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In-Depth

Microsoft's New Channel Chief on 'Devices + Services' and the Changing Channel

Phil Sorgen, a veteran of many senior roles in the Microsoft field, was named corporate vice president for the Worldwide Partner Group, replacing Jon Roskill.

Longtime Microsoft senior executive Phil Sorgen is newly installed as head of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, replacing Jon Roskill who held the channel chief role for three years.

Sorgen's immediate experience comes from the heavy-hitting role as corporate vice president, U.S. Small and Midsize Solutions & Partners (SMS&P). He also has international chops for the global position, having served as president of Microsoft Canada. I spent some time on the phone with Sorgen when the change was announced on the next-to-last business day of August. He formally started at the Worldwide Partner Group on Sept. 1. (Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.)

Phil Sorgen: I'm tremendously excited about heading over and taking on this new responsibility. When I think about my set of experiences, and I've been at Microsoft about 17-and-a-half years, every role I've ever really had at Microsoft, probably because of the nature of our business, has either had a direct responsibility for the partner or an indirect engagement with partners to accomplish our goals and objectives. Over those 17-and-a-half years, I became such a fan of the power of partnering. When we bring our best assets together -- their innovation with our innovation, their capabilities with our capabilities, their solutions with ours -- there isn't a greater value created in the market. Having become such an advocate for that, I couldn't think of a better next assignment at Microsoft then to lead this charter globally.

Scott Bekker: You mention the experience with partnering you've had over the years. When you think back on that, what were some of the best examples where you were working together with partners in the past to create something?
PS: There are three or four scenarios that come to mind. One of the most important ones that I've seen make the biggest difference for our customers and the biggest difference for Microsoft -- and, candidly, accelerate our partners' success, as well -- has been around scenarios where vertical expertise is critically important to either enabling the solution or implementing the solution. So I'd put it in one bucket, the vertical expertise that some of our partners bring to their solutions, whether they're a systems integrator or they're an ISV.

Another category I'd say is incredibly important is as companies make investments in technology and try to advance how they're utilizing that technology, they need capabilities that partners have to augment or literally run the implementation. So a company's time-to-benefit is accelerated significantly by the capabilities that our partners have, especially in the areas of implementation, systems integration and just knowledge transfer.

"I became such a fan of the power of partnering. When we bring our best assets together, there isn't a greater value created in the market."

Phil Sorgen, Corporate VP, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft

The third area where I've seen just tremendously effective capabilities is where we have so many solutions now that run the gamut from business applications to infrastructure to app dev, and partners are phenomenally good at bringing that together, at being the glue across our solution scenarios. Things that in some -- especially large -- customers that could be siloed in their organization, a partner has the ability to bring it together. In smaller organizations, the companies don't always have that expertise that crosses all of those pillars, and that's where partners play a tremendous role.

When Microsoft is doing its best with a partner is when we're engaging early and communicating openly and making sure we bring their best go-to-market capabilities with our best to bring that solution right up front to the customer.

SB: Microsoft has traditionally sorted its partners in certain categories: VARs, SIs, LARs, distributors, hosters, ISVs. Do you consider those to be still valid categories as you're thinking about the channel, or are you starting to think about the Microsoft channel along slightly different lines?
PS: There's unquestionably a blurring of partner definitions that have historically been [used] in the industry. I'm not going to say that there's never a time that categorization isn't valuable. But I think when we look at a set of partners, to think that every partner fits into a single categorization is the wrong way to think about it. We're driving much more aggressively to a solution orientation to ensure where partners span or play different roles at different stages of the value equation that they'll be able to participate appropriately. So to net out the answer: I do think there's a time for categorization, but there's a clear blurring of the lines that we have to respect and support and embrace as partners span more solution areas.

SB: Along those same lines, when you look at the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), how well do you think that structure is working right now both for Microsoft and for partners?
PS: Our deliberate focus of the Microsoft Partner Network has to be aligned to our vision, and we have what I'd call a bold and attainable vision to transform our company into a "Devices + Services" company. At the same time, we're going to continue to evolve our partner program to support and enable that vision because we believe deeply that there's a great opportunity in the marketplace for our partners as they embrace that vision. As this industry is transforming, as Microsoft is transforming, there will inevitably be transformations in all programs, as well.

SB: What will partners be doing differently in partnering with a "Devices + Services" company than they were doing partnering with Microsoft before?
PS: The first thing I'd say is because "partner" is not a single entity, even the answer will mean different things based on the different capabilities that a partner will have. But I think there are some things that partners will do today that they'll be doing two years from today that they'll be doing five years from today that are consistent with their business models as they have them. I think there are also many new capabilities enabled by the proliferation of greater mobility and devices that come in various form factors that are changing the way consumers -- and I say that in a commercial sense -- are consuming technology and realizing the benefits of applications and the way organizations are implementing IT in the cloud, on-premises and in hybrid scenarios. When you see where that technology is going, it's going to enable many new scenarios and many new capabilities for our partners, and we see that for ourselves, as well, so we're trying to make sure that vision of devices and how end users consume is connected to how companies are implementing in the cloud, on-premises and in hybrid scenarios. We want to make sure we're bringing our partners with us to capitalize on that opportunity.

There are definitely some elements of it that will be consistent with our current business models, but at the same time, there are some very interesting opportunities available to partners that are changing. The thing I'm learning is you have to start investing now. When these kinds of capabilities hit that tipping point, if you just start investing then, you're going to be behind the curve.

SB: When you're talking about those sorts of opportunities and the capabilities that partners need to invest in and develop, what kinds of things are you talking about there?
PS: Let's use a couple of partner scenarios. In application development, end users are consuming applications from many device types, from tablets to convertibles to ruggedized devices out in a field environment or sterile devices in health care. We need to say there's a great opportunity for partners to evangelize across that device category, and Microsoft is bringing out solutions that span all of these device types. We want to make sure that represents an economic opportunity to bring greater value to partners.

If you think of infrastructure, how you manage and implement across a private and public cloud scenario and enable those scenarios is going to be critically important.

For companies going right to the cloud and implementing SaaS [Software as a Service] or Infrastructure as a Service [IaaS] kinds of solutions, there's implementation capability, managed services... all of these things are creating new economic models for partners to recognize. First, we want to make sure Microsoft is the greatest partner for those solution areas, both through our technology and the way we engage. And, second, that we're helping bring them with us and sharing what some of those economic opportunities are.

It's why I think at the [Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July], some of the work we did with IDC to make sure we're articulating the economic value that the cloud represents, as an example, is really important.

SB: What's some of your experience before Microsoft?
PS: I'm probably a little unique. I've worked for two companies in my career. Seventeen-and-a-half years at Microsoft and about seven years at AT&T, NCR...they went through a few mergers. That was the company I started with after graduate school. At AT&T it wasn't in the data-networking side. As a matter of fact, at the time we were a big Microsoft partner. So I worked for a very large systems integrator as a Microsoft partner implementing Microsoft solutions for many of my customers.

SB: What have been some of your previous roles at Microsoft?
PS: I've been blessed by this company to be given the opportunity to do a wide range of things. My experience first and foremost has been in sales and marketing. I've always been in the subsidiaries. I believe deeply that our customers and our partners are our North Star, and we need to make sure we think like that every day. I've been in enterprise sales as an account manager and as a sales manager. I've run our SMB [small to midsize business] and field marketing organizations, responsible for VARs and field marketing and partner marketing. I was a general manager in our Gulf Coast district based down in Houston, which really spanned the majority of the Microsoft businesses. I ran sales operations for the U.S. for a few years on the U.S. Leadership Team. I went to Canada, and I was the president of Microsoft Canada for almost four years, where I had responsibility for all aspects of the Canadian business. Then I came back and took over the U.S. SMS&P job for the last four years until now.

SB: Is there anything from, either the time at U.S. SMS&P or at Microsoft Canada, where there were things you were thinking that the Worldwide Partner Group could do for you? I'm sure you had great lines of communications, but is there anything you could bring to the Worldwide Partner Group that will help all the subs?
PS: I wouldn't look back and say that something I didn't have in one of my prior roles is my motivation for what I will try to bring in this new role. I think my experiences of running a subsidiary, engaging with partners in the last mile of sales execution, building go-to-market plans with many partners across every partner type and across every size business from small business to enterprise -- I think that experience in general will be invaluable to making sure that we have a long-term partner program that ultimately fulfills first the needs of our customers, and secondarily continues to create a rich ecosystem of partners that are profitable and successful on the Microsoft platform. That set of experiences is a good fit for this role.

SB: Are there any changes to announce in your leadership team at the Worldwide Partner Group?
PS: I have no changes at this time. I look forward to engaging with them. Technically, I start in two days. Fortunately, I'm leaving a role that engaged extensively with the Worldwide Partner Group. I was on the Worldwide SMS&P Extended Leadership Team, and I worked with that team quite often. While I'm going over there to work with them, they're not strangers to me, and I look forward to engaging with them in my new capacity.

I believe deeply in the value of partnering and have watched this company grow so much and go through many transformations. In every one of those transformations our success has always been through the broad engagement with partners, and I look forward to focusing on that deeply in this new capacity.

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