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Beyond Exchange Migrations, Governance Is an Emerging Partner Opportunity

Microsoft Exchange migrations are a hot topic right now. Microsoft's new Office 365 FastTrack Onboarding service has raised concerns of a diminished role for partners in the transition to the cloud (see "Microsoft Takes Some Office 365 Deployments In-House"). But there are ISVs and partners feeling bullish about the services clients need that follow and augment the migration process.

Gartner has even chimed in to recognize a growing need for solutions that address the age-old problems of e-mail, including information governance and e-discovery.

Migrations as a Beginning
As evidenced by the Office 365 FastTrack Onboarding service, Microsoft is just as focused on user adoption as it is on sales. Reducing the barriers to migrating data to the cloud means that more companies give users access to both current and historic e-mails in one place.

Dan Langille, vice president of business development for Bishop Technologies, agrees with the strategy. "The value to the partner is in getting the customer into the cloud faster. You add value through Yammer, CRM Online, SharePoint Online, and wrap services around those with Windows Intune and StorSimple for backup and recovery."

For Bishop, an additional opportunity comes through replacing its clients' in-house archiving solutions. "In the early days, Exchange wasn't built to house large quantities of e-mail data, which is why the archive tools were born," Langille said. "The model was to move Exchange data to an archive. Users could have as much data as they wanted, they just had to go to the archive to get it. With [Microsoft] Azure and Office 365, it has come full circle. It's no longer move to manage. It's manage in place."

"When we are migrating an archive, it's not uncommon for us to be putting tens or hundreds of terabytes of compressed data into the cloud. That's about 60 terabytes uncompressed," he also noted. "That's a lot of unstructured data to manage when you are used to controlling it through a third-party archive."

Opportunity in Information Governance
To respond to the need for information governance in the cloud, Bishop has partnered with Acaveo. Recognized by Gartner in its recent report, "Cool Vendors in Information Governance and MDM, 2014," Acaveo's flagship Smart Information Server (SIS) product enables IT teams to analyze and control large unstructured data volumes.

The Gartner report predicted that information governance is poised to become a top IT issue. "Massive data growth, new data types, litigation, regulatory scrutiny and privacy/information risks have all created an urgent need for information governance," the firm said.

Acaveo's timing was fortuitous. "We launched [SIS] about a year ago and within a few weeks of announcing the product to the world, Gartner identified a new technology category that is aimed at giving companies actionable understanding of their internal, employee generated data," said Geoff Bourgeois, CTO of Acaveo. "Since then, Gartner forecasts that this new technology category is in the early stages and will progress through the technology maturity curve."

Two-Fold Partner Opportunity
Langille believes that Acaveo provides two paths of opportunity in working with clients on cloud readiness. The first is in replacing third-party archives. Clients are anxious to get rid of on-premises archives because of the ongoing licensing expense, as well as the time required to manage them. Bishop has over 200 existing clients who still depend on third-party archives. SIS provides those clients with a solution to effectively manage in place, so they don't have to deal with another silo of data.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, SIS offers enhanced e-discovery functionality. "The e-discover program allows us to do an assessment on the client's unstructured data," Langille said. "It deploys in a matter of minutes, which is an important success factor in the cloud world. We find that the IT folks are often shocked by what data is out there, like SharePoint sites that they didn't know existed. It's a real eye-opener and the often say, 'I'm really glad we brought you in.'"

SIS also allows partners to offer a solution to the issue of data proliferation. "We can also implement a defensible deletion strategy to get rid of data that is duplicate or trivial. Statistics show that upwards of 60 percent of data is outdated, redundant or trivial. That's data you don't have to retain on-premise or move to the cloud, which saves them money," Langille explained. "Secondly, if they do end up in a legal case, SIS sits upstream of the discovery process and reduces the data going through the discovery service. That can provide huge savings, since every gigabyte of data going through the discovery process can cost 18,000 to 30,000 per gig."

SIS provides visualization and collection of the identities, data and permissions across Box, Office 365, SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Exchange Server and file shares. For Bishop, SIS helps the company provide clients with actionable insights into the unstructured data that resides in the cloud and on-premises. The reality of information governance may finally have arrived.

For some partners, Exchange migrations are seen as the end of a process. For others the migration is just the start. "Information governance" is certainly not a new term, but we may be hearing it a lot more, as a growing number of organizations need to take a unified approach to unstructured data spanning across cloud, on-premises and everything in between.

How are you helping clients address information governance? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 10, 2014 at 9:57 AM0 comments


Microsoft's Cloud Focus Giving On-Premises Customers Pause

Microsoft's "cloud first" mantra is prompting some business decision makers to step back and pause before making licensing commitments.

Faced with Microsoft's promise that cloud applications will get priority in functional improvements, is there growing motivation for customers committed to on-premises deployments to take a wait-and-see approach to software licensing?

In response to my recent post, "Microsoft Takes New Tack in Pushing Partners to Cloud," Paul DeGroot, a licensing expert and senior consultant at Software Licensing Advisors, commented that he was not seeing wide cloud adoption from his clients.

"The push to the cloud is actually causing most of my enterprise customers to back away from Software Assurance (SA, which is 90% to 99% of what customers pay when they renew a volume agreement)," wrote DeGroot in response to the post. "The reason -- they don't need or want the cloud now, but they're concerned that further investments in on-premises software will not be worthwhile, since MS is 'cloud first' and will not focus on upgrading on-premises products."

An intriguing observation, so I followed up with DeGroot to dig deeper into the subject.

"We do a lot of work in the space of 1,000-2,000 PCs, as well as larger enterprise clients," DeGroot said. "These folks are just not interested in the cloud. I hear all the buzz, but I have only had one customer move seriously to the cloud -- and it made a lot of sense for them."

Most of the clients that DeGroot works with hold Enterprise Agreements (EA), the go-to licensing vehicle for organizations with 250 desktops or more. With payment amortized over three years, the decision to renew comes under review in the third year. EA customers are encouraged (to put it mildly) to renew by strongly incented Microsoft field sales personnel.  

According to DeGroot, Microsoft's cloud-first focus creates uncertainty in the minds of customers with on-premises deployments. Microsoft has clearly stated that it is focused on building software functionality in the cloud. If on-premises applications are not going to receive attention, where is the incentive to upgrade?

In addition, the highly competitive cloud services landscape -- and the associated price wars -- certainly doesn't motivate companies to make long-term commitments.

With so much in flux, is a three-year commitment still a reasonable expectation?  

Since even the most optimistic estimates from Microsoft suggest that 25 percent of enterprise customers are actually using Office 365, there is still a large segment of the business community with their operations still firmly planted on-premises. There are many valid and continuing reasons that customers are not ready to make the move to the cloud, from industry regulations to control over upgrades.

"For a lot of our customers, they have decided not to renew their SA. They will wait for two or three years and see what happens," DeGroot said. "Many have just moved to Office 2010 and will be on it until 2018. They will do just fine with it and then take a look at the environment. They can afford to wait as they amortize their current investment."

The transition to the cloud is clearly a driving force in our industry, but it's still not for everyone. To remain relevant, Microsoft's software development and licensing strategy has to meet customer's current needs, not just the expected future state. Over the coming year, business customers will surely let Microsoft know how they are doing as the decisions to renew license agreements are made.

Are your customers pausing on their license purchases or SA renewals? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 21, 2014 at 9:18 AM0 comments


The 3 'R's of Building Service Opportunities in Existing Accounts

Every business owner knows that it's easier to sell additional services to a current customer than to acquire a new one. But when your consultants visited client sites every month, it was easier to follow the business' growth and proactively identify needs. Now that cloud solutions and remotely delivered services minimize face-to-face contact, partners need to take a more formal approach to account management.

With nearly a decade of experience managing customer accounts, Nadia Isata, customer sales manager at BroadPoint Technologies, believes that following the three "R"s -- clearly defining roles, doing your research and building C-level relationships -- provides the foundation for a successful existing customer sales program.

Clearly Defined Roles
The job titles, as well as where the position fits in the org chart, for existing client account managers vary across the channel. Whether it's an account manager reporting to sales or a client service specialist reporting to consulting, the critical piece is in defining the job's responsibilities both internally and externally.

"It is imperative that the entire team understands the responsibilities of the account manager," Isata explained. "Account management is much more than just collecting license renewals. The goal is to build a position that will serve as a trusted advisor role for the client. Differentiating the role from the consulting staff is critical."

By introducing and defining the account management role early in the sales cycle, customers will understand how they will work with you once the initial project is complete. The account manager can be positioned as the client's primary point of contact to simplify their experience with your team. Setting expectations of a long-term relationship that involves more than just the collection of license fees sets the stage for more services.

Do the Research
As with any sales role, it takes initiative to be a great account manager. "Often times, we are pigeonholed as renewal collectors," Isata tells account managers. "It's up to you to research the client base. Take the time to research their industries and their specific business. It's critical that you understand their challenges and how you can assist them."

Doing research includes staying up-to-date on the solutions that your company offers. As opposed to sales reps who may specialize in a solution, account managers need to have a working knowledge of all the solutions and their business use cases. Investment in the education of account managers will pay off in uncovering larger service opportunities.

Research also allows you to prioritize accounts to determine how much time and energy you should spend. Rank and categorize accounts in line with the revenue potential. In Isata's case, "Each one of my assigned clients gets at least an annual review visit. For larger clients, we may meet quarterly to check in on the roadmap that we developed in the annual meeting."

Build C-Level Relationships
Another piece of advice that Isata offers account managers is to "get out of your comfort zone." To earn a position of trusted advisor for clients, account managers need to move up in the organization. While the entry point for most account managers may be users or the accounting team, executives are the ones who are making the strategic decisions.

"Make your way to the top of the food chain," Isata said. "Schedule time to review the account to make sure that you include the executive. You can bring a consultant from your team to dig into details, but you need to get in front of the C-levels. As long as you understand the value you want to deliver, you can be confident building those relationships.

So Much More than Renewals
As partners look to expand service revenue opportunities, existing customers should be at the top of the list. An effective account manager who is focused on cultivating deeper relationships with clients will uncover more service opportunities and build your value to the client. To ensure that your account manager succeeds, clearly define responsibilities and fill the role with someone who has the initiative to do research and build C-level relationships. 

How are you selling more services to your existing clients? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 06, 2014 at 1:57 PM0 comments


Microsoft Takes New Tack in Pushing Partners to Cloud

An underlying theme of every message to partners at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) this year was, "If you haven't started the transition to the cloud, you are going to be left behind."

The directed message, delivered during the keynotes and sessions, suggests that there is a good chunk of the partner community that is still not on board. Microsoft clearly wants to change that, but instead of the Ballmer-esque get-off-your-butt-and-do-it approach, we saw a kinder, gentler strategy.

Cloud Partners Tell the Story
Microsoft took a positive approach to the cloud conversation by, in large part, letting partners tell the story themselves. The avalanche of partner testimonials may partly be a reflection of the maturity of the cloud market. Early adopters have been in the cloud services business long enough to actually have best-practice advice to share. In every keynote and session, partners were brought on stage to validate the message.

Also released at WPC was a follow up to last year's IDC cloud partner research. "Successful Cloud Partners 2.0: Planning For Your Cloud Business" is a much more comprehensive and action-oriented e-book than the 2013 version, "Successful Cloud Partners: Higher, Faster, Stronger." Commissioned by Microsoft, the IDC e-book presents a very compelling case based on partner experiences, adding practical advice that will help partners build on lessons learned.

The e-book provides insights from those partners who have successfully navigated the cloud and recommends specific actions for all aspects of the business, including marketing, sales, managed services and intellectual property. Based on a survey of 700 partners, as well as 20 in-depth interviews with successful cloud partners, this e-book is far more than the standard self-serving vendor propaganda. Every partner, whether they have moved to the cloud or not, will find practical advice and guidance to build or fine-tune their cloud practice.

New Programs To Support Cloud Transitions
If the data points and the advice from successful partners aren't enough, programs that will help "underwrite" transitional costs were announced in the WPC keynotes. Gavriella Schuster, making her first appearance as the general manager of Worldwide Partner Marketing and Programs for Microsoft, dedicated her entire keynote to convincing those partners not yet on board.

"We heard from you that making that first year's investment is difficult. It takes a lot of investment. You have to invest in skilling up your people. You have to rethink some of your sales compensation, change up your business model and create new service offerings," Schuster said.

She promised three new performance-based cloud competencies, adjustments to competency fees, increased internal use rights and free Signature Cloud Support, which provides unlimited cloud support to partners who achieve a Silver cloud competency level. All in an effort to get hesitant partners to take the first step.

John Case, corporate vice president of the Office division, also announced the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider Program, which will allow partners to directly provision and provide one monthly bill with partner and Microsoft services together. Office 365 and Intune will be the first services to be supported, with Azure and CRM Online rolling out later this year. This program takes a big step in simplifying the billing processes that have been confusing customers and vexing cloud partners the past couple of years.

The cloud message was loud and clear at WPC, but the approach was very different this year. If Microsoft is going to complete its own transition to the cloud, it needs the help of partners. The company has tried the strong-arm approach in the past, but the focus now is on appealing to the logic and wallets of partner business owners. It will be interesting to watch the results over the coming year.

How are you making the transition to the cloud? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 23, 2014 at 8:45 AM0 comments


Partner Nets Quality Recruits Through Community Involvement

The technical skills gap presents challenges to all growing partners, and even more so for those partners whose services require strict adherence to regulatory requirements.

One Microsoft managed services provider (MSP) whose customers include strictly regulated customers like financial institutions and medical organizations is meeting the challenge through active engagement in the community and classes at the local university.

The Challenge of Finding Great Candidates
The high performance 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) services provided by ClearPointe, a gold systems management and server platform partner based in Little Rock, Ark., require responsive, experienced employees to deliver on their service level agreements (SLAs). As one of only six accredited Master MSP NOCs in the world, ClearPointe makes recruiting top-level talent a high priority.

"The secret to success is finding the right candidates who understand both technical concepts and proactive management," said Bob Longo, executive VP of sales and business development at ClearPointe. "We also need those candidates to meet our security requirements, which includes thorough background checks."

A Community Approach
To increase the pool of local talent, ClearPointe has taken a community approach to build connections with business and education leaders. "Certainly, we want to promote our business, but we also want to promote the local economy," Longo said. "Arkansas unfortunately loses a lot of great candidates to out-of-state organizations. The more that we can offer opportunity here, the better for our community."

Through personal relationships built during active participation in regional groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the ClearPointe executives made clear their interest in giving back to the community. Through programs like the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce leadership program, executives connected with education leaders on a personal level. Offering to work with students opened the door to discussions about teaching a class at the local university.

"Over the course of five years we have taught three courses, fine-tuning the curriculum over time," Longo said. "We are helping the university by giving students real-world insight, which will open doors for them. They learn about cloud services, SLAs and proactive management."

The most recent class, "Cloud and Distributed Network Management," introduces Microsoft Azure and System Center to students. All the classes have been taught by John Joyner, ClearPointe's senior architect and a Microsoft MVP.

"It is a significant investment, dedicating the time of a senior professional, but we are also building goodwill," Longo said. "Giving back to the local economy is part of our corporate responsibility. We want to help keep talent in our state and raise the standard of living for everyone."

The Bottom Line
To date, four students have been hired by ClearPointe as a direct result of the university courses. Those new NOC employees, including one minority and one woman, go through a comprehensive training and apprenticeship program.

In addition to new employees, working inside the university environment has given ClearPointe first-hand experience with the education market -- a vertical it serves. Credibility earned through its relationship with the university is a differentiator in the market.   

To bridge the technology skills talent gap, partners need to take a creative approach to find qualified candidates. Taking a win-win approach that brings tremendous value to the local community, ClearPointe has established a pipeline to identify and recruit top talent.

How are you bridging the talent gap? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 09, 2014 at 11:54 AM0 comments


WPC Tips from Microsoft's Sales Specialist of the Year

Getting the most from the four days of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) is in large part learned through experience. So, how do the most-experienced Microsoft channel players plan their time?

The 2014 Microsoft Sales Specialist of the Year, Geno Cenci, national practice director of ePlus Inc., agreed to share his strategy for WPC, including the topics he's interested in and how he'll spend his time.

This will be Cenci's 14th WPC, so he knows that pre-planning is critical to make the most of short time. "Each partner's business is unique, so it's important for your whole team to go with a clear definition of what topics, ISV solutions and partnerships are most important to your business," Cenci said.

Cenci shared the topics that he will be focusing on at WPC and why he thinks they are important:

  • Big Data: This is a huge issue for companies and great opportunity for partners. The demand and growth for data storage continues to grow. Partners should be listening for the big data trends that affect the types of services that they deliver to clients. The issues for the SharePoint shop are different than they are for the MSP. Focus on what your clients need.

  • The Internet of Everything: Where is all the data that companies are collecting being managed and how are they going to put it to use? Partners need to be looking at the big picture, the company's whole environment, and helping them to put it all together with a cohesive strategy.

  • Mobility: Mobility is always one of the top three things that our customers are thinking about. From sales teams to their own customers, companies are trying to figure out the best way to manage and secure mobile devices. Partners should be looking for the latest developments around data access and security to help their clients develop a mobility strategy.

  • Office 365/Microsoft Azure: This one is a no-brainer because so many companies are moving Exchange and Office to the cloud. Getting these basic workloads in the cloud frees IT teams to focus on more important things. Partners need to be on board with cloud.

  • Social Media: We are still in the infancy of social media, but it's growing. I think we are all still trying to wrap our heads around the where social will fit in -- not only for our customers, but in our own businesses. How do we take the next step with social media? That's what I will be listening for.

ISVs and partnering
"I have a list of 12 vendors that I will make a point to visit," Cenci noted. "I just want to check in with key vendors to see if there is any new technology or other developments that I need to be aware of."

In addition to attending sessions on his chosen topics, Cenci takes full advantage of networking opportunities and walks the expo floor to take the pulse of the channel.

"Some established partners tend to stay in their own box," Cenci said. "There is so much opportunity to establish alliances that build your brand and joint opportunities. No partner can do it all alone. WPC is a great time to find complementary partners that you can team up with to expand your solution set and win deals."  

From the Microsoft Leaders
The messages coming from the new leaders of the channel will certainly be a priority for most partners. Cenci recommends that partners listen to the leaders in terms of their own business.

"What action items are you taking away from WPC based on the vision that Satya [Nadella, Microsoft CEO,] provides?" he said.

Looking to Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of Worldwide Partner Group, Cenci hopes that he will clearly explain how he is going to enable partners to grow revenue and their bottom line, and what tools and strategies Sorgen will be focused on in the coming year.

Take a lesson from the top sales professional in the Microsoft worldwide partner channel and go to WPC well-prepared. Identify the topics that are important to your customers and your business. Align your sessions, ISV connections and networking with those topics, but find time to walk the expo and look for new opportunities. Leave with specific action items to execute on your own vision.

How are you preparing for WPC? Add a comment below or send me a note and let 's share your story.

For more WPC-related news, blogs and analysis, visit our WPC 2014 page here.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 18, 2014 at 11:52 AM0 comments


Set Your Game Plan for the Worldwide Partner Conference

No matter how many times you attend the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), the week feels a bit like a carnival ride -- exhilarating, but over before you know it. With the month before WPC focused on closing business for Microsoft's year-end, it's often hard to find the time to plan ahead. You know you should and now is the time to lay out your plans to make the most from the whirlwind of WPC.

"You need to go to WPC with a strategy," says Christian Buckley, SharePoint MVP and chief evangelist for Metalogix. "With a firm grasp of what you want to accomplish, you'll know what sessions you want to attend, which vendors to see and which Microsoft meetings you want to set up. And, you should start as early as possible."

Face-Time with Microsoft
One of the top reasons that partners attend WPC is the opportunity to get mindshare from Microsoft product and sales team members. As an ex-Microsoft employee, Buckley offers advice to partners trying to get the attention of Microsoftees.

"The best way to connect with a Microsoft person is to understand how their job success is measured and align your asks with their metrics. When you can help them meet their metrics, they have a vested interest in helping you succeed," Buckley said. "Go into the meeting with specific asks for your business, but be clear on the benefits that you bring to Microsoft." 

Buckley recommends leveraging your partner account manager to help you figure out who you should see at WPC and get insight into what their metrics are likely to be. Monitor and participate in Microsoft Partner Network Yammer community conversations to learn all you can about what is driving Microsoft teams and what kind of partner participation they are looking for.   

"If you want to meet with product teams, sales or service folks within Microsoft, you need to start early to get on their calendars," Buckley added. "Their dance cards fill up fast."

Partner-to-Partner Connections
With your strategy set, you can search for partners and ISVs through Connect to request meetings. When you are requesting a meeting, clearly explain the purpose and potential benefits of the meeting. Time is limited at WPC and the value of a meeting may not be as obvious to others as it is to you.

As always, the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) will have a strong presence at WPC to help you connect with other partners. Let your chapter know that you are attending so you can take advantage of all the networking opportunities. MPN Yammer communities offer additional ways to learn about and connect with partners and ISVs in your interest areas before July. If you want to build your visibility in a community, ask questions and contribute to conversations.  

Don't Overschedule
While you want to have a clear plan for the week, don't tie yourself down too much. Walking the Expo floor is a valuable part of the WPC experience and can lead to valuable but unexpected opportunities.

Buckley offers a few final bits of advice:

  • Don't miss the keynotes to hear the big announcements from Microsoft. The news may affect what you planned to get from WPC.

  • Be persistent. Schedules are fluid and even if you can't get the meeting that you want now, something may open up. Keep going back to Connect.

  • There will be ISVs at WPC that don't have a booth in the Expo. Keep an open mind; they may have a solution that is a good fit.

WPC will be here and gone before you know it. With a plan, you can make the Microsoft and partner connections that will add real value to your business. Make sure the money and time you spend on WPC provide returns that last the whole year.

What's your best advice for WPC? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 04, 2014 at 8:16 AM0 comments


Microsoft Partner Makes the Shift to 'Internet of Things'

The emerging opportunity for partners to help their customers tap into the Internet of Things (IoT) was recently confirmed by Microsoft's addition of the Intelligent Systems competency.

The cloud play for IoT -- providing a secure place for all the data to live -- is an obvious partner opportunity, but the service opportunities are where it gets really interesting. As always, there are partners who are leading the way to help solve business problems and take advantage of the latest technology.

A Shift in Thinking
Emily Lynch, VP of marketing at Catapult Systems, a multi-gold Microsoft National Systems Integrator (NSI), is uniquely qualified to talk about the shift in thinking that IoT requires. Before moving into enterprise sales and marketing, Lynch was a chemical engineer in the field of manufacturing automation. She's also spent time in China, where IoT is further along the adoption curve.

"The concept of Internet of Things has existed for a long time in the manufacturing world, with distributed control systems gathering data from sensors in thousands of locations," Lynch noted. "The current idea of IoT is just an expansion of that idea. We are gathering intelligence from devices and sensors -- everything from building temperatures to your pet's whereabouts."

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's "Internet of Things" infographic.

With the growing ecosystem of IoT collecting more and more data, businesses must find the ways to interpret and put that information to work in a usable form.

"At Catapult, we are learning how to shift our thinking," Lynch explained. "Gathering intelligence from hundreds of different endpoints, we need to build applications that can combine that intelligence and deliver it to help businesses make better informed decisions. We are just getting started imagining the possibilities."

User-Focused Services
Catapult's clients are recognizing their ability to store and access large quantities of data in the cloud, which is driving a move to Microsoft Azure. Since that data is coming from different systems, integration services lead the initial customer-requirement discussions. But the real change in service delivery supports end user data consumption.

"We are growing our user-centered design practice at Catapult. Projects are getting extended to create the appropriate dashboards or slimmed down workflow applications for the end user in the field," Lynch said. "IoT is worthless for all for us if it doesn't drive efficiency. And you can't drive efficiency if you don't have adoption. User-centered design is the big lever in the proliferation of IoT."

Catapult is making inroads with clients, building real-world evidence. In one project for a multi-state car dealership, Catapult is tapping into the IoT for processes across the business. Handheld devices allow the mechanics in the shop to place orders for parts as they work. Purchase requests are automatically rolled up across the company to drive buying efficiencies with the parts suppliers. In the showroom, sales people can use tablet devices to show customers current inventory across the dealership's lots. The marketing department is using IoT data to advertise specific cars in inventory to targeted customers based on past purchases.

The Customer Conversation
Explaining the potential of the IoT to customers is not an easy task. During live events, Catapult is introducing messaging on mobility and IoT to customers and prospects. Adding an IoT component to its Microsoft Experience Centers (MECs) scenarios, Catapult is also showing participants how IoT would impact their businesses.

Lynch believes that many businesses are conceptually further along with IoT than with actual implementations because the devices that collect and deliver the data are changing so quickly. Mobility and the explosion of table options are driving many of the client conversations. As with many advances, the user technology is still catching up to the vision.

The Partner Opportunity
IoT will undoubtedly provide service opportunities to partners on many levels, including increased demand for data storage in the cloud, the need for integration services, and transformation of the data into usable intelligence. This is the time to get ahead of the curve and help customers understand the real-life application to their businesses. Demonstrate the business value of translating data into user-friendly information delivered to the front lines of work.

What services are you providing around IoT? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 21, 2014 at 10:38 AM0 comments


Prepare Your InfoPath Strategy for a Smooth Transition

In January, Microsoft announced that there would be no further releases of InfoPath, with the current release supported through April 2023. As with every end-of-life announcement, customers and partners alike have to deal with the realities of product transitions.

A recent blog post entitled "Keep Calm and InfoPath On," authored by Jonathan Ralton, senior information architect at BlueMetal, clears up misconceptions and offers practical advice for partners to build an effective InfoPath strategy for their clients. I touched base with Ralton and Bob German, BlueMetal's principal architect, to talk about the options that partners have to help clients adapt to the eventual retirement of InfoPath.   

"Since the definitive announcement, there has been a lot of panic, which is what I wanted to address in the blog post," Ralton explained. "People are thinking that InfoPath is coming to an immediate end and that they need to find an alternative solution immediately. That's just not the case."  

"This is not like Windows XP, where you are at the end of the 10-year support window with the ticking time bomb of security issues," German said. "If you look at the strategy from Microsoft's point of view, they won't be too quick to pull back the InfoPath Forms Services [which supports Web-based forms]. They run the risk of building a barrier to upgrades and to move to Office 365. A lot of customers have large installed bases using Forms Services, so I suspect that they won't pull that until there is a migration path."

A Unified Voice
Internally, BlueMetal has been having conversations about its options, including stopping InfoPath development, looking at third-party ISV solutions as a replacement or moving to pure development. "As in most cases in consulting," Ralton noted, "the answer is, 'It depends.'"

"Customers are starting to bring it up so we need to be prepared for the conversations," German added. "We need to know how to handle our clients' situations, but perhaps more importantly, we need to provide a uniform message."

Both German and Ralton suggested that the bottom line for how partners approach solutions for individual customers should match their dependence on InfoPath. If the customer's use is minimal, the cost to replace the functionality with something different will likely be small. On the other hand, there are customers who have pushed InfoPath's functionality to the limit. Very complex forms created in InfoPath that support critical business processes need a well-thought plan.

For those customers and partners in the midst of InfoPath projects, Ralton reminds them that the business process analysis work is foundational. "The most important part of working with business process automation is mapping out the business process to streamline the workflow," Ralton said. "That time is not lost no matter what technology path you choose."

German believes that the end of InfoPath will affect partners differently. Partners who do not have in-house developers will either need to find a third-party package replacement or engage outside developers. Partners with development teams have more options through both third-party packages and custom-built solutions.

[Click on image for larger view.] InfoPath roadmap presented at the "Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms" SharePoint Conference session.

This is the definitely the time for partners to start evaluating the third-partner solutions to be ready for the customer conversations. During the "Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms" session at Microsoft SharePoint Conference in March, four ISV partners were noted for their focus on the forms and work flow: K2, Nintex, Formotus and Qdabra.

"We don't know how long Microsoft will support Forms Services in their new releases," German noted. "The third parties, who do nothing but forms, are going to continue on and may be the safer bet. I expect that they will get quite a bit of business from this."

If nothing else, the announcement of InfoPath's end-of-life is a reminder that Microsoft is not standing still. That's a very good thing. The solutions that the channel supports will continue to evolve, opening new opportunities for the partners ready to help their customers adapt.

How are you managing your customer's InfoPath questions? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 07, 2014 at 12:49 PM0 comments


IAMCP Helps Partners Bridge the Talent Gap

If you still haven't joined International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), its latest program offers value that you may not be able to pass up.

To help partners provide certification training for their consultants without interrupting billable time, IAMCP is offering after-hours training classes at highly discounted rates.

Training Versus Billable Hours
"One of the biggest challenges of being a Microsoft partner is keeping up with certification training," says Jon Sastre, president of IAMCP. "This program was designed to reduce that expense to partners and, most importantly, deliver the training outside of billing hours."

In response to member requests, the "Bridge the Talent Gap" program was initiated by past IAMCP President Rudy Rodriguez and Scott Akin, Microsoft's U.S. director of Partner Enablement and Learning Channel. Certified Partners for Learning Solutions (CPLS) that are members of IAMCP were recruited to recommend initial class offerings and timing of schedules. Through Microsoft's financial support, the training classes are offered at a deeply discounted price.

Microsoft Certified Trainers who work for IAMCP member Learning partners deliver the training classes during evening hours. Participants can attend the remote classes from home and not interrupt their regular consulting work.

"One of the great benefits of this program is that consultants are taking the classes exclusively with their peers," Sastre added. "Everyone who participates in this training works for a partner, so they have same objectives and shared experiences." 

IAMCP offers the discounted training classes to active members and companies who have signed a national membership agreement with IAMCP. The cost of membership in IAMCP is $195 for qualified partners. Registrations are first-come, first-served and limited to 20 students per class at the special price of $695 per attendee, reflecting a savings of $2,000. Classes offered in the coming months include: 

  • Core Solutions for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013
  • Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 
  • Advanced Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013
  • Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases 

For more information on the program, visit the Bridge the Talent Gap program's Web site.

While there are many reasons to join IAMCP, the savings from the Bridge the Talent Gap program alone justify the cost of membership. When you join, take advantage of the networking opportunities in addition to the training. The IAMCP community is a valuable network to build complementary relationships with other Microsoft partners.   

How are you keeping up with certification requirements? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 23, 2014 at 10:06 AM0 comments


Explore Service Directions with Customer Analysis

Even with the customers you know well, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. By stepping back to look at the forest -- the whole of your customer base -- you'll gain insights to help guide your firm's growth. Through an analysis of your current customer base, you'll undoubtedly identify specific opportunities, but you may also uncover vertical or service-line service potential that you hadn't noticed.      

Collect the Data for Your Customer Base
This is where the time commitment comes in, but the exercise can be well worth the investment. Complete the data sets for your customers as much as possible to provide meaningful depth to your analysis. Steps should include: 

  • Update the company profiles, including revenue, industry and number of employees in your CRM system. There are service providers on Microsoft's Ready-to-Go marketing site to help augment your data.

  • Ask the consulting team to identify the clients they believe are the best-managed and highest-growth companies. Tag those clients for special notice.

  • If not already in your CRM system, merge past sales, solutions owned and projects delivered.

There is no doubt that gathering this data is no small task, but it is the perfect job for a summer intern. This is the time to put that plan in place.

Putting Your Data to Work
Once you have gathered the information on your customers, analyze the data. This is a great opportunity to practice with Power BI for Office 365. (When you have completed the exercise, you'll be able to show your clients how to analyze their own customer base.) There's no limit to the ways you can look at the customer data set, but for starters:

  • Compare the services that you have delivered to your top customers, looking for gaps in high-potential clients.

  • Look for patterns in industry, company size and types of projects that could provide the basis for a new line of services.

  • If you identify opportunities not in your wheelhouse, consider working with a partner. Help them perform the same analysis on their customer base to identify more opportunities you can pursue together.

With new insight into your customers, you can plan the future of your service lines with much more confidence. This is a transformational time for partners and a better understanding of your current client base can help guide your future direction. As the summer approaches, consider putting an intern to work collecting the data that will not only uncover immediate opportunities, but will also pay long-term dividends.

How are you expanding service opportunities? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 09, 2014 at 10:14 AM0 comments


Microsoft NSI Calls for National Collaboration To Bridge Skills Gap

When Tony DiBenedetto, CEO of Tribridge, a Microsoft National System Integrator (NSI), threw out the challenge in an Inc.com article earlier this year, he wasn't sure what kind of response he would get. Apparently, he hit a nerve.

In the article, DiBenedetto challenged business, government and educational groups to work together to take on the skills gap -- to develop qualified candidates for tech jobs. After adding 200 people to Tribridge in 2013 and expecting similar expansion this year, DiBenedetto said it's not business growth that worries him. 

"What's keeping me up at night is wondering where my future team members will come from and how I'm going to scale the business to meet market demand. Like many entrepreneurs, I'm facing a very real shortage of highly skilled talent," he wrote in the article.

DiBenedetto goes on to describe the efforts of economic development groups to collaborate with education institutions, as well as the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives sponsored by companies like Microsoft, AT&T and IBM. While these are valid efforts, DiBenedetto suggested that a more holistic approach to pool resources is needed to accelerate the solution. He advocates a three-fold approach -- government-funded training, realignment of training with current skill requirements in educational institutions, and a commitment from private companies to hire.

A Shared Challenge
As soon as the article was posted at the end of January, responses from other companies facing the same issue started pouring in. DiBenedetto has received over 250 e-mails, plus LinkedIn e-mails from concerned business people, educators and government officials ready to get on board.

"The outpouring of interest and support for this issue has been overwhelming. I've heard from people across the country who are experiencing similar hiring challenges, which underscores the importance of tackling the skills gap issue," DiBenedetto said. "We are currently working on a business plan that will hopefully gain the needed traction from government funding sources."

A Proactive Approach
Tribridge has a history of dealing with the skills gap proactively. As other partners have found, setting up a recruitment and training program to prepare consultants is often the only way to support a growing services practice. The Tribridge Academy is an educational program that provides college students and recent graduates with classroom and on-the-job training to prepare them for a consulting career. 

Through these programs, college grads with non-technical degrees but good people skills are taught the art of consulting and the supporting technologies. Participants in these partner-run training programs praise both the training and the opportunity to participate in a field they weren't even aware existed.

Join the Effort
As service-based businesses, every partner depends on the contributions of skilled employees to survive and grow. To continue to build the value of the partner channel, we need to prepare and hire the next generation. If you would like to help solve the skills gap challenge, send an e-mail to DiBenedetto.

How are you bridging the skills gap? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 26, 2014 at 12:37 PM0 comments