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Microsoft Stands Firm on MPN Changes for Now

Microsoft's decision last week to offer Gold and Silver tiers to its new partner network has done little to console those who will effectively be demoted due to new certification requirements of the new program.

During a heated session at last week's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., some vocal partners said that if they are forced into Silver designations where they are now Gold, it could hurt their business prospects moving forward.

As reported last week, Microsoft is renaming its competency and advanced competency designations Gold and Silver. But many partners, particularly small and mid-sized ones, could find that they have to make choices between being certified silver or gold in certain competencies.

That's because engineers can no longer double-dip and take on multiple certifications, according to the new Microsoft Partner Network requirements. While that is aimed at eliminating thousands of partners who now game the system, it also is hurting those who believe they legitimately can better serve their clients by allowing engineers to take on multiple certifications.

Take Margaret Johnson, managing director of St. Louis-based Oakwood Systems Group. Oakwood has about 85 people with several different practices including SharePoint, business intelligence and security.

"I have to pick now, do I want a BI competency or do I want a SQL competency, and we look like SQL is less than BI, I think it's ugly," Johnson said during the WPC session. "This really is the ugly part. Differentiation is good but not at the expense of your credibility."

That's not the case, said Janice Crosswell of Microsoft Canada's Corporate Assurance Group. "Silver is better than [the current] Gold," Crosswell said during the session. "When you're talking about some of the math, and I am saying 'I am just Silver,' you are actually rank higher than the [current] gold. There are some more requirements."

That didn't sit very well with much of the crowd: "Customers are never going to know that Silver is now better than Gold used to be," a partner in the session replied. "They see Gold and that's what they see. Many years ago Avis made a great campaign about being number two. We can't prove that number two is better than number one. If it's not Gold, it's not Gold."

Some partners would like to see the effort stopped in its tracks. In an online survey by Redmond Channel Partner, about 30 percent of the 109 respondents wanted Microsoft to proceed as planned with the MPN's full launch in October. Some 27 percent wanted a temporary review, 16 percent wanted a full-scale delay with reworked details and 16 percent wanted Microsoft to start over.

A do-over is not in the cards, Microsoft's new channel chief Jonathan Roskill said in an interview last week. "I haven't heard anything yet that makes me feel like I should stop any trains that are rolling right now," said Roskill, now corporate VP of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Program. "If I was going to, I would have done it before the conference."

Added Julie Bennani, general manager for partner programs at Microsoft in an interview: "It's full speed ahead. We are still going on with those requirements and landing those in October."

Several tweaks were introduced at WPC, and Roskill said he's already considering modifications down the road. "If we said, 'If you could get Gold in three of the five in Core IO, we could give you a Core IO competency. That's one thing that's interesting to think about."

Howard Cohen, Northeast Regional Chair of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners, said, "I think there is a good chance they will ultimately budge. If you look to [Microsoft Partner Network General Manager] Bennani's WPC presentation, she showed six groups of competencies," he said.

"Looking at them, they each constitute a platform group, and I think the first thing they may actually do is to relax that rule so you that can use the same person for competencies within a platform. I think they are more concerned about the platform groups than they are about the individual competencies. Its not that they want to drive up body counts, they just want to make sure the focus is there. The focus there on the platform group is pretty much the whole deal, it doesn't have to be the individual competencies themselves."

Timing is an issue. Roskill indicated he has some latitude to fix it. "Based on what we've heard here, I want to think about tuning things. I don't think we want to change anything before October. Like the solution possibility, that's something we could phase in later if we want," Roskill said.

Cohen contended the issue is more urgent among IAMCP members. "The challenge will still remain for companies that do [things like] infrastructure and messaging. Those two go together but they aren't on the same platform. Relaxing it would be a huge deal; it would get a lot of people breathing again. The panic is still well spread. A lot of people are screaming but I think they are screaming in private," he said.

Beyond the thorny specifics of the competency changes and their timing, Roskill hinted that partners should also expect a fundamental simplification of MPN resources for partners overall.

"I think we need to step back and look at some of the stuff we're putting out and just say how much is this collective ecosystem ready to absorb? What we tend to do is throw more stuff at it, and what then happens is they selectively filter on what they want. What we need to do is step back, go to the customer, and figure out what the right thing is for the customer and then go back and say this is what the customers want. Let's get stuff from the marketing teams that's going to work on that space."

Microsoft wouldn't have to step back, had the company let partners weigh in on the competency changes up front, Oakwood's Johnson suggested. "Why didn't they ask us before they made this change, that's what I want to know," she said. "They make the change and ask us how we feel about it, that's BS."

About the Authors

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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