You’ve heard the adage “if you give someone a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach them how to fish then you feed them forever.” Around here we call that the “Fishing Rods versus Fish ‘Sammiches’” paradox.

I’ve often asked our development and engineering managers if a piece of advice or documentation was designed to be a “Rod” or a “Sammich.” I always prefer the latter. One of the keys to Microsoft’s success in the future is tied to their own ability to deploy large numbers of well-configured and manageable Windows 2000 platforms (hosted and non-hosted) in a short period of time. This was the second major focus area for Microsoft at their recent Fusion conference.

Who’s the teacher?
The first obvious questions to ask in reference to this adage are “Who’s the Teacher?” and “Who’s the Student?” Microsoft’s dependence on the channel to deliver services that, in turn, sell their products, has been one of the key differentiators for companies choosing to partner with Microsoft.

While other companies like Oracle, IBM, and Sun continue to increase their dependence on service revenues, Microsoft’s has remained constant. What this means is that while other value-added resellers, independent software vendors, and consultants increasingly find themselves competing with their suppliers for the service revenue upon which they depend, Microsoft’s need to get these channels to sell more services continues to increase.

To meet the unit shipment goals Microsoft sets for itself, Microsoft must depend on the channel to provide services. As Microsoft releases the new .NET platform, the dependence on quality installations is even greater.

With Microsoft promising an end to reboots and downtime as the result of a migration from NT to .NET, their partners have to be able to deliver. Unfortunately, in the past Microsoft has relied on their technology-consulting arm—Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS)—to provide high-end and early adopter support for their products.

But Microsoft can no longer afford to “Teach” MCS and “Feed” the channel. They have to let their partners begin adopting some of the intellectual property (IP) surrounding their platform.

Packaging and selling the IP
So how does Microsoft package and sell the IP so that their partners are also anglers and not just fast-food cooks at the local fish joint?

The three areas where Microsoft will focus their partner education efforts are in Architecture, Development, and Operations.

First, Microsoft will provide their partners with workshops and joint MCS/Partner installations around key technologies like Active Directory, Server consolidation with Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and Exchange 2000 deployment. This advice and counsel will extend beyond the basic white papers and into more detailed engagement information and best practices gleaned from high-profile engagements.

Development advice and support will come from more specific and detailed MSDN online support, production-ready applications (not simple sample or demonstration applications), and a renewed emphasis on getting Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) training into the hands of their partners, not just as customers and consumers, but as resellers and trainers.

On the operations front, Microsoft has released a new Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) designed around the internationally acclaimed IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Where MSF was focused on teaching development teams how to create applications, MOF is focused on helping data centers run them.

In order for Microsoft platforms to achieve “five 9” reliability (99.99999% uptime), the network engineers and data center operators charged with maintaining the environment need to be able to share best practices as they relate specifically to the Microsoft .NET platform. This is a new area of focus for Microsoft that parallels the increasing usage of Microsoft technologies for platforms not only in the enterprise space, but also in the emerging ASP market.

Are you hungry yet?
Now that I’ve whetted your appetite for services based on these new initiatives, how do you make sure that your technology partners are providing you with this knowledge and these best practices?

First, you need to have a frank discussion with the VARs or ISVs who are working with you to provide Microsoft-based technology services. Ask them if or when they’ll be ready to deliver services based on these new technologies.

If they tell you that they’re ready now, then ask them for references from accounts where they’ve implemented MOF or partnered to deliver an Active Directory implementation. If they can’t provide you with references, then you have a unique opportunity.

Suggest that your technology partner should work with you to deploy the technology and provide for a certain number of billable hours to be credited to your account as their “training time.” In exchange, you’ll serve as a reference for them the next time they want to deliver this technology.

You should also insist that your own developers or network engineers play key roles in the development of the specification and the deployment of the technology. Whenever a technology platform shifts (e.g., NT to .NET), you have the opportunity to approach aggressive, hungry consulting firms with an opportunity to partner with you to deliver technology for you and a reference for them.

Sometimes your current technology partner is unable or unwilling to help you move to a new platform in this way. They also don’t have the experience to supply you with adequate resources (another way of saying that they want to learn the technology on your dime).

If these two conditions exist, then you should either walk away, insist that they partner with MCS during at least the development of the specification (if not the implementation of the entire project), or find another partner. Don’t do a deal with the partner if something smells fishy.
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