Q&A with Ron Huddleston: Microsoft's New Partner Engagement Model

In Part 2 of a three-part Q&A from the Microsoft Inspire conference, Ron Huddleston, head of Microsoft's One Commercial Partner unit, explains how Microsoft is trying to simplify its partner-facing organization to work more effectively with its massive partner network.

  • Complete Microsoft Inspire 2017 coverage here.

In Part 1 of the Redmond Channel Partner magazine interview with Ron Huddleston, corporate vice president of the Microsoft One Commercial Partner organization, he discussed his background at Oracle and and his philosophies on working with partners. In this second part of the interview from the Microsoft Inspire conference this week, RCP's Scott Bekker and Barb Levisay ask about the new partner engagement model that Microsoft is now rolling out.

Barb: One of the changes that it appears is happening is that previously Microsoft was separating out the types of partners into a lot of different categories, and now you're whittling that down?

Ron: I hesitate to give you how many categories there were.

Scott: Are you talking about the Microsoft competencies?

Ron: No, actually that makes even more categories. What [Barb] is pointing out is that there were strong delineations between certain business models of partners where every partner makes IP. Every partner does services. The delineations themselves cause barriers to being able to get really good at something.

Q&A with Ron Huddleston

Part 1: Meet Microsoft's One Commercial Partner Leader

• Part 2: Microsoft's New Partner Engagement Model

Part 3: Know Your Solution Maps and Channel Managers

Can you take all of the categories that were legion and get it down to one? Probably not. Getting it down to three -- I think in this case we have four -- is, I think, probably just about the right way to do it. Inside those categories everybody has the ability to run all those business models.

Barb: What four categories do you have? Are they like independent software vendor and systems integrator?

Scott: Or are those the ones that Satya [Nadella, Microsoft CEO,] was discussing in his Inspire keynote [Modern Workplace, Business Applications, Applications & Infrastructure, and Data & AI]?

Ron: [No], that's a technology. OK, here's a great example. If we had aligned our partners by our solution, like we would say, 'You're Modern Workplace,' that would have been product-based. That would have been Microsoft-first. Partner-first is saying, 'Partner, what is your plan in the future of how you want to succeed? Do you want to build IP? Do you want to build IP as a managed service? Do you just want to resell and just be a sales [organization]? Do you want to get really good at capabilities? Or do you want to implement and consult?'

Now everybody can do all of those, but what do you want to do? What's your choice? How do you want to succeed? And then as long as you make sure that whoever is connected to that partner to make sure that they're succeeding can get access to all the other business models, then you're fine.

A partner should pick a North. I don't want to get into too much detail, but there are certainly some partners that are just two, they are kind of two companies in one, and you have to manage that, too. This is a well-worn road, how to do this. In a perfect world, it would all be one.

"If we had aligned our partners by our solution, like we would say, 'You're Modern Workplace,' that would have been product-based. That would have been Microsoft-first. Partner-first is saying, 'Partner, what is your plan in the future of how you want to succeed?'"

-- Ron Huddleston, Corporate Vice President, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft

Barb: The matrix has become so complex because partners sell so differently. Are you defining four different kinds of partners?

Ron: We are going to have experts in creating success around four business models. Partners will define themselves.

Barb: And what are those four business models?

Ron: We want to have experts in our organization around building IP. We want to have experts in our organization around building strong implementation practices. We want to have experts in our organization around building strong capabilities to sell and deliver value. And we want to have a hyper-focused team on ensuring that any of those business models, if they're going to deliver a managed service, have experts built around what that means versus their current business model. So that's the one that's just a little different than the other ones.

All of those are going to have the support and access to all the technical expertise at those solution-area levels, and then there's a lot more expertise below that down to the level of specialists for a lot of things.

Barb: And how will the partners find these resources? Is it going to be self-service?

Ron: There are a lot of programs that we have that are self-service-ish and self-service. Let's just call that the foundation. A level up from the foundation, there are a lot of folks that deliver all those programmatic resources.

But what we've got is this group of experts, and they've existed before all over the company serving different partner categories. In the end, they're technology experts. So the whole company is aligning around these solution areas and then these underlying technologies, so we have that same support mechanism and they map to support the business model experts that are there to support the partners.

The best example is the old DX [Developer Experience] example. There was a person who was an expert on how ISVs work inside and outside of Microsoft, and they were backed up by technical engineers who were backed up by specialists.

Barb: Yes, that organization was rolled out pretty recently.

Ron: Yes. DX and PDU [Practice Development Unit] were both aligned that way. They both had great learnings in them. The idea of having the person focused and dedicated on the partner success being able to access all of the technical specialists across all of Microsoft's technologies, that just generally wasn't that available to partners previously because it would be locked into certain technologies or certain license types or things like that. Now, it's available to all through the business model of support.

Scott: So [Microsoft Corporate Vice President] Michael Angiulo is running SI and ISV combined for you?

Ron: Yes. He has really strong leadership at his directs level, really, really strong. He has experience with setting up ecosystems at Microsoft, where he started the ecosystems from scratch for Vista, Surface Hub and a couple others. We're bringing him on board to take all of his Microsoft knowledge and apply it to those two different organizations -- ISVs and SIs.

And then the teams under them and moving across them, they tend to work with each other a bit at the customer level, but they hadn't had a chance to work with each other at the partner management and technical level. This gives us the opportunity across all partner types, but [especially SI and ISV], to ensure that they're on the same lifecycle, with access to the same toolsets. We measure them differently. The output of an SI's lifecycle would be things like certifications. The output of an ISV would be applications and technical adoption. We're ensuring that we're delivering the best support and the best technical alignment through those lifecycles.

Then, probably more importantly, those two partner types spend a lot of time co-selling. The connection between that and what we're doing on the co-sell side and with solution maps is really critical. It's not narrowed only to them, but there's strong alignment between those two sides.