Channel Watch

With FastTrack, Microsoft Keeps Its Cloud Partners Guessing

As Microsoft becomes more and more desperate to drive consumption, expect the range of free services offerings from FastTrack to keep ballooning.

Relying on Office 365 migration services as a big component of a partner business is like playing on the tracks of freight-train FastTrack.

Oh, and by the way, this train has no posted schedule, and reports from stations up the line are that it's chugging along faster and faster.

In broad terms, FastTrack is Microsoft's answer to the problem of customers buying cloud subscriptions, but not using them. Recognizing that with the cloud you have to win the business every month, Microsoft is eager to ensure customers get the most out of their subscriptions. While the company has encouraged partners to get involved in e-mail migration services from all the way back in the Business Productivity Online Suite days, Microsoft executives now clearly believe that the whole system isn't working fast enough.

What customers expect from Microsoft, Office Division Corporate Vice President John Case told RCP over the summer, is that Microsoft gets them to a "run state" as part of the deal. The cloud is supposed to be easier; people are used to the new paradigm of apps just working. Customers running Google Apps or on-premises Exchange similarly expect to flip the switch to Office 365 as part of their monthly cost.

Three inter-related elements are designed to get customers to that run state. There's the FastTrack offer for customers, a free offer from Microsoft to migrate their e-mail data and set them up with the Enterprise Mobility Suite. There's the FastTrack Center, previously known as the Onboarding Center, which is an internal unit of Microsoft with hundreds of employees reaching out to customers about scheduling FastTrack-related services and remotely performing the services. Then there's the Adoption Offer, which is a partner subsidy to encourage customers to purchase partner services in order to light up cloud-based workloads, such as SharePoint Online, Yammer and so on.

Where things get tricky is that the rules for what Microsoft will do and what partners are supposed to do keep changing. Just since the Worldwide Partner Conference in July, when Microsoft dramatically expanded the workloads that it will offer for free, Microsoft has rolled out two more sets of major changes. The most recent set in February dropped the minimum seat eligibility for the offer from 150 all the way down to 50, potentially wiping out a huge chunk of the migration services market available to partners.

For now, the Microsoft FastTrack Center's migration terms are narrow and rigid. Many elements of a migration that customers would take for granted aren't available. So there remain opportunities for partners to pick up migration projects where the FastTrack Center doesn't meet customers' expectations. Also, partners can use Microsoft's rigid rules in their own services -- offering free migrations themselves, but upselling for all the things the FastTrack Center won't do.

Nonetheless, as Microsoft becomes more and more desperate to drive consumption, expect the range of free services offerings from FastTrack to keep ballooning.

What Microsoft has been willing to say to partners is that the migration services projects business is a transitional opportunity while partners develop strategic IP of their own to sell. What Microsoft's actions convey louder than words is that the transitional opportunity will be narrowing quarterly and may vanish fast.

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About the Author

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