Microsoft's Infrastructure Optimization push gives partners a way to help customers get a handle on their IT investments -- and get a foot in the door on bigger engagements.
"The Infrastructure Optimization framework helps IT professionals organize and communicate the value of technology in business terms. And it helps them work toward achieving maximum value from their solutions."
Brad Hibbert, Vice President of Strategy, NetPro Computing Inc.
The vice president of strategy for Phoenix-based NetPro Computing Inc. has seen two main advantages since NetPro aligned itself with a Microsoft effort to push partners to use IO in customer engagements. According to Hibbert, IO gets customers to use products more strategically and gives NetPro a chance to market and sell its solutions at a higher level of the organization. Where the Gold Certified Partner used to sell primarily to the administrators managing Active Directory, it now targets higher-level IT managers for its change- and access-management tools.
"Many IT professionals understand the value of management software, but they sometimes have a hard time communicating that value and all of the benefits to managers and executives," Hibbert says. "The IO framework helps IT professionals organize and communicate the value of technology in business terms. And it helps them work toward achieving maximum value from their solutions as well."
At its core, an IO approach addresses the frustration of only filling a small part of each customer's IT needs. Through IO, you can take a holistic view of a customer's shop and possibly recommend a total revamp designed for efficiency, productivity and business alignment.
If you're not yet versed in Infrastructure Optimization, start studying. Microsoft is going to require its high-end channel partners to use the framework when approaching large customers, and this year all managed partners must prove their competency in IO.
In fact, IO will increasingly be how Microsoft markets itself. "We have three broad campaigns to IT as a company. One is core infrastructure optimization, one is business-productivity infrastructure optimization, and the third is application platform optimization," says Simon Witts, corporate vice president of Microsoft's enterprise and partner group.
The campaigns for this year are much like last year's. "We just increased the depth. We haven't changed the number of campaigns or indeed their individual focus," he says. "What we do need to do is to highlight this term 'optimize' that goes across all three."
|The Four Stages of IO
You can judge the maturity of an IO initiative by looking at it in four stages: Basic, Standardized, Rationalized and Dynamic.
Basic: Basic is where most IT organizations start, and, unfortunately, where many remain. A basic level IT shop adopts technology on an as-needed basis. For instance, when a Basic shop runs out of processing power or storage space, it tosses in a new server from the low-price vendor of the week.
A Basic shop will often buy software based on price and features, not considering how applications integrate with its infrastructure or fit in with a long-term architectural vision. Any management is done manually. Microsoft calls a Basic IT shop a "cost center." Some are better termed "sink holes."
Standardized: Although only one level above Basic, Standardized is a huge step up. As the name indicates, such shops put thought into buying products that adhere to industry standards and fit into an overall vision of how things ought to work together.
Standardized shops are managed, but they lack the automation of higher-level shops. While a standardized IT shop is still a cost center, Microsoft labels it a "more efficient" cost center.
Rationalized: Here IT systems are managed and well-automated and the company has gone through the process of consolidating key pieces, such as servers and storage. IT is considered a strategic asset and a "business enabler."
Dynamic: In this top level, in Microsoft's view, IT is a "strategic asset" and management is "fully automated."
This hierarchy isn't meant to suggest that all companies should strive to hit the Dynamic level. It's too expensive for some smaller companies; in these cases, it's not worth going beyond Standardized.
Host of Benefits
If you truly get Microsoft's concept of IO, it promises a host of benefits, including new sales opportunities, more strategic discussions with customers and broadening your own IT expertise.
Partners competent in IO will be first to get service leads from Microsoft. "We have about 300 partners that have put specific solutions plans in place around these models. In that sense, we're going deeper with fewer," Witts says. "When it comes to directly engaging us, we need to know who understands this stuff and can get into the details as well. It isn't for the faint hearted."
Microsoft has big hopes for IO, and wants one-quarter of all enterprise accounts to buy into its model. For partners, Microsoft hopes IO-centric conversations lead customers to buy the latest versions through Enterprise Agreements and sales of Enterprise Client Access Licenses (CALs).
|An Array of Optimization Models and Services
Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon is one of the earliest developers of an IT maturity model. Devised by the university's Software Engineering Institute, its model is called CMMI, for "Capability Maturity Model Integration" (originally just Capability Maturity Model). On the surface, this model is more complex than Microsoft's software-driven model, as Carnegie Mellon deals largely with organizations, processes and people.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): MIT's Center for Information Systems Research has a four-level IT operating model. While Microsoft's IO moves in a linear fashion from lowest to the most advanced level, MIT's model bounces around. The MIT's model's levels are:
Diversification -- Quite similar to Microsoft's Basic level, with minimal integration and standardization.
Unification -- There's both maximum integration and standardization.
Coordination -- Great integration, but poor standardization.
Replication -- Poor integration, but great standardization.
IBM Corp.: IBM's IT Transformation and Optimization Consulting Services can help IT organizations create a blueprint to simplify infrastructure, respond to shifting market conditions, align IT with business objectives and even change corporate culture.
Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS): EDS, which has a long history of IT consulting and implementation, offers an array of services under its Infrastructure Services umbrella, from Advanced Meter Infrastructure Solution (which focuses on automating current manual processes) to Data Center Modernization and Workplace Productivity.
Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP): HP has a rich set of offerings, HP Infrastructure Services, covering desktop lifecycle, printing, networking, SOA, mobility, consolidation and more.
"Third parties, such as partners, can play a big role here, particularly if they have some specialized expertise and cross-vendor experience," says Directions on Microsoft analyst and RCP columnist Paul DeGroot. "If you grasp the state of the art in some particular area, such as BI, and you're familiar with what all the major players can do in it, you could probably put together a pretty good optimization model for that area that would help you guide customers to smart decisions. A lot of consultants already do that," DeGroot continues. "The virtue of the process that Microsoft has created is that it formalizes the model and derives a practical assessment from it so that many people, even those without deep expertise, can take it to customers."
Getting started with IO is fairly easy. There's no formal program partners must join and no contracts. Partners can simply learn the model and use it to start developing sales presentations.
While the relationship with Microsoft may be entirely informal, the model itself is highly structured. The company offers a wealth of materials that describe IO. Microsoft also offers partners detailed Customer Engagement Workbooks, which are basically a series of questions that define the overall infrastructure maturity level and help set goals for moving the organization forward.
Getting the Word Out
IT awareness of IO is scarce today, but that should change this year.
Microsoft is pushing four product sets: Business Applications (the Dynamics line and Office business apps), Business Productivity (Office and the Office System), Application Platform (.NET, Visual Studio, SQL Server and BizTalk) and Core Infrastructure (Windows Vista, Windows Server, Forefront and Systems Center). These all map loosely to the three IO models: Application Platform, Business Productivity and Core Infrastructure.
As a result, Microsoft's sales campaigns will pound home the IO theme. There are three customer campaigns this fiscal year, one for each area of the IO model. Each of these campaigns includes sub-campaigns that drill into areas such as virtualization and remote infrastructures. From the partner perspective, the campaigns are designed to help get enterprises to buy into a long-term technical roadmap and the products that get them there and, ultimately, sign Enterprise Agreements.
|The Microsoft Operations Framework
Infrastructure Optimization is linked to the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), which is a model established to ensure that Microsoft-based systems are manageable, reliable and supportable. The MOF itself is based on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). MOF is similar to Carnegie Mellon's Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), which focuses on organizations, processes and people. Instead of hardware and software, MOF seeks to align IT services and people with key business goals. Taken together, the two models cover the major issues an IT shop must deal with.
Microsoft is working to tie its partners into all of these efforts.
"We have three core summits with partners every year: The Alliance Partner Summit, the Worldwide Partner Conference and the Executive Partner Summit," says Microsoft's Witts. "At all of those forums -- for the last three years -- we've updated our partners on how we use [IO] to engage IT, and how they can use this approach. This is a solutions selling approach to IT. You start with capabilities -- not products."
Gold Certified Partners, such as Wipro Ltd., Catapult Systems Inc., Infosys Technologies Ltd. and NetPro Computing Inc., were early supporters of the three-year-old IO model and use it as a framework to help define the business value of their solutions.
Wipro, for example, works with Microsoft on customer assessments and has different approaches depending on the shop's maturity level: Basic, Standardized, Rationalized or Dynamic (see "The Four Stages of IO," p. 31). For Basic and Standardized shops, Wipro runs through a full questionnaire to determine the client's exact state, and then works with the client and Microsoft counterparts to determine future goals.
For shops at the Rationalized level, Wipro focuses largely on plans to migrate IT to the latest in critical software systems and infrastructure. With Dynamic shops, of which there are precious few (Microsoft itself doesn't even claim to be at the Dynamic level), Wipro focuses on building financial models to track and maximize the value of the organization's IT.
A Lesson in Partnership
Registered Member Visual Click Software Inc. is a budding IO ISV partner. In fact, the company sought out Microsoft after it had built a model of how its DSRazor for Windows tool fit into the IO model.
It turns out that Microsoft doesn't have enough people to reach out to every potential partner, so the company is working with partners who in turn will work with other partners.
"Microsoft is delegating this task to systems integrators with whom it has partnerships and providing these integrators with the necessary resources to assist organizations in moving toward optimization," says Mark Green, channel partner manager for Visual Click. "The first step in this partnership is for an ISV to identify its unique selling proposition relative to the IO model. An ISV must recognize and demonstrate how their software 'fills the gaps' and adds value to the model as well as advances an organization's infrastructure."
Interested partners should first get the Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization Partner Kit. This kit includes case studies, videos and access to questionnaires that will help you determine the maturity level of your customers and your own shop.
Microsoft's Witts suggests partners start with the online toolkit (www.microsoftio.com). And, of course, "the partner can work with their Microsoft partner account manager, assuming they're a managed partner either in the small or midsize business or our enterprise business," he says, adding: "It's actually independent of customer size. It's most relevant with big customers because costs come with complexity there, but the model does scale down to midsize customers."
And, like others, he recommends making the IO model your own: "What most partners will do -- and should do -- is build out their own intellectual property on top of [IO]."