With this month's release of Power BI for Office 365, cloud-based business analytics without an expensive barrier to entry is now available to your customers. Providing access to self-service data analytics directly through Excel, Power BI for Office 365 levels the playing field of business intelligence for the SMB market. Smart partners are seizing the opportunity to give those businesses a hand.
BI for SMB
Since the announcement of Power BI for Office 365 at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference last year, forward-thinking partners have been using the preview version to understand the value to customers. Mike Gilronan, SharePoint practice director for the Northeast region at McGladrey LLP, has already been showing clients the potential of the new service.
"There is definitely a wow factor with the visualizations in Power View and Power Map. The demos are immediately striking to our clients," Gilronan said.
As Phil Sorgen, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group, suggested to partners in his recent post on Digital WPC, the opportunity has broad implications.
"This is a business opportunity with customers of all sizes, not just large enterprises," Sorgen wrote. "In fact, in a Gartner survey, 'Analytics and BI' was the #1 ranked technology priority when small and midsize businesses were asked to list their top 3 issues."
Gilronan confirms the shift in market opportunity. "In the past, the upfront cost of BI was a huge hurdle for much of the SMB market. With Microsoft's subscription model, it's much easier to get started," Gilronan said. "Power BI is going to democratize BI, which has been out of reach for a lot of organizations."
Service Opportunity for Partners
While the home page of Power BI for Office 365 proclaims "Self-service Business Intelligence for all your data," that doesn't mean that partners aren't needed. (Note to Microsoft, though: There is currently no link on to PartnerPoint on the Power BI home page.)
Small and midsize businesses, especially those without internal IT departments, will need someone with a clear understanding of data sources to help them get the most value from Power BI. Combining internal and cloud-based data sources will still seem daunting to most of your customers. And, hence, your value.
"There is tremendous opportunity in working with clients to understand the business process, where the data is coming from and how it fits together, especially if the data is coming from multiple source systems," Gilronan explained. "Data integration and data normalization work will be required. That is real data architecture work and qualified partners should reap a windfall."
Power BI for Office 365 gives all partners a better set of tools to support their customers' business processes through the data flow and reporting requirements. For MSPs and pure technical partners, the cloud BI service can be the avenue to move from infrastructure support team to business systems advisor. As usual, Microsoft has put tremendous effort into building training opportunities for partners.
As with any new release, working with the software yourself is key in building expertise and knowing what it can do for your customers. Gilronan noted that McGladrey has been using the Power BI for Office 365 preview internally to build familiarity and learn the potential.
"We are using it for some of our internal staffing dashboards," Gilronan said. "We're giving people the opportunity to look at and play with the data through Power View -- something that you can't do with a static report."
Every one of your customers is collecting more data than ever and most don't know what to do with it. Power BI for Office 365 removes the high cost of entry for small and midsize businesses, making analytics accessible to all. Not all of your customers are going to understand the potential, but for the ones you show the way, you will become a partner in the truest sense.
How are you introducing BI to your customers? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on February 20, 2014 at 12:18 PM0 comments
Packaging services is certainly not a new concept, but it is an idea whose time has come.
Your customers are looking at IT outsourcing from a new perspective. Hardware is no longer a barrier between them and solving their business problems. Technology projects don't seem quite so daunting to take on. Customers want simple-to-purchase, simple-to-execute solutions.
Shrinking Margins, Growing Commoditization
From the technology provider's perspective, margins on software and hardware are drying up and discount cloud providers are transforming desktop services into a commodity. Competing on price is a losing proposition for all but the largest of partners.
Packaged services play well into all of these trends. The primary purpose is to clearly define a set of value-add services that will solve a common business problem for your customer set.
The definition and application of packaged services vary from partner to partner. Some publish pricing for a very well-defined set of service deliverables. A good example from PremierPoint Solutions is "Zero to SharePoint Portal in 20 days." Others take an outcome-based approach, defining the business functions and benefits that a customer will get from the package. An example is from Palmetto Technology Group's "Dental IT Support."
Packaging Helps Customers Justify Investment
Packaging services simplify the buying and delivery process to make the value of IT services easier to understand and justify -- for managed service providers (MSP) to build vertical differentiation in an increasingly commoditized market, for Microsoft Dynamics partners to get their foot in the door without customers risking a full-blown enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation, for system integrators to offer bite-sized service introductions, like business intelligence to appeal to mid-market companies.
MSPs have long known the relationship-building value of packaged services. Get commitment from the customer for a regular service and then build trust to expand the service footprint. All types of partners who historically worked on a project basis can apply these lessons to make the transition to the cloud smoother.
Impact on Profits
The bottom line, of course, is profitability. Do packaged services really deliver increased profits? There is clearly a time commitment to develop and market packaged services. To really impact the business, the packages should be strategic, supporting the long-term vision for the company's direction.
There are certainly more, but following are five ways that packaged services deserve your consideration and time:
- They demonstrate vertical expertise to help you build visibility in your target industries.
- They change the conversation to outcomes, not products, to help you connect with business decision-makers instead of relying exclusively on IT buyers.
- Operational efficiency in service delivery comes through consultants performing the same tasks and training for multiple customers. In vertical markets, support costs come down with common issue solutions learned through experience.
- Repeatable cloud packages mean that you can take advantage of volume discounts with cloud vendors to reduce your cost per customer.
- Packaged services limits risk with customers that are not a good fit for your business. Identify a dysfunctional or financially unstable company before you take on a big project.
However you choose to approach it, developing a set of service packages will help you meet the changing nature of our industry. Success belongs to the specialists who demonstrate the value of their expertise to customers. Packaged services show customers that you understand their challenges and are prepared to deliver the solution.
How are you positioning services differently? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on February 05, 2014 at 3:24 PM0 comments
No product elicits the enthusiasm for training and professional development like SharePoint. People willingly give up family time on Saturdays to share their knowledge of Microsoft's collaboration platform.
Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking yet, the SP24 conference will be held April 16, when SharePoint professionals will gather on a global scale.
For 24 hours, starting at 10 p.m. GMT on April 16 with a keynote delivered by Microsoft Senior Product Manager Bill Baer, SP24 will live-stream two tracks of one-hour sessions devoted to SharePoint. When the conference ends at 11 p.m. GMT on April 17, a total of 48 live sessions covering business and technical topics will have been presented and viewed by a global audience.
As with SharePoint Saturdays, the event is being organized by a dedicated group of volunteers, led by Mark Jones of Collaboris, U.K.-based SharePoint partner. Jones is also founder of the SharePoint Community, whose over 5,000 members provided the inspiration for SP24.
Famous and Crowd-Sourced Speakers
While the final lineup of speakers has yet to be released, the SP24 team is aiming for a combination of SharePoint stars with lesser-known but crowd-supported presenters.
"We'll have well-known speakers from around the world," Jones said. "But there will also be sessions led by speakers who would normally not get the chance. The SharePoint Community is voting on the session submissions to crowd-source the final lineup."
Preparing To Follow the Sun
Over 2,000 SharePoint enthusiasts are already registered for the free event, and promotion has barely begun. Since this is the first event of its kind, estimates are difficult, but the SP24 team is testing scalability to host up to 10,000 "delegates." FPweb.net, an infrastructure provider and a main sponsor, is working closely with the SP24 team to anticipate technical challenges.
To prepare for the potential hiccups of hosting a 24-hour SharePoint-athon, the team sought advice from other organizations that have held similar events. The biggest identified risk is Internet service interruption for speakers delivering from every corner of the globe. To offset the possibility, all sessions will be pre-recorded as a backup.
Throughout the event, eight volunteers will work from a TV-production-quality "war room" to orchestrate operations. U.K.-based speakers can deliver their sessions from the facility in addition to the overall logistical coordination for 24 straight hours.
In keeping with the SharePoint theme of collaboration, SP24 will foster viewer participation during the day. Delegates are encouraged to gather in conference rooms to build on the collaborative atmosphere of a live event.
"We hope to get groups of people from one company to participate together and have a webcam ready," Jones explained. "During the day when we have some kind of downtime, we'll do live streams, asking those groups to tell us how they are using SharePoint."
Each scheduled session will promote participation, as well. The virtual session rooms will include the live streams, speaker profiles and chat rooms so that delegates can ask questions.
Thirst for SharePoint Knowledge
Through volunteer commitment -- from organizers through presenters -- the end goal of SP24 is to provide accessible education for anyone interested in SharePoint. All sessions will be available online after the event, providing a free resource for end users and SharePoint professionals.
"Because of the breadth and size of the product and its importance to most businesses, the community has to continually educate themselves to get the most from SharePoint," Jones noted. "The people in the SharePoint community are so willing to share their knowledge."
How do you share product knowledge with colleagues and users? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on January 23, 2014 at 5:30 AM0 comments
Many traditional managed service providers (MSPs) are still finding their place in the cloud, but others have made significant progress. As the cloud becomes mainstream, how are regional MSPs faring?
One regional MSP serving the Carolinas and Georgia, VC3 Inc., was an early adopter of the cloud. "I believe we are ahead of the curve in the cloud managed services business," said David Dunn, CEO of VC3. "Last January, we crossed the line of 50 percent of managed services revenues coming through our private cloud offering, and we're pushing 60 percent now."
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
Through a private cloud managed services model, the VC3 datacenter hosts its clients' software -- from Exchange to line-of-business applications. "Private cloud looks a lot like the traditional managed services model to the customer," Dunn said. "But we also offer mobility and other features that the midsize customer can only afford to do through a cloud model."
From the 80-person MSP's perspective, the biggest change has been the change in revenue composition. "In the traditional managed services model, you could count on 30 percent of revenue being project-type work. With project and hardware costs, you would never get about 70 percent in recurring revenue," Dunn explained. "With private cloud, you are no longer doing project work at the customer site. It's all built into the price, so we're getting into the 75 to 80 percent recurring revenue range."
Otherwise, the operations of the business in terms of customer support and employee responsibilities are largely unchanged. Telephone and Web-based support that were established over the past several years have served well through the cloud transition. IT professionals still go to customer sites to address user-device issues and deliver consulting services.
Pure Cloud Versus Regional Providers
For many traditional MSPs, the concern in diving into to the cloud has been the prospect of going head to head with pure cloud providers. Different cost structures and revenue models make competing on price impossible.
Dunn sees plenty of competitive advantages for the regional MSP. "The differentiator between traditional MSPs, like us, and the pure cloud providers is that we do have a hands-on presence at the customer. We take responsibility for things on the client side. Even though we are moving our clients to the cloud, we still provide a client touch."
VC3 focuses on several vertical markets that allow it to differentiate through industry knowledge, as well. A significant portion of its private cloud clients need support for their line-of-business apps. Through familiarity with industry-specific applications, the VC3 engineers can solve issues faster than the clients can do it themselves.
Opportunity in 2014
In addition to focusing on execution of the current model, Dunn sees opportunity for 2014 in data security. The proliferation of devices and transportability of data exposes organizational data to more risk. Businesses are just starting to understand the implications of losing control of their information.
"There are some bad practices out there regarding sensitive data, so there is a big opportunity to help customers manage their overall data security," Dunn noted. "From a best-practices perspective, as well as through the tools and technology, we can help clients improve their processes to reduce risk."
The Cloud Realized
As the cloud goes mainstream, it's good to know regional partners are still finding success by building on the basics. Customers are benefiting from centralized hardware management, but still appreciate a knowledgeable hands-on approach. Adding a vertical component to a regional practice adds value to the service equation and differentiates the business. Not the stuff of headlines, but the promise of the cloud is being realized.
How has the cloud impacted your business? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on January 09, 2014 at 2:00 PM0 comments
In a recent blog post, longtime Microsoft channel partner Mike Gilronan describes five distinct phases of the Microsoft partnering experience. Gilronan's slightly tongue-in-cheek analysis, loosely based on the Kübler-Ross 5 Stages of Grief model, provides some useful insights into what both new and established partners should expect from their Microsoft association.
Below is a highly abbreviated summary of Gilronan's stages:
- Stage One: Denial - The frustration that new partners feel learning the terminology and delivering on the "asks" from Microsoft make them question the time investment.
- Stage Two: Despair - The self-doubt that most partners (should) feel in delivering on the promises of a global technology leader.
- Stage Three: Hopeful Performance - Learning, and even using, the channel acronyms, partners build confidence in their ability to become one of those recognized for competence and potential.
- Stage Four: Soaring Execution - The exalted status of a "go-to" partner, connected at the hip through "purple badge" SMEs (virtual Microsoft employee) and earning accolades at the Worldwide Partner Conference. The partner has delivered value to Microsoft customers and is reaping rewards for the business. Personal relationships with Microsoft reps are genuine and mutually beneficial.
- Stage Five: Devolution/Plateau - Complacency, through lack of vision or agility, in embracing the next big thing drags down the relationship. Other partners, hungrier for Microsoft's attention, take over the mindshare once enjoyed.
Gilronan summarizes his post with two pieces of advice for partners. First, there is tangible value to be gained from the partnership by taking full advantage of business development programs and personal relationships with Microsoft field reps. Second, understand how your Microsoft benefactors are goaled and help them achieve their mandates.
The second point is mentioned often in conversations with National Systems Integrators and other successful partners when describing how they build tighter alignment with Microsoft. Microsoft hires smart, driven individuals. Your relationship with Microsoft comes down to working with these individuals. Helping highly motivated people to achieve their goals sounds like a good foundation for building the value of your partnership.
The full text of Gilronan's post is here. For those who do not have 100 percent recall of their Psychology 101 class, here's the link to an explanation of Kübler-Ross Model.
Riding on the Shoulders of a Giant
Gilronan's observations ring true for longtime channel dwellers. Most of us have experienced each of these stages, either through the journey of a single partner or through job changes within the channel. Riding on the shoulders of a giant is not for the faint-hearted, and for the uninitiated, the five stages are valuable to explain the journey. The next time your management team questions the investment into the Microsoft relationship, you may want to show them the progress you've made.
How do you build on your Microsoft partnership? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on December 11, 2013 at 9:02 AM0 comments
It's hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the cloud was a new concept to most and a perceived threat to much of the channel.
While we are still in the formative years of cloud computing, there are trends emerging. The cloud is not a panacea -- the NSA has done a good job of reminding us of that -- but customers are defining how it can help their businesses.
Recently identified as a Challenger on Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Managed Hosting, North America, Peer 1 Hosting works with customers and partners to make the most of the cloud.
"This is an unending journey, not a sprint to a fixed point," said Robert Miggins, Peer 1's senior vice president of business development. "We are making a difference and living up to our mission -- to allow our customers to focus on the possibilities of the Internet and not the problems."
Cloud as Disaster Recovery
The value of the cloud to business continuity has been demonstrated far too often in the past couple of years -- from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy to the Colorado floods. For every size organization, cloud-based disaster recovery plans can literally save the business. The opportunity for partners to help small and large businesses take advantage of the cloud for business continuity, understanding the nuances of evolving requirements, will continue to grow.
For Peer 1, international clients have asked for multi-location datacenters to ensure continuity on a global scale. For some clients, the geographic location of their data is critical to their compliance.
"For example, we have two Tier 3 datacenters in the U.K. and other locations around the world to support enterprise disaster recovery," Miggins explained. "These organizations need a failover to another datacenter, with the assurance of data sovereignty."
As in all opportunities for partners, being able to educate customers on the advantages, risks and options for every service builds value. Partners taking the lead in education will win the business.
The Move to Hybrid
Managed hosting, combined with the ability to burst to the cloud, provides the flexibility that businesses need to capitalize on big data. While bursting to the cloud is not a new idea, it is becoming a mainstream opportunity supporting the interest in big data analysis. The elasticity of the cloud makes it the perfect platform to process very large sets of data.
Hybrid hosting -- a combination of managed private hosting plus access to the public cloud as needed -- gives customers the balance of security and volume. In addition to bursting for data analysis, hybrid hosting is a viable solution for high-volume Web sites and data aggregators.
The Service Layer
For most partners, the big question is how to continue to provide value-add services to customers as they transition to the cloud. Whether it is driven by the cloud, or just a natural progression of our perception of technology, it's clear that businesses want to spend more time focused on their core business operations.
"In the service layer, we are seeing customers ask service providers to take more and more of the responsibility out of their hands," Miggins said. "They would rather focus on building a great app or making an awesome Web site."
There is good news in this for every partner. The cloud is far from mature, but it's progressing. Businesses are getting comfortable with the cloud, figuring out what's in it for them. Partners who continue to educate customers on the potential of the cloud will reap the benefits.
How are you building business on the cloud? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on November 19, 2013 at 1:03 PM0 comments
Since its initial release, SharePoint has always been something of an enigma. In the early days, the common response to "What can SharePoint do for my business?" was "Whatever you want it to." Probably not the Microsoft-sanctioned response, but true enough.
The challenge for many SharePoint partners has been to convince enterprise customers that the solution is more than a document repository. SharePoint 2013 takes a huge leap forward in functionality, and Microsoft has been laying the groundwork to prepare partners for a more structured and strategic approach to deployment in the enterprise.
Bringing Structure to the Message
There have been several attempts to bring structure -- the kind of structure that enterprise organizations want -- to the flexibility of SharePoint. First, with SharePoint Deployment Planning Services, which is still a popular way for partners to help customers create a grander plan for SharePoint's role in the business. Next came Business-Critical SharePoint (BCSP), which, according to Microsoft's Web site, was designed to "improve visibility, productivity and compliance across the enterprise with advanced SharePoint solutions."
"The BCSP premise is that SharePoint can serve as an enterprise-wide knowledge management system or work platform providing a single source of information across the organization," said Eric Riz, executive vice president of Concatenate Inc. "The BCSP value comes through surfacing up business-critical line-of-business data from the legacy systems into SharePoint."
As a SharePoint MVP, Riz dedicates much of his time to spreading the message of SharePoint as a strategic tool rather than a point solution. Over time, his audiences have changed from primarily IT professionals to operations-focused VPs and CEOs.
"SharePoint is a place where business gets done," Riz explains to his audiences. "Understanding that people can complete their job functions in SharePoint changes the perception from a place that you go to get stuff, to the place that you go to do work."
Integrated Collaboration and Communication
Figuring out how to manage the explosion of internal communication options is another hot topic for enterprise organizations. The number of ways -- from IM to Lync to Twitter to Yammer -- that employees can send messages to one another has ballooned, leading to fragmentation. The convergence of Office365, SharePoint and Yammer holds the promise of a uniform platform for enterprise social engagement and communication.
"I think the buyer is becoming more educated on the value of an integrated system of collaboration and communication and Microsoft has recognized that," Riz said. "There has been a paradigm shift from the technical decision to the strategic decision."
While there has been tremendous change in the partner approach and opportunity with SharePoint over the past few years, there is clearly more to come. The shift in conversation from technical to strategic can only be good for partners in finding their place to build value to customers through services.
How are you delivering the SharePoint message? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on November 07, 2013 at 1:03 PM0 comments
It's unlikely that a partner exists who doesn't have a cringe-worthy memory of a project that got out of control and didn't end well.
We may never know the full story of how HealthCare.gov joined the ranks of poorly executed IT projects, but it's pretty easy to imagine -- endless committee meetings, ignored recommendations and unrealistic deadlines.
HealthCare.gov should serve as a vivid reminder to partners that the customer is not always right. You are the expert. You know the planning and execution steps that are required for a successful implementation of the solutions you represent.
The Cloud Accelerates
One of the promises of the cloud is faster time-to-realization. While implementing new solutions quickly is clearly a benefit to customers, the cloud can also tempt quick solutions to complex problems. Solving problems instantly instead of thoughtfully is not a recipe for success.
The mantra from Microsoft that sales velocity must increase for partners to be successful with the transition to the cloud needs to be balanced by a measured implementation approach. Businesses can get hurt when decision makers don't understand the implications of the choices they make. On the front lines, partners have the responsibility to force customers to step back and consider the risks of acting without proper planning.
With strong operational guidelines of your own in place, you can help guide your customers through the temptations of a cloud-based quick-fix. Educate your entire team on the need to always adhere to best practices, like:
- The on-boarding plan. No matter what solutions you offer, having a clear, step-by-step plan for on-boarding can help you guide customers to make better choices. If you don't already have a plan in place, tap into Microsoft training and resources to build it.
- Partner for expertise. Because Office 365 opens the door to far more than just Office -- like SharePoint and Dynamics CRM -- you need to help customers take a broad approach. If you don't have the expertise, partner with providers that have the training and experience to help clients avoid mistakes.
- Project management. Every project, including fixed- and subscription-priced implementations, should have an adequate amount of project management built-in. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Sales accountability. It's never easy to say no to an opportunity, especially when you're the salesperson. Salespeople should have a vested interest in closing sales that are the start of long-term relationships with customers. Compensation based solely on churning transactions will support behaviors not in the best interest of the customer or partner.
The next time you are tempted to give in to the customer's driving need to "just get it done and we'll work out the details later," think about the project managers on HealthCare.gov. They will surely tell you it's not worth it.
What steps are you taking to help customers take a thoughtful approach to cloud solutions? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on October 24, 2013 at 11:09 AM0 comments
What does it really take to start a cloud services business? While the headlines glorify those entrepreneurs who rake in millions from VCs, there are plenty of startups that are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. They choose to own their destiny and build their business -- usually while holding down a "real" job -- one customer at a time.
Building a Base Through Beta
The idea for Winsitter, a cloud service that monitors Windows servers and delivers alerts to busy admins, evolved from Bret Fisher's own sysadmin experiences. Now CEO of Winsitter, Fisher wrote on the first entry of the company blog, "I thought...what if we took the combined ideas of everyone we knew in the biz of Windows Server engineering and built an analysis engine in the cloud? ... What if the analysis engine does all the wizardry and you just get alerts the way you prefer (e-mail/SMS/Twitter/Facebook/Jabber/phone)?"
Now in its second year of beta testing, Winsitter has been building a global user base that provides feedback on its functionality and usability. There is currently no charge for the service, but that will change soon -- which will be the real test of the startup.
All of the progress that Fisher and start-up partner Kevin Griffin, Winsitter's CTO, have made to date has been accomplished through time investment, with no outside funding. Like many entrepreneurs, the team works regular jobs to support their startup habit.
As is clear from Winsitter's Web site, Fisher and Griffin have built a strong group of supporters through a culture that invites participation. It's hard not to root for a company that toasts its supporters on the About Us page: "No sysadmin learns everything on his/her own, so cheers (*clink*) to all those who have helped us over the years to be better computer geeks."
For most startups, Microsoft is not the platform of choice, but Fisher spent his entire career on Windows and wasn't going to change. The entrepreneurs took the route few others have taken by building their cloud service on Windows Azure with Node.js.
"The majority of recently developed business and personal apps have been on Linux or Mac," Fisher noted. "On the Windows side, we are still playing catch-up. I feel like that culture has been lost in the Microsoft world."
While Microsoft's cloud reselling partner model is clear, finding support for Windows-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions is more challenging. As most startup partners know, getting attention from Microsoft team members is not an easy task, but Fisher has found Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) to be effective.
"If you are a SaaS company, it's key to find the right people in Microsoft to help you," Fisher said. "The way that I have been able to find them has been to attend WPC. One week at WPC is more valuable than a year's worth of e-mails and phone calls."
Fisher made another important discovery while at WPC in Houston this year -- Microsoft's Pinpoint partner directory. During a 20-minute visit to the Pinpoint booth, Fisher worked with the Microsoft reps to build the Winsitter profile. "I am now a big advocate," Fisher said. "Since we set up the profile, we get user adds almost every day." A huge benefit of Pinpoint to the SaaS startup is that, unlike pay-per-click, there is no cost for each customer add.
The Journey Continues
The cloud has broken down barriers to entry, but the journey from startup to sustainable business still follows a long, winding road. From designing an appealing Web site to processing payments in multiple currencies, there are countless issues cloud service businesses need to manage. We'll check back over the next few months with the Winsitter team to share more lessons learned.
How are you building your cloud business? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on October 10, 2013 at 4:07 PM0 comments
As more and more customers opt to move e-mail to the cloud, there is a very important question that partners may forget to ask -- but they only forget once.
Not asking for the details about the company's e-mail archive system can be a painful and costly oversight. While transitioning an enterprise or midsize organization e-mail to the cloud takes careful planning, migrating e-mail archives requires in-depth knowledge combined with years of experience.
The Shift to Cloud
Bishop Technologies got into the e-mail archiving business over 10 years ago, when Microsoft Exchange mailbox limits drove the business requirement. Exchange's purpose was to manage e-mail traffic, not store it. For compliance and discovery purposes, businesses had to enlist the help of archiving solutions.
"Fast-forward to today. Microsoft is essentially offering e-mail archiving in the cloud at no cost," noted J.R. Haag, VP of North American sales at Bishop. "There is a dramatic shift. Customers want to move archived data into the cloud."
Since Microsoft does not offer the services to enable those migrations, they look to partners with a history in data archiving like Bishop to help. "Microsoft wants to work with partners that can demonstrate a clearly defined process," Haag added. "They want to set customer expectations from the start."
The Critical Question
Partners working in the enterprise space are likely prepared for the archive data discussion, but the question should be asked before quoting any Office 365 migration: "Do you have an existing archive system? And if yes, what is it?" The second part of the question is as important as the first.
While there are tools to help partners migrate live data from Exchange to Office 365, moving archive data is an entirely different process. Many of the e-mail archiving systems are built on proprietary systems. "These are very complex, time-consuming migrations," explained Haag. "Partners should do their research and find an archiving specialist that knows the source and knows the target. There are probably six firms in the world that can do these migrations. Bishop is one of them."
For both Microsoft and the partner, there is a huge benefit to helping customers house legacy data in Office 365, whether they are using it for live e-mail or not. The commitment to the platform opens the door for limitless opportunities in add on services.
As companies need to search across all of their data, both structured and unstructured, including legacy information simplifies the search and discovery experience. The ability to search data across Exchange, SharePoint and Lync supports legal, compliance and governance activities. This centralization delivers on the promise of the cloud for customers and provides the key to more services for partners.
The Partnering Win-Win
Migrating archived data into the Office 365 environment is not a job for the uninitiated, but the service can build a stronger relationship with your customer. Avoid surprises by asking about legacy archives proactively with full confidence that you can deliver a solution. Partner with an experienced expert, like Bishop, to migrate the legacy data and then build additional opportunities for your business through data management services. A win-win for you and the customer.
How are you adding value to Office 365? Add a comment below or drop me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on September 19, 2013 at 9:00 AM0 comments
There are a group of partners in the Microsoft channel who aren't waiting for universal adoption of Windows 8. Partners who are charging ahead to lead their customers, not follow them, into the next generation.
Businesses are struggling to keep up with an evolving workplace where paper processes and outdated line-of-business software don't work. Partners at the forefront of Windows 8 are already delivering the solutions that support the new workforce.
Ahead of the Curve
One of those partners leading the way is BlueMetal Architects, which earned the U.S. Windows Microsoft Application Acceleration Program (MAAP) Execution Excellence Partner of the Year for its efforts. MAAP provides funding assistance for Microsoft customers who lead their industry in committing to build custom line-of-business or business-to-consumer applications on the Windows 8 platform.
"The MAAP program has enabled us to take the latest technology to clients, delivering on the incredible promise of modern touch applications," said Szymon Rozga, BlueMetal senior software engineer. "Our teams are passionate about early-stage technology and our ability to access and exercise it through our client work."
BlueMetal attributes its success with early adoption to its active engagement with the Microsoft development community. "In 2012 we participated in two code camps, three training engagements, one conference presentation on Windows 8, and contributed to the creation of Windows 8 MCSD exams. We also had two Windows 8 MCSDs on board before the end of the year," said Dmitri Artamonov, senior software engineer at BlueMetal. "When you are this grounded in the community, you have a much deeper understanding of the technologies you're dealing with and therefore are pushing the cutting edge forward instead of lagging behind it."
Tablets Open the Door
The bulk of apps that BlueMetal is building for Windows 8 are designed for tablets, driven primarily by the market. But those apps also help to support Microsoft's aggressive goals to promote Windows tablet adoption in the enterprise. Any partner looking to get Microsoft's attention this year should be tuned into the fact that many a Microsoft employee's 2014 compensation is tied to how much traction Windows tablets can get in the enterprise space.
For most clients, replacing paper processes or aging line-of-business applications are driving the need for Windows 8 apps. A few examples include an app that replaces paper binders for field inspection agents, a timecard app for engineers on remote locations and an insurance adjuster app. Seeing huge opportunity in health care, BlueMetal added an industry expert to the team to build its medical services vertical.
"Another big challenge for our clients is platform fracturing," Artamonov added. "Windows 8 uniquely provides the opportunity to unify the mobile devices in the organization on a single platform, reducing the costs of owning a fleet of mobile devices."
Enterprise Apps as an Extension of Consumer Apps
BlueMetal places a lot of value in the design to meet the higher expectations set by consumer apps. "We really see the next generation of the enterprise app as mobile, data-driven and having a social layer. Like the consumer app that people can't live without. It has a solid architecture and infrastructure, but it is very intuitive and easy to use," explained Sadie Van Buren, BlueMetal's director of marketing. "That is what we see as the future and are working to bring to the enterprise."
User interface design ranks high on the list of requirements to meet those expectations. BlueMetal employs a staff of design experts to add the sophistication in appearance that enterprise apps now demand. Not surprisingly, it's still a challenge to get the budget, but the value of user interface design is gaining more traction.
Partners in the channel like BlueMetal are betting the future on the universal adoption of tablets and Windows 8 in the enterprise. There are clearly plenty of businesses, small and large, that are just getting by on old applications and platforms. Pent-up demand and a much better way of doing business seem to be a good combination of factors to bet on.
How are you promoting Windows 8 apps in the enterprise? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 29, 2013 at 10:18 AM0 comments
The success of Office 365 in the small-and-medium-sized-business (SMB) space is making it a good year for the growing legion of Microsoft cloud partners. To keep that momentum going, building on recurring revenue each year, partners need to answer two questions: How do you help customers get so much value from Office 365 that renewals are a non-event? And what additional services will you deliver to build on Office 365 customer relationships?
For at least one forward-thinking partner in Atlanta, the answer to both questions is the same. The business analytic capabilities of Office 365 give SMB customers access to enterprise-level tools, and give the partner opportunities to make the magic happen.
Not Just for Enterprises Any More
Business analytics used to be the exclusive domain of large organizations, given the significant investments of infrastructure and human resources required to build data warehouses and dashboards. While some partners did build successful businesses around business intelligence (BI), the target market was generally not SMBs.
Joe Treanor, president of RoseBud Technologies, saw the change coming.
"When PowerPivot was released we saw that the capability which had been reserved for the enterprise was going to be available for SMBs. We knew that this presented an opportunity to bring BI to our clients without the big investments in infrastructure," he said.
"It's an exciting time for Microsoft partners to be able to show SMBs how to leverage those capabilities with Power BI," Joe continued. "The more Microsoft drives parity between the capabilities in the cloud and on-premise, the more we'll be able to put enterprise level BI tools in the hands of our clients."
The Value of Office 365
Educating customers about the depth of the Microsoft stack that they can access as part of Office 365 is the first step. Treanor's visits to customers always include explaining how much they can accomplish without any additional investment in software. (For an excellent overview of Power BI for Office 365, check out Kurt Mackie's in-depth article, "First Look: BI for Office 365.")
"All of these tools are part of Office 365. The client owns them and we want those customers to use all the functionality, driving real benefits for their business," noted RoseBud Vice President Greg Treanor. "From the partner viewpoint, the fuller the adoption, the more likely they are to renew at the end of the first year."
The flip side to that point, which should be top of mind for every cloud partner, is that customers who use only the bare minimum of Office 365 functionality may question their renewals. In that light, your role with customers has changed.
The Value of Added Services
"It takes a mental shift for the partner. It's different than the infrastructure approach. The value that the partner brings now has to be in helping customers be more profitable and more successful in the marketplace," Joe said. "Power BI gives you the opportunity to talk to clients about helping them improve day-to-day operations."
When speaking to business executives, Joe finds that reporting is a universal challenge and the perfect entry point to prove the value proposition of Office 365. "Most controllers and CFOs are held captive by software vendors with a fixed set of reports," he said. "When we tell them that we can connect the data from multiple departments and line-of-business applications, they see the value immediately."
As cloud partners build dependence on recurring revenue and new service models, BI for Office 365 can be a powerful tool. No matter what the size of the client, information is the life blood of their business. By helping customers tap into data that has been difficult to use, you add valuable services and help them leverage the full Microsoft Office 365 stack. Definitely a recipe for success.
How are you promoting Office 365 adoption? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 15, 2013 at 11:01 AM0 comments