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No More Paper Chase on Microsoft Partner of Record Fees

The paper chase associated with becoming a Partner of Record (POR) for Microsoft's Online Services Advisor Deploy incentives will end next week.

For the last few years, in order to be eligible for Online Services Advisor (OSA) incentives, partners needed to track down such archaic details as a customer's Enterprise Agreement (EA) ID number, the date of the agreement and the type of agreement; put the data in a form; get an employee at the customer to sign it; and finally send the paper to Microsoft.

Several months later, partner incentives associated with Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online or Windows Intune might start rolling in. That is, so long as one of those details in the paperwork wasn't incorrect, in which case partners began the bureaucratic slog to find any errors in the form and correct them, adding several months to the process of getting that first check.

Change in the form of a new all-digital process is coming March 2, according to a blog post Monday by Osa Elaiho, senior program manager in Microsoft Partner Network Support. "We've heard your feedback that attaching yourself as the Advisor Partner of Record (POR) for Office 365, Windows Intune, CRM Online, and Enterprise Mobility Suite [EMS] using the Online Services Advisor (OSA) form comes with several challenges and takes too much time," Elaiho said. "We're making a change to the Advisor Deploy incentives to automate the partner attach process with a new, online capability."

As of next Monday, a customer's Online Services Global Administrator will be able to attach a partner as the POR for any subscription a partner is actively managing for that customer, Elaiho said. The change can be made in the Office Customer Portal for Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online and in the Intune Account Portal for Windows Intune and EMS.

"We're definitely excited that it's moving to a digital mechanism, because it has been a significant pain point for us and our customers over the last two to three years," said Reed M. Wiedower, CTO at New Signature, the 2014 Microsoft U.S. Partner of the Year. "The biggest challenge has often been in verifying that all the logistical information is correct. Even the person in charge of the purchasing at the customer is often hard-pressed to know."

One problem New Signature sometimes ran into was a customer might provide a bad or an outdated EA number. "You would be attached, but you'd never make any revenue off of it," Wiedower said.

Don MacNeil, managing partner at Strategic SaaS, said the EA agreement date was another common obstacle. "You'd send in the paperwork, and you'd get the agreement date wrong. That would kick it out," said MacNeil, who is in the process of tracking down customer information for two of the paper forms and added that he was "thrilled to hear" about the change.

"It wouldn't work about 5 to 15 percent of the time, depending on the season," MacNeil estimated of the OSA form process.

Administrative problems weren't the only shortcoming of the paper process. Both Wiedower and MacNeil say their companies lost POR status to licensing solution providers (LSPs). POR is supposed to be for the deployment and management partner; LSPs make a separate percentage on the sale of the license. As Microsoft has reportedly clamped down on the LSP margin and encouraged those partners to offer more services, the LSPs have come into conflict with systems integration partners over POR fees.

"The pain point the LSPs were exploiting was they had a lot of paperwork they had to shove in front of the customer," said Wiedower, who added that the LSPs had the benefit of all the EA information at their fingertips.

"In the digital process, we'll get an e-mail," Wiedower said. "It also ensures that if someone does switch, it's a trivial solution to switch them back. The new mechanism should allow us to have multiple layers of error correction."

The new process will bring some headaches of its own for all concerned. While new OSA forms will be accepted for new EA or Campus Agreement/School Agreement deals until April 30, partners must go back to all of their current customers to attach themselves as the Digital POR for each subscription they currently manage. Elaiho's blog post didn't say when the deadline for converting current customers would hit. Elaiho also said Microsoft will use the Digital POR data to calculate sales goal requirements for Silver and Gold competencies.

The change doesn't affect the related Online Services Advisor Web-Direct POR process, which was already digital. Microsoft previously, and somewhat confusingly, called both programs "Online Services Advisor Incentives." In October, the MPN renamed the EA side of the program "Online Services Advisor Deploy" and called the part for customers with fewer than about 200 seats "Online Services Advisor Web-Direct."

Josh Waldo, a longtime Microsoft executive whose last job there was senior director of cloud partner strategy before joining Nintex in November as vice president of channel strategy and channel programs, said the move made a lot of tactical sense for Microsoft. While echoing the reasons that Wiedower and MacNeil stated, Waldo also pointed to the internal costs to Microsoft of the old process: "It takes a lot of good, intelligent and expensive people to run a time-consuming manual process like that and takes even longer when something goes wrong with the process."

However, Waldo also sees some strategic benefits for Microsoft. One is moving the customer decision maker from a procurement person, who may not be familiar with various partners' roles in the deployment, to the IT administrator, who knows the partners' roles intimately.

"By making it digital, and by making it something that only the person who has access to the tenancy can do, you can inherently change the person who makes the decision to the right person. I think that's a huge factor here," Waldo said.

Longer term, by digitizing and segmenting the POR even for EA customers, Microsoft could be leaving itself room to tie partner incentives to specific workloads over time, Waldo speculated.

"I have to think that in the future this gives you a platform to incent certain workloads that might not have as much usage as others," Waldo said. "If you're only using Exchange but you have the rights to SharePoint or Lync, you could incent on driving Lync usage or driving SharePoint usage, which is great for Microsoft, great for partners and great for customers as they get even more out of what they purchased."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 25, 2015