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What 'Billions' Nails About the New Reality for Microsoft Partners

"You offer a service you didn't invent, a formula you didn't invent, a delivery method you didn't invent."

In the Showtime series "Billions," one of the central characters spits out a distilled business truth that resonates in the Microsoft channel. Mostly the show is about big-league finance, but in one recent episode, embattled hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod explains to a family member in bracing terms why she got the brush-off from a potential investor for her small business.

"What is it that you do that you're the best in the world at? You offer a service you didn't invent, a formula you didn't invent, a delivery method you didn't invent. Nothing about what you do is patentable or a unique user experience. You haven't identified an isolated market segment, haven't truly branded your concept. You need me to go on? So why would an investment bank put serious money into it?"

It's a brutal, and perfect, formulation of the questions that growth-oriented Microsoft partners must constantly ask themselves.

For a long time, Microsoft partners have been able to position themselves as a service arm for general Microsoft products -- doing the implementation, customization and maintenance of Windows, Exchange, Office 365, SharePoint and Dynamics. They built a local customer base on good service and word of mouth. They drafted behind demand for Microsoft's products and provided a service that would have been inefficient for Microsoft to provide itself.

But questions about what Microsoft partners are best at have become a lot more relevant. With cloud-based products, Microsoft needs fewer partners who act primarily as hand-holders through formerly complex hardware/software/network integration for basic infrastructure. The company's more direct service efforts like FastTrack are evidence of the way Microsoft is reaching down to touch customers one-on-one at scale.

There's still room for small, generalist partners with a few local clients. Yet the cloud is exposing more and more of those partners to competition from around the country and around the world, and the best you can say about Microsoft is that it's on the fence about how much protection it wants to offer those partners through attaching partners to deals and other incentives.

Instead, as we've documented in features and columns over the last few years, Microsoft is on the lookout for partners that can help Microsoft expand in this globalized IT economy. The company has encouraged partners to develop intellectual property, whether it be for vertical packages, processes or, ideally, code that runs on Azure.

While the forces of globalization that are unleashed by the cloud are incredibly threatening from a local perspective, they also bring opportunity. If a formerly local partner has truly great IP or the best service for a specific segment that limits market potential locally, the possibility now exists to serve that tiny market all over the region, the country or the world.

Give the "Billions" question a few minutes of consideration for your business: What could you be best in the world at? Let me know what that question unlocks at [email protected].

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About the Author

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