By Tim Landgrave
In early October, Microsoft held its World Wide Partner Conference (with the marketing subtitle "Building Momentum") in New Orleans. For the first time, it brought together all of its partner channels—Accounting Systems, Certified Partners, ISVs—to begin the process of creating a unified voice with which to approach the market. Let's look at how events in New Orleans may change the way your organization works with Microsoft's field sales and technical resources and the partners that Microsoft has chosen to help it take its products to market.
The Microsoft channel strategy
Since Microsoft launched its first formal channel initiative in the early 1990s, it's been trying to come up with the magic formula that allows it to focus on product development and distribution and allow an external army of resellers, consultants, and developers to focus on creating solutions that use its products. As Microsoft began gaining acceptance in the Enterprise Data Center, it's become increasingly difficult for it to rely on its Partner channel alone to deliver these enterprise-scale solutions. And IBM hasn't made it any easier.
IBM's Global Services division can mobilize armies of engineers, developers, and project leaders to handle large, enterprise projects. And CIOs don't need to ask if IBM has any "skin in the game" when trying to deploy its enterprise development platforms based on J2EE. IBM can guarantee the solution front to back. Of course, this doesn't mean that IBM necessarily delivers—there are still large projects that fail. But it means that Microsoft has to be able to answer the question, "How will you help to guarantee my success when it's your partner actually delivering on this implementation?"
After struggling for years to grow its own Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) team to deal with these corporate issues, Microsoft has finally decided instead to put even more emphasis on its partner channel. MCS will still handle customer issues involving new technology or integration challenges, but the message sent out from the conference was that Microsoft has a new two-pronged approach to handling enterprise engagements.
To address large, enterprise-wide projects, Microsoft will place more emphasis on global partners that implement its technologies such as Avanade, Cap Gemini, Hewlett Packard, and Unisys. By directing enterprise-wide engagements to these companies, a CIO is less likely to need a "technology guarantee" from Microsoft directly and can rely instead on the experience and financial stability of its global partners. But many enterprise engagements aren't actually enterprise-scale projects. They're enterprise initiatives that can cut across the enterprise and affect large portions of the infrastructure, but aren't as far reaching as something like implementing a new version of SAP or Oracle financials.
At the conference, Microsoft encouraged its partners to choose particular areas on which to focus and develop very specific expertise. These areas, called "Go To Markets" internally, include enterprise projects like Business Intelligence, Communication & Collaboration projects, Application Integration, Security Configuration, and Workflow Management. Microsoft's plan is to work with partners to provide integrated planning, training, marketing, sales, and technical resources to help them create specific expertise and experience delivering these product offerings based on Microsoft technologies.
Put simply, the new Microsoft strategy is to use its large partners to "go wide" and handle the large-scale projects and to use smaller regional and local partners to "go deep" to handle these specific product and technology initiatives. Even though customers may deal with different partners for different projects in their companies, Microsoft's own field employees will be able to help offer a consistent customer interface and recommendations for partners based on their proven proficiency delivering solutions using these technologies.
Taking advantage of the new Microsoft Partner alignment
As your company investigates new technology opportunities that align with these Microsoft initiatives, this new program gives you two very important advantages. First, Microsoft is requiring partners both to choose specific technology initiatives and then staff up and train to support them. When you need to select from a pool of potential Microsoft partners to help you implement the technology, you can choose from a much smaller and more qualified list, rather than having to wade through every "solution provider" in the book to find one that is a close match for your needs.
Second, and perhaps more important, you'll actually have the choice of multiple potential suppliers for a major technology initiative. Since IBM's partner channel has been decimated by the growth of its own Global Services, you are left with a single provider for many of the services required to implement IBM technology. When implementing the same solution using Microsoft technology, you will have multiple qualified, certified companies from which to choose. As Microsoft continues to drive product expertise and marketing support through its partners, the value you derive from using Microsoft's partner channel for delivering Microsoft solutions will increase as well.