Microsoft has long been king of the desktop, but Windows 8 has enterprise IT leaders experimenting with new, mobile business tools.
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While consumers eye the new Windows 8 gadgets that debut Friday, businesses have been experimenting with Microsoft's new operating system for months. Most won't deploy it broadly for years, but that doesn't mean it won't play a big role in the enterprise right away. Companies in a variety of industries are putting the mobile-friendly OS to work in targeted areas in an effort to, literally, get closer to the customer.
"What we saw with Windows 8 was an opportunity to take our customer experience and make it mobile," said Cristina Mancini, senior VP for worldwide marketing in the Television Distribution arm of Twentieth Century Fox.
Mancini's unit at the entertainment giant maintains a b-to-b website, FoxFast.com, that lets the studio show off content to television networks and other outlets. Fox has now developed a Windows 8-powered tablet version that gives reps a powerful tool to pitch programming while on the road. It's packed with photos, video, and production notes about Fox hits like Family Guy, as well as upcoming programming.
"You want to get people excited about your product and your own marketing people excited," said Mancini. "When I saw the [Windows 8] interface, it was exactly what we had been talking about."
Fox's Windows 8 deployment fits with how most analysts, and even Microsoft itself, expect enterprises to use Windows 8 in the early going -- as a foundation for customer-facing apps and services that take advantage of the operating system's slick, touch-friendly interface and enhanced graphics capabilities.
"We believe that Windows 8 will be something that most organizations do not deploy broadly," said Gartner analyst Mike Silver. A recent InformationWeek survey of IT pros found that 47% have no plans to upgrade to Windows 8, while 64% will stick with Windows 7 for as long as possible.
"That's not a bad thing," Silver said, noting that most enterprises will stick with Windows 7 on the desktop while selectively issuing Windows 8 tablets or convertibles to field personnel who can make the most of mobile apps.
One company doing just that is Rooms To Go, an online and brick-and-mortar retailer of home furniture. The company runs a sales application at PC terminals located throughout its stores. It allows sales reps to capture customer information, show products, and complete orders. But CIO Russ Rosen wanted a mobile version that would let reps interact with customers more comfortably, say, while sitting on a couch.
"We were looking for a solution where the customer didn't have to break the engagement," said Rosen. "Something where we could put together the sale sitting next to them on a sofa rather than having to go back and forth to a PC."
Like Fox, Rooms To Go worked with Microsoft to develop a mobile version of its point-of-sale application. The app lets reps start shopping carts, input customer Zip codes, complete a sale, schedule delivery, and more.