Marching Orders 2016: Focus on Partner Success in Cloud

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, we invited Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, to share his top advice for Microsoft partners this year.

Over the last year, we've made some significant investments in our channel -- in tools, resources, program updates and product offerings -- to enable partners to take advantage of the vast customer opportunities across cloud and mobile technologies. And the opportunity is huge. In fact, IDC forecasts spending on public IT cloud services to reach $127 billion in 2018.

In previous years, we've focused on moving partners and customers to the cloud. But the truth is, many have already made this transition and are already realizing many of the benefits of cloud computing. This year, we're focusing on partner and customer success in the cloud -- enabling our partners and mutual customers to harness the full value of cloud and the associated devices, data and applications to truly transform their businesses.

Here are three areas where partners can focus their energy to deliver the greatest impact this year:

  1. Build differentiated IP. You have to set yourself apart from your competitors. Successful partners are developing a culture of innovation and building annuity businesses on top of first-party IP. IP doesn't have to be an app offered directly to businesses or consumers -- there are many ways to monetize IP. To name just a few examples, you could incorporate first-party IP into managed services, you could build SaaS extensions offered as a subscription, or you could leverage a unique, repeatable methodology to enhance project services. The need to stand out isn't new, but in a cloud-first world your options are virtually unlimited, and you can bring a new offering to market quicker and easier than ever.

  2. Grow your digital marketing muscle. Customers are changing, and research shows that by the time a potential customer gets to you, they've already done their research. You and your solutions need to show up where they're looking. Knowing where to start can be difficult, but we're investing heavily to connect you with the resources that can help. New resources on Smart Partner Marketing along with a dedicated ISV portal, a new and improved ModernBiz platform, and brand-new MPN experiences are all designed to help you develop a digital marketing strategy that will get you in front of customers.

  3. Focus on customer lifetime value. Capturing new customers through scalable, online marketing is step one, but profitability isn't about the deal anymore. It's about securing long-term relationships to maximize the lifetime value of each customer you develop. We've created research-based profitability scenarios, financial models and training to help you identify the opportunities best suited for your business and your existing customers.

I'm excited by the great partner momentum we saw in 2015 -- from expanding the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program to 131 markets, to extending our Surface channel distribution from a few hundred to a few thousand partners globally -- and I can't wait to see what we will accomplish together in 2016.

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Posted on January 20, 2016 at 10:45 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: Flex Those Cloud Muscles

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, Gavriella Schuster, general manager of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, weighs in on paths to success in the cloud.

Over the past year, we have seen more and more customers move to the cloud and partners adapt their business models to take advantage of the many opportunities the cloud has to offer. IDC helped illustrate the potential, citing cloud partners realized 1.6 times the recurring revenue as a portion of total revenue versus other partners.

With this business transformation, we spent last year focused on helping partners grow their cloud business and find their path to profitability. For example, we announced major changes to make our cloud competencies more valuable for our partners. We also expanded our Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, which gives partners expanded capability to directly manage the entire lifecycle of their customers' cloud subscription, to 131 markets. 

When I think about what's on the horizon for 2016, I see tremendous opportunity for partners to flex their muscles in developing new ways to solve customers' problems and to take advantage of the freedom the cloud provides in growing and scaling businesses in ways not possible before. Below are two ways in which partners can gain real momentum with their business in 2016:

Become the trusted advisor. Like all paradigm shifts, the rapid acceleration to new, more powerful technology is creating new opportunities and challenges that weren't there before, and many customers now realize they can't ignore the need to be in, or at least moving to, the cloud.

Today, customers are looking for partners to be the expert and help them understand their options. They need a trusted advisor to guide them on an ongoing basis as new technologies and opportunities arise to be successful. This requires a significant shift in how partners do business. Business models that rely on continuously securing large one-time projects to bring in a quick burst of revenue are becoming antiquated. As the cloud transforms businesses, partners are shifting more and more to managed services. To be successful today, partners must focus on helping customers build effective deployment and retirement plans, understand and help customers maximize new technology usage while minimizing disruption, facilitate overall security needs and provide ongoing managed services. Partners that successfully adapt to this new world will realize more stable, long-term revenue streams.

Look for strategic partnerships. We've seen strategic partnerships become a real game-changer for partners in the past, but a recent IDC study helped to reinforce their value. According to the study, when the right partners join forces, three things are bound to happen:

  1. They are able to build total solutions,
  2. Their business grows, and
  3. They beat out the competition.

Strategic partnerships can be effective in helping partners reach geographical markets where they may lack a physical presence or where they have language or compliance barriers to entry. Partnering can also help care for a customer's lifecycle end-to-end -- with some partners focused on front-end deployment and others on back-end support. Additionally, partnering can help identify other IP solutions that knit together a full customer solution and optimize each customer engagement or customer socket.

With cloud innovations continuing into 2016, our partners have a tremendous opportunity to help customers realize their full potential while creating new business models that drive increased profitability.

I can't wait to see what new market opportunities our partners will help create for customers and how the world will change in 2016 as a result of the technology innovations and creative implementations of our partners.

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Posted on January 20, 2016 at 10:44 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: Recognize Cloud as a Side Show

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, RCP blogger and columnist Barb Levisay addresses a major marketing trend.

While cloud has gotten all the press the past couple of years, there has been an even more profound shift affecting your business. Business strategy and technology have become inseparable. Today's strategic objectives are executed through technology -- from product engineering to customer interactions. That fundamentally changes the role that you, as IT service provider, play.

In your client's leadership meetings, the conversations about IT have changed. Regardless of how big the company, business leaders are trying to figure out how to use technology to disrupt, augment and extend their services and operations. Your clients need you at the table to participate in those conversations...and then they need the rest of your team to deliver.

As a leader in your own organization, you are probably perfectly comfortable having strategic conversations with clients. That's a great first step, but strategic objectives aren't achieved in the executive suite.

For partners, the transition to the cloud has to be accompanied by the transition from technology consulting to business consulting. The time has come for everyone in your business to switch from comparisons of server capacity to conversations about business process. It's not going to happen overnight and it's going to require investment in education and training.   

Each role in your organization will need help and motivation to change the way they work.

  • For salespeople who have spent their careers talking about hardware, the transition may be the hardest, if not impossible. Attempting to drive behavior through compensation alone sets them up for failure. Consider outside coaching from someone who has helped others make the transition.

  • Consultants and support techs are probably more tuned in to the business process changes that technology drives. As their work becomes increasingly intertwined with business operations, they will need training to be able to provide guidance on issues like compliance and industry best practices.

  • You may need to hire a different type of consultant than you have ever employed -- a business analyst. The role of a business analyst is to act as translator between technology and the business processes that support strategic initiatives.

  • Don't overlook your marketing people. They need to understand the change in your buyers' perspective. Send them out with salespeople and consultants to see for themselves how the conversations with clients are changing.

While it's easy to focus on the cloud as the transformer of your future, it's not the biggest player. Yes, the cloud is enabling many of these technologies, but it's just the platform. The real revolution is how business strategy is being reshaped and driven forward by technology. And that's where you should come into the conversation.

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Posted by Barb Levisay on January 14, 2016 at 10:42 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: Prioritize Ruthlessly

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, we invited Keith Lubner, managing partner of Channel Consulting Corp. and a former RCP columnist, to share some channel management tips.

Our company made great strides in 2015, especially toward the later part of the year. In all honesty, the beginning part of the year was difficult for us because of the mass amount of potential opportunities and directions we could have taken our business. We made a conscious decision to focus as summer ended and fall began, and it made all the difference in our business.

We also started making recommendations to clients based on what we did internally, and believe this will be a mantra moving forward for everyone in the market in 2016.  

This year should be about your ruthless prioritization on every project or initiative you take on. Here are the areas we believe you need to prioritize this year in order to accelerate your momentum and differentiation in the channel:

  • Enablement: We see organizations treating enablement and training as an afterthought. They put together half-baked programs and expect to get top-notch results. It doesn't work that way. You need to prioritize enabling your internal people, as well as your external channel partners with cutting-edge, impactful programs that teach people to interact better, to build higher levels of trust, to qualify opportunities better, and to create more meaningful relationships. We call this "adaptive partnering" and it's the way organizations will excel in 2016. Those that can't adapt to the new business paradigms of cloud will fail. Plain and simple.

  • Sales Process: People are stuck in the old way of selling and they need to shift in order to align to the buyer's process. Prioritization, therefore, lies in the hands of the sales manager to make sure their sales people keep trying to change the way they sell. If not, competitors will start lapping you and buyers won't keep buying from you.

  • Intellectual Property Capitalization: In 2016, we will see an acceleration of solution providers bringing to market more intellectual property and trying to sell these new "products and services" through a channel. We see this a lot. It's our business. What we recommend to people is to plant a stake in the ground and commit, or not commit, to marketing and selling your new initiative. If you commit to selling, then prioritize the programs, the people and the processes around how you will bring this product to market. Don't make it an afterthought or a side business because it will never get off the ground.

Prioritize ruthlessly to make it happen in 2016!

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Posted by Keith Lubner on January 13, 2016 at 10:42 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: Pick a Good-Enough Dev Framework

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, we invited Michael Desmond, editor in chief of MSDN Magazine, to provide insight on what to watch for in development this year.

Keeping tabs on JavaScript frameworks is like keeping track of your teenage daughter's musical tastes. Every other week there seems to be a new framework that is, like, the best...ever.

JQuery, Dojo, Angular, Backbone, Knockout, Ember, React -- the list of frameworks literally goes on and on. Which is great if you are a Web developer looking for just the right resource to streamline your code effort and provide nifty capabilities like two-way data binding, dependency injection and sleek UIs. It may not be so good, though, when you have to actually manage and maintain code.

In fact, many developers worry that framework proliferation may balkanize Web development, fracturing the market of skilled Web developers and creating islands of not-so-compatible JavaScript code that must be ported to work with other frameworks. Developers also face frustration as frameworks emerge and advance. Do you stay with the framework you know, or invest time and effort to master a new framework that promises slick new features?

The frantic pace can't go on forever (can it?), but it will continue at least for the short term. For developers, don't fall victim to paralysis by analysis. Find a framework that addresses your needs and verify that it's being actively developed and enjoys a sizable following. That will help future-proof your framework-dependent code.

Also consider open source frameworks, which can be freely tailored to suit a specific need.

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Posted by Michael Desmond on January 08, 2016 at 10:42 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: The Year of Software-Defined XYZ

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, we invited Keith Ward, founding editor of RCP sister publication Virtualization Review magazine, to weigh in on top trends in virtualization.

When I helped found Virtualization Review magazine in 2008, server virtualization still had that new-car smell. Many companies were dipping a toe into the technology, but few had jumped into the deep end of the pool. Caution was the word of the day; virtualization was so disruptive that companies were wise to take it slow.

Today, of course, server virtualization is standard in almost any company of any size. It's now just plumbing: Leave it alone and only take a peek when something goes wrong.

In 2016, software-defined xyz is what server virtualization was in 2008. IT admins and developers know what it is, have read about it, and have likely done some testing with it. They're hesitant to dive into the deep end, too, because it is also disruptive. But it's time to implement software-defined technology for your customers to help them get the big benefits that come with it.

Two areas to start with: software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined storage (SDS). They have some of the biggest immediate benefits for the typical company, in terms of increasing efficiency and moving to the cloud. Are they complex? You betcha. Do the positives outweigh that negative? Most certainly.

Also look at what VMware is doing in moving companies to the ultimate software-defined goal, the software-defined datacenter (SDDC). It's one of VMware's chief focus areas, and with good reason; as the virtualization leader, it knows that server virtualization is at (or nearing) the saturation point, and it needs new revenue streams.

It's more than financial, though: VMware also recognizes that for companies to truly embrace the future, software-defined technologies have to be part of it.

That goes for you, too.

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Posted by Keith Ward on January 07, 2016 at 10:46 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: Watch the Politics of Data Privacy

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For this entry, we invited Chris Paoli, who covers security for the 1105 Media Enterprise Computing Group, to provide his view of the most important security issue for 2016.

The topic of surveillance, specifically U.S. government-operated surveillance operations, will be a dominating talking point among presidential hopefuls ahead of Election Day this November. In the first presidential election since the Snowden leaks began in 2013, and in the wake of mass terrorist shootings in Paris, France and San Bernardino, Calif., national security and the related privacy debate are poised to become daily mainstays for news outlets.

With the December passage of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 -- which, in part, could allow for some warrantless surveillance actions by the federal government in the name of national security, while opening information-sharing channels between private IT companies and the government -- the respective main party front-runners provided their stances on balancing security and user privacy. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has called for an increase in surveillance, and called on tech companies to take a larger role in national defense.

"We're going to need help from Facebook, and from YouTube, and from Twitter," Clinton said on ABC News in December. "They cannot permit the recruitment and the actual direction of attacks, or the celebration of violence by this sophisticated Internet user."

Leading Republican candidate Donald Trump also is in favor of stepping up surveillance and other security measures, arguing in November that both Muslim mosques and possible incoming Syrian refugees be monitored around the clock. During an interview with Yahoo, Trump discussed the privacy payoff of increased surveillance, saying, "Some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule."

As the candidates expand on their positions on the main stage ahead of the general election, look for Silicon Valley to factor in the debate through policy updates and changes. The end of 2015 saw many tech companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter, revising their privacy policies to include commitments to alert users if and when their data has been targeted by federal law enforcement agencies for surveillance. Over the course of the next 12 months, I predict other major players, including Apple and Amazon, to fall in line with their own privacy policy changes.

IT will have quite a few hard decisions over the next 12 months. Besides evaluating which candidate aligns closest with their beliefs on the role of government in security and surveillance on a personal level, shops may want to take a look at their cloud providers to see if they are doing all they can to keep their data secure -- whether that's from traditional outside threats or state-sponsored data access.

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Posted by Chris Paoli on January 07, 2016 at 10:43 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2016: Jump on the Azure Bandwagon

Editor's Note: Throughout the month of January, we'll be running installments of Marching Orders, our annual collection of advice and predictions from channel luminaries about what to do and what to expect in the year ahead. For today's entry, we invited Jeff Schwartz, an RCP columnist and editor in chief of RCP's sister publication Redmond magazine, to provide his insights on the most important trends in cloud.

As Microsoft's Azure cloud service turns 6 years old on Feb. 1, the company has entered 2016 gunning to overtake Amazon Web Services (AWS) for cloud supremacy. That's far from a sure thing, but it's the first time the mere suggestion of Azure closing in on AWS isn't preposterous.

Various surveys conducted last year suggest both cloud service businesses grew considerably. Thanks to Amazon's decision to break out its revenues for AWS for the first time, we got a clear picture of how robust the business has become. Based on the third quarter earnings report in October, AWS was on a run rate to conclude the year as an $8 billion business. AWS posted revenues of $2.09 billion, a 78 percent year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, Azure sales grew 121 percent, with gross profit margins for the unit that includes Azure increasing 194 percent, even counting the company's large expenditures on building out datacenters. In a report by Goldman Sachs last month, the brokerage sized up Azure's run rate at $2.3 billion -- Microsoft has a long way to go to nip at AWS' heels. Given Microsoft's history of staying the course and looking at the ground it has already gained, the race is still on. A recent survey by multivendor cloud management provider RightScale showed the number of AWS users grew from 49 percent to 50 percent last year while Azure usage rose from 11 percent to 19 percent.

In addition to aiming to gain ground on Amazon, Microsoft also must contend with a new push from Google, which has brought on VMware co-founder Diane Greene to revitalize its enterprise cloud efforts. Besides perhaps Facebook, there are no cloud vendors that have built out infrastructure at a scale that compares to Microsoft, Google and Amazon.

For its part, Microsoft has big plans for Azure this year. A new iteration of its public cloud service, Azure Service Fabric (ASF), is set to roll out this year. In addition to letting mid- and large-sized organizations build apps that can scale massively, ASF will enable modern apps based on micro-services and containers, and provide a flexible infrastructure that will let organizations deploy an application on-premises and scale it to the Azure public cloud without making any code changes.

ASF aims to make the Microsoft cloud into the Platform as a Service (PaaS) that led to comparisons of earlier components such as Azure Service Bus and Azure Web Sites as just repurposed versions of BizTalk and IIS respectively, according Jacob Saunders, CTO of 10th Magnitude, a Microsoft Azure partner.

"Our developers are super excited about it," Saunders said, when asked about ASF during a presentation given at the New York City Enterprise Collaboration Meetup gathering last month. "There are even dedicated environments that are going to be coming out with it. The Azure app services are even going to allow you to run those dedicated on your own IaaS-like infrastructure, so even if you're not comfortable with shared infrastructure and some of the negative implications of developing for PaaS, you're going to be able to use that. I think the decision by Microsoft to roll [ASF] into both PaaS and IaaS as a foundation for thin applications that allow developers to focus on their proprietary business logic, and not encoding all that crap on the back end, is going to have a big impact. What that will look like? Time will tell once it's widely available."

Patrick McClory, an AWS expert and director of automation and DevOps at Datapipe (a partner of both providers), said Microsoft has an opportunity to position Azure as an integrated offering compared with multiple AWS toolsets such as API Gateway, Elastic Container Service (EC2), Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), DynamoDB and Relational Database Service (RDS), among others.

"What will truly be the measure of success for Microsoft is how good they are at 'keeping the lights on' with respect to the underlying components needed to support micro-services deployments -- these things could include things as base as the hypervisor, OS and possibly even container solutions such as Docker, all the way to the logging, service discovery and routing tools used to stitch [ASF] micro-services together into usable APIs," McClory said.

Today's AWS approach offers more flexibility, he noted. "I've found that all-in-one packages, in general, have less flexibility and less freedom to make fit-for-purpose types of technology decisions when performance, complexity and partitioning are critically important due to the scale of the solution," he said. "That being said, Microsoft is making a lot of strides in the right direction, and I'm planning on trying it out either way. I think that for organizations who are long-standing Microsoft customers, they're likely to give it a try and find that a solution like this meets their needs for applications that are good fits for this architecture."

Still, he's not convinced AWS will fall from its perch. "Until Microsoft is able to move beyond selling into their current client base, I think that they'll not be an enormous threat to AWS. But with the change in leadership over the last few years, I believe they have all the right things going for them in order to break that mold and get back to being an attractive option for net-new customers."

Historically, a lot of the appeal of Microsoft products for partners was high quality and market strength, in addition to Redmond's commitment to a channel approach. With Azure, it's starting to look like Microsoft is building the type of sturdy bandwagon that partners can jump on and ride.

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Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on January 06, 2016 at 10:44 AM0 comments

Visual Studio Live! and TechMentor Offer Third-Party Deep Dive

This guest blog was written by Lafe Low, an editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group and a former contributing editor to Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

Microsoft partners are intimately familiar with most of the major Microsoft shows. There's the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), where partners come together to network and share strategies. Depending on your unique offerings and business proposition, perhaps you've also traveled to Microsoft's Build or TechEd events. Build can certainly help get you up to speed on what's happening in the Microsoft development community. And TechEd, now combined with a number of other IT shows as Ignite, will give you the Microsoft view of how its technology stack fits into current enterprise business models.

There are myriad opportunities throughout the year to expand your professional knowledge and network. If you're ever looking for some higher-level, targeted education on specific development or technology tools, Visual Studio Live! and TechMentor have got you covered. (Full disclosure: These events are produced by the 1105 Media Enterprise Computing Group, which also brings you Redmond Channel Partner magazine and

Here's a look at some highlights of the next Visual Studio Live! in Austin, Texas, coming June 1-4:

  • A full-day workshop on ALM and DevOps with the Microsoft Stack
  • Building mobile cross-platform apps with C# and Xamarin
  • Getting started with universal apps for Windows and Windows Phone

The next Visual Studio Live! event happens in San Francisco from June 15-18. Highlights of this event include:

  • Hack-proofing your Web applications
  • Solving security and compliance challenges with hybrid clouds
  • Load testing ASP.NET and Web API with Visual Studio

Visual Studio Live! and TechMentor also return to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., this summer. Visual Studio Live runs from Aug. 10-14 while TechMentor runs from Aug. 3-7. Then Visual Studio Live! moves back to New York City in the fall, running from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.

The flagship event of the year, Live 360! Orlando, brings five events together under one roof. Developers and IT professionals can choose between sessions at SharePoint Live!, SQL Server Live!, Modern Apps Live! as well as the standards Visual Studio Live! and TechMentor. This combined event runs from Nov. 16-20. Check out the agendas for any of these events at


Posted by Lafe Low on April 22, 2015 at 8:51 AM0 comments

MDM Evolution: From Managing Devices to Managing User Experience

This guest blog was written by Dave Sobel, director of community for GFI MAX.

The services evolution has driven change in the IT channel for years. Many solution providers started as resellers, where the opportunity for profit came from markup on physical equipment. As the market in physical equipment matured, margins shrank and many discarded their reseller roots and began to focus on providing the services that their customers needed.

In time, those new service providers began exploring ways to make their organizations more efficient and more profitable, and managed services emerged as the leading business model to meet those goals. Managed services transformed the way solution providers did business by combining alignment with customer needs, productivity and efficiency gains, increased margins and business stability.

Today, the services evolution continues as mobility and the cloud add a new complexity to managed services. In a traditional on-premises deployment with a focus on devices such as desktops and laptops, most of which are physically close, this is a natural and understandable engagement model. However, once mobile devices are added to the mix, including smartphones and tablets, the number of devices that need to be managed increases dramatically. Additionally, different devices have varying levels of complexity, and many consumer devices play a role in business environments whether IT administrators like it or not.

At this point, device-focused management presents two major problems. First, consumer devices are traditionally marketed as, and designed to be, "easy to use," resulting in an end user perception that their management is also straightforward. Where there is a perception of "easy to use," it becomes a much more difficult sales proposition for a provider to demonstrate the value of fees for each device. Managing a single device might very well be "easy" in theory, but managing devices in aggregate in a consistent manner is much more challenging. Add the complexity of the large ecosystem of devices, carriers and infrastructure, and service providers are faced with significant loads to manage. The proliferation of devices can cause customers to overthink how they manage their IT environment, cherry-picking devices for management and excluding others in the name of cost savings. This introduces unneeded complexity to the management process and completely undermines the ultimate goal of managed services to align customer and service provider interests.  

The second challenge presented by a device-focused management model is that it excludes the various cloud systems that are now key components of the solutions that end users are demanding. In a device-based billing and engagement model, accounting for cloud systems is problematic. By focusing on the user, providers can alleviate much of this tension and realign the end customer and the service provider's interests. However, this requires much more than a simple billing model change. Rather, service providers need to focus on the user experience in order to increase the value of the services being provided. User experience is not just about the devices a user employs, but about ensuring that their data and applications are delivered in a consistent, reliable and secure manner. It's not enough to simply ensure the user's devices work; a service provider needs to ensure that the user is able to effectively use those devices and systems.

There are a number of questions that an MSP should be asking regularly to create a positive user experience. Is their data available at all times? From anywhere? On any device? Are the user's systems and applications available? Can the user effectively use them in as many environments as possible? And additionally, is this data secure? Are corporate policies being enforced? Is the end user and their company aware of all the required data protection laws that apply?

This is the heart of the user experience. Delivering consistent, easy-to-use, secure access to data and systems while managing the complexity of devices, systems, applications and multiple vendors, including cloud systems, is a challenging task. Placing devices at the center blurs the focus and lessens the value of the service provider's offerings. 

A resounding chorus of "This sounds hard" may cause some MSPs to avoid preparing for this next stage in their industry's evolution, but if managing user experience was easy, it wouldn't command higher pricing and deliver enhanced profit. In mystery, there is margin, and by embracing the user and their experience as the center of their business, service providers will continue to evolve alongside their customers' needs, ensuring their own success in the future.

Posted on March 17, 2014 at 8:51 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2014: Take Control in Key Accounts

As part of our 2014 "Marching Orders" feature, Ross Brown, senior principal with The Spur Group, gives his take on what partners need to do to succeed in the new year.

In the coming year, two trends will combine to create a perfect storm for partners. First, there's the increasing focus on virtualizing everything (storage, network, compute, memory, sessions and so on). Second is the increasing need for integration and federation between on-premises virtualized workloads and cloud services.

The ubiquity of virtualization is a bonanza for partners because of two compelling and unstoppable forces: 

Virtualization-driven flexibility brings significant value to customers.

As with server virtualization, the shifting of account control from the hardware vendor salesforces to the software and services channel that delivers the virtualization solution.

With the server virtualization wave of 2006-2010, we saw a massive shift in power. We started with direct vendor sales teams owning the server sale as a platform lock-in. We ended with the decimation of the value of server homogeneity and the rise of the virtualization integrator.

In 2014, this wave is coming to hit the storage and networking markets with as much force and will shake up the existing hierarchy of vendor-sell/partner-deliver to partner-sell-and-define/vendor-supply.

Compounding and accelerating all this is the new need to federate on-premises applications with cloud services, including Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). So virtual workloads can migrate from on-premises to cloud and back.

Another driver is application communication models that let cloud events drive on-premises applications -- for example, a new sale in an on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) system triggering the close of a record in This area is somewhat nascent now, but there's real opportunity here for vertical applications.

Both of these shift the balance of power back to the competent Microsoft partners who focus on getting from a product-based approach to a practice-based approach to value creation. Partners with repeatable IP, formal methodologies and an integration-centric model will grow faster than the market, take share from hardware-centric channels and gain account positions that are defensible into the rest of the decade.

Posted on January 03, 2014 at 8:51 AM0 comments

Marching Orders 2014: Cloud Success Requires Business Expertise

As part of our 2014 "Marching Orders" feature, Michael Fraser, CEO and founder of VDI Space Inc., gives his take on what partners need to do to succeed in the new year.
We're in a new era of technology with the cloud. The only way to succeed going into 2014 and beyond is to become a business expert using cloud to solve business issues.

With everything in technology morphing into an "as-a-service" model, partners need a high level of business expertise to ensure customers are getting the right solutions for their business needs. The only way to gain expertise is a balance between learning and experience. This means you must be diligent to keep up with what's going on, as well as leverage experts, be they cloud providers, consultants or peers. 

Looking at Microsoft, the company is radically evolving its business model. Microsoft understands that business expertise is driving cloud adoption. This also means technical expertise is being pushed more to the cloud providers, which is why IT service companies are being encouraged to take more of a trusted advisor or business-expert role.

The cloud is ensuring organizations are becoming more efficient, getting more value out of every dollar spent, lowering the barrier to entry, getting exactly the resources they need and eliminating the complacent from the channel. If your traits include being technologically enterprising, relationship-building, problem-solving, value-adding, business expertise-giving, you will succeed with the cloud.

Posted on January 03, 2014 at 8:51 AM0 comments