dead. While the jury is still out, there's evidence it might be too early to draw that conclusion. Key to its success will be more mainstream developers building apps for the Windows Store. Prospects for that remain uncertain. Nevertheless, organizations of all sizes are replacing some of their aging machines with Window 8-based tablets, PCs or those that function as both.

"I think the fact that Delta has chosen to do this in our operation will naturally have some influence on other companies around the globe."

Darrell Haskin, IT Director, Delta Air Lines Crew Department

The majority of shops faced with the need to retire existing Windows XP-based PCs are still opting for Windows 7 but a growing number are jumping into the modern world with tablets and touch-based laptops running Windows 8.1. Systems based on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 accounted for 10.5 percent of all desktop and laptop systems in December, according to Net Applications, which tracks OS, browser and search engine market share. In November, the two OSes accounted for 9.3 per-­cent, while in September (before Microsoft released Windows 8.1), Windows 8 only accounted for 8 percent of all PCs. A year ago slightly more than 2 percent of PCs were Windows 8-based, granted the OS was only a few months old at that point.

Since the October 2013 release of Windows 8.1, shipments of the new OS have grown at a faster, albeit incremental pace. Even if Windows ultimately runs on one-third of all devices, Gartner Inc. last month forecast growth of Windows will once again increase this year after dropping 5.6 percent in 2013 for the first time ever. Shipments of Windows-based systems this year will increase 9.3 percent, or nearly 360 million units, and 16 percent in 2015, totaling 423 million systems.

Of course, consumers have little choice when it comes to buying Windows PCs. Not that it's impossible to find a Windows 7-based system, but it isn't easy. Enterprises have much more flexibility to install Windows 7 on PCs that ship with Windows 8. Nevertheless, a growing number of organizations of all sizes -- after considering their options -- are choosing Windows 8 PCs and tablets.

"We're seeing major, major adoption of customers making their commitment to Windows 8.1," says Microsoft Corporate Vice President Susan Hauser. Admitting it was a slow first year for the revamped Windows platform, Hauser believes it's beginning to resonate for customers. "The first challenge was getting used to the new user interface but now it's all about lighting up the business. We're now seeing again a tremendous amount of traction in the enterprise around Windows 8.1, leveraging the devices and services and bringing it together."

Hauser recently hosted a Microsoft showcase in New York of customers and partners who have deployed Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 in organizations of all sizes and vertical industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, financial services, health care, real estate, professional services, government and education. After talking to some of the key decision makers at that event, here's why and how organizations of all sizes are deploying Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 tablets.

Delta Air Lines
Deployment: One of the world's largest airlines rolling out 11,000 Surface 2 tablets in aircraft cockpits for flight kits, navigation and weather reports.

One of the largest enterprises to disclose a major commitment to Windows 8 is Delta Air Lines Inc. While Delta doesn't have any immediate plans to use Windows 8 on its PCs on the ground, it decided early last year to deploy the Microsoft Surface 2 in every cockpit. In addition, Delta is equipping all of its 20,000 flight attendants with Nokia Lumia 820 Windows Phones.

Delta had determined two years ago that it wanted to put tablets in the cockpit to give pilots access to reference information and important aircraft and other documentation historically kept in 38-pound flight manuals. These are called flight kits and because they're updated once or twice per month, Delta was generating 7.5 billion pages per year. By eliminating the heavy manuals, Delta determined it would use 1.2 million gallons less fuel per year. Putting the flight kits on tablets, the airline and its suppliers can more easily update information and make it easier to access. The pilots can also use the Surface 2 to access maps and weather data.

After evaluating seven bids, Delta chose a proposal by Microsoft and AT&T with Avanade Inc. as the project lead, says Darrell Haskin, IT director for Delta's crew department. Haskin admits he had some initial concerns about choosing Windows-based tablets considering the popularity of the iPad.

"Of course we had some concern about that, but Microsoft is one of our strategic partners," Haskin says. "So we sat down with them, conveyed our concerns with them and they were very supportive. They said they feel it's going to take off and we believe that it will. They were able to allay our concerns." Haskin isn't concerned about projections that only 30 percent of all devices might be Windows-based by 2017. "I think 30 percent is a pretty good number," he says. "I think the fact that Delta has chosen to do this in our operation will naturally have some influence on other companies around the globe."

It's particularly noteworthy that Delta chose the Surface 2 rather than the Surface Pro 2, which has a faster processor and can run apps designed for older versions of Windows. But the Surface Pro 2 is overkill for the pilots' needs, which have apps built to run in the Windows RT 8.1 "modern" interface.

"The pilots use our in-house applications all the time," Haskin says. "There really wasn't a need for us to have all of the additional functionality that comes with the Pro for this application in the flight deck. And with the Surface 2, the battery lasts longer, which is very important to those in our flight deck, who might be on a 15-hour flight."

Delta started rolling out the Surface 2, which each pilot installs on the side windshield, last fall and plans to complete the deployment on 11,000 planes by year's end. Many organizations haven't considered the Surface 2 (or any Windows RT device) because they can't join them to Active Directory domains. But that limitation wasn't a concern for Delta, which had a workaround from MobileIron, a supplier of mobile device management software.

The MobileIron Content Locker connects Windows RT to Active Directory through standard Web services, explains Roland Brenny, principal for IT flight crew systems at Delta. "Through Web services that call out when you sign in with your Delta ID and your employee number, we look at all of the objects inside Active Directory and say 'this is what that person is flying,'" Brenny says. "The application detects what category they're actually in and downloads the right info to the device."

Delta actually preferred not to connect the Surface 2 directly to Active Directory, Brenny adds. "We're all over the world," he says. We did not want to connect the devices to our domain, just because of security risks. And there was a lot more infrastructure that needed to be looked at if we were going to connect to the Active Directory domain."

As for updating PCs on the ground in its operation centers and business offices, Delta has no immediate plans to upgrade them to Windows 8. "They're all going to Windows 7, that's primarily the back-office desktop users," Haskin says. When asked why not move to Windows 8, he simply says: "We're just not ready to do that yet."

But 200 of the company's top executives do use the Surface Pro, Haskin notes. "They love the ability to be able to write notes on things and send them out," he says. "Our executives are on the move. I mean, we're an airline -- they're flying all over the world meeting with our strategic partners around the world -- it's a great tool for them. They've given us really positive feedback on the Surface Pro."

Pediatric Associates
Deployment: Medical practice with 350 employees including 80 pediatricians at seven locations, incrementally deploying Windows 8.1-based tablets from a variety of suppliers.

After years of eschewing technology, midsize and large health-care practices are stepping up their efforts to become less reliant on paper. One of the reasons for the slow uptake in many medical groups are physicians and other practitioners reluctant to use PCs or other devices in place of using paper to input patient information.

"Now I can drop Surface Pros on our network and can join them to the network, we can apply Group Policies to secure them and remote wipe them."

Brock Morris, CIO, Pediatric Associates Inc.

Economics and regulations are forcing that change -- it's becoming increasingly more common to see a doctor or nurse input data into a PC or tablet these days. Pediatric Associates Inc. in Bellevue, Wash., is among those practices making the transition with Windows 8.1-based tablets. When considering tablets, many of the physicians lobbied for the Apple iPad, says CIO Brock Morris, who joined the medical group four years ago with a mandate to bring it into the digital age.

Pediatric Associates is a relatively large medical practice with seven locations and 350 employees, 80 ofwhom are physicians. But compared to Delta, Pediatric Associates is a small enterprise and Morris didn't want to have to bring in a mobile device management solution like the MobileIron software Delta deployed.

"Now I can drop Surface Pros on our network and can join them to the network, we can apply Group Policies to secure them and remote wipe them," Morris says. Medical assistants are using the Surface Pro and mobile apps developed by electronic medical records vendor Greenway Medical Technologies Inc. to input patients' vitals, allergies and past medical histories so they and a physician can pull up a patient's chart, using the Windows touch-based interface, Morris says.

The rollout of tablets is well underway but the practice is deploying a few at a time, typically pairing a medical assistant with a physician. While Morris likes the Surface Pro, he's waiting to see what other new devices come to market from other tablet and PC suppliers this year. Morris believes physicians using tablets makes an important statement to patients. "They want to see doctors using technology," he says. "They really see it as a measure of quality."

Westpac Banking
Deployment: One of the largest banks in Australia and New Zealand has begun a three-year effort to roll out 36,000 Windows 8.1 systems and released a banking app in the Windows Store.

"This will give the bank a strategic advantage. You can deliver a direct customer experience and engage with customers."

Michael Jesworth, General Manager, Westpac Bank

Westpac, one of the largest banks in Australia and New Zealand, is a longtime Microsoft Windows shop. It decided to offer its customer apps for both iPad and Windows 8 users last year, which let them view and interact with their accounts, including making payments. But the bank has much bigger ambitions for Windows 8. It plans to incrementally roll out Windows 8-based systems to all of its 36,000 employees over the next three years.

Westpac has built its network, server and development infrastructure largely on the Windows platform for nearly two decades. Committing to Windows 8 will ensure that it can continue to build on that infrastructure, Westpac CIO Richard Holmes says. "I think there's been pent up demand for tablet capability," Holmes says. "The power of Widows is to leverage the investment we've got from the device stack, and see how we can integrate it into Lync to dial an expert in, when you need to."

Michael Jesworth, Westpac's general manager of financial planning, says the bank's ongoing effort to add more capabilities to interact with customers using digital tools lends itself to building more applications based on the Windows 8 modern tile-based interface. "This will give the bank a strategic advantage," Jesworth says. "You can deliver a direct customer experience and engage with customers."

OnPoint CFO & Controller Services
Deployment: Professional services firm giving financial professionals Windows 8-based tablets using Office 365 and SharePoint.

Smaller companies often need a chief financial officer or controller, but can't justify hiring someone on a full-time basis. OnPoint CFO & Controller Services has financial pros that perform this function on an outsourced basis.

"It's what my clients are demanding, for us to give them the information they want when they need it."

Brian Clark, President, OnPoint CFO & Controller Services

Over the years, that has comprised of an OnPoint financial executive spending part of their time at a client's location managing the books. In addition to providing controller and CFO functions, the company is expanding the services it offers to include bookkeeping and data entry, accounting, budgeting, financial reporting, design, and cash management.

The underlying infrastructure that has enabled OnPoint CFO to expand its offering and client base is SharePoint and Office 365, says Brian Clark, a CPA and the company's president. Office 365 lets the company provide secure access to financial records, he says. With a mobile workforce, OnPoint last year started equipping its employees with Windows 8-based laptops.

OnPoint employees have embraced the tile-based touch interface when using Office 365, Clark says. The goal this year is to develop apps designed for the new modern Windows interface. "We're just taking accounting into the 21st century," he says. "It's what my clients are demanding -- for us to give them the information they want when they need it."

Carolina Reality Group
Deployment: Real estate firm with 25 agents is recommending the agents procure Windows 8-based tablets. So far, eight have purchased Surface tablets.

Dan Prud'hoome wanted the 25 brokers who work for his Hilton Head Island, S.C., real estate firm to spend less time in the office and more time in the field selling houses. But it was hard for them to escape going into the office to get documents, pull contracts and gather marketing collateral of homes on the market.

"Now I can pull a contract up on my Surface, pull out a pen and have a client sign it."

Dan Prud'homme, Owner, Carolina Realty Group

After considering the iPad using Google Apps, Prud'homme decided to standardize on Windows 8-based tablets and Office 365. Because real estate agents are typically independent contractors, as is the case with Carolina Realty, the firm by law can't furnish them with equipment, Prud'homme says. Therefore, it's up to the individual agent to invest in the technology.

So far about one-third, or eight, of his agents have procured Windows 8-based Surface tablets. "Now I can pull a contract up on my Surface, pull out a pen and have a client sign it," he says. Most of the remaining agents have older Windows PCs and they will upgrade when it suits their business needs, he says. "People don't upgrade for the sake of upgrading, it comes with the need for a new device."

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