The Evolving MSP

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Power Platform as Survival Strategy for Microsoft Partners

There came a time when Microsoft and other channel partners realized their reseller business was going away. Cloud had burst onto the scene to intense, though mixed, reception. Resellers had serious concerns about security, privacy and reliability of cloud services, and they spared no effort making sure their customers were aware of this. After all, cloud replaced so much of what they were currently doing for those customers. It didn't really matter whether their concerns were well-founded or not, and many simply didn't make any effort to see for themselves.

Then their vendor-partners, foremost among them Microsoft, set about proving to customers that cloud was indeed the nirvana they were saying it was: very secure, very resilient, fully redundant and very reliable. Were you to ask senior executives at Microsoft at the time, they'd say that proving their cloud services to be trustworthy was an existential demand. And they warned partners that failure to embrace these cloud services would soon render them obsolete and irrelevant.

So Where Do We Go from Here?
Many Microsoft partners had long ago pinned their futures on reselling Microsoft and related products -- servers, storage, power conditioning, routers, switches and so much more. Now, suddenly, that list of salable products had been chopped to ribbons. No more servers, no more storage, fewer routers and switches.

Partners scrambled, seeking a way to shift their businesses to a model that would continue to grow into the future. Some embraced cloud mightily and began learning how to combine cloud services to build bigger, more profitable bundles for their clients. Some insisted that their traditional reseller business would serve them well into the future. Some realized the import of something then-Microsoft-channel-chief Phil Sorgen said to me back in 2011 when talking about how he saw cloud impacting partners: "Microsoft really has only one job. That is to provide an excellent platform that partners can run their solutions on."

This presumed that the partners of that time actually had solutions. Bill Patterson, then Microsoft Dynamics CRM product manager, observed that when most partners referred to themselves as "solution providers," what they meant by the word "solution" was simply more infrastructure: Add more and more infrastructure to solve problems. Patterson went on to suggest that we would witness an "evolution of solution" with customers demanding far more business-relevant solutions.

Both Sorgen and Patterson were, of course, completely right. Microsoft partners who heeded these words from senior Microsoft executives began to plan how they would go about creating or otherwise obtaining solutions that would be business-relevant and would run well on Azure, or in conjunction with then-Office-365. Most frequently, the question arose, "How are we going to get into appdev?"

The Path to the Evolution of Solution
Over a decade later, many resellers have transformed themselves into managed service providers (MSP) or managed security service providers (MSSP) and have shifted their focus from product sales to service engagements. Some have made deep investments in training and qualified experts, while others have merely invested in having "MSP" crash-imprinted on their business cards. The former are flourishing, while the latter only serve to make it harder for everyone by repeatedly failing customers and giving the MSP role itself a bad name.

During the same period, talented developers realized that more people felt they should have more control over the software that runs their companies but couldn't imagine themselves learning how to code. They ended up in the same boat as the former resellers wanting to create applications but not wanting to learn how to code. These talented developers decided to apply the models that were successful in OS user interface design to coding of applications. They developed platforms that enabled any business user who was familiar with how processes worked in their company to convert that knowledge into applications that would automate those processes. The interfaces for these were point-and-click icons that could be dragged-and-dropped into the proper sequence to perform most any typical business function. By moving these icons into place, anyone could fashion a working application without writing a drop of code.

In just the past few years, these platforms have been christened with a name that was most recently validated by the assignment of its own acronym by Gartner: LCAP, which stands for "low-code/no-code application platforms." Low-code refers to scenarios in which the non-programmer or citizen developer would create an application that demonstrated the involved workflow, which they then provide to a professional developer who would add code to complete the application. No-code is just what it says it is: You build it, then you run it. No code at all; just icons dragged-and-dropped into place.

At the end of last year, Gartner validated everything by providing a Magic Quadrant for these platforms The evolution of solution had begun.

Microsoft Leads the Way
While Microsoft was neither farthest to the right for completeness of vision (the horizontal axis of the Gartner Magic Quadrants) nor highest up for their ability to execute (the vertical axis), it was high up and to the right in the "Leaders" quadrant. Some Microsoft partners were surprised to see it there and puzzled as to how it enabled LCAP application development, and with which Microsoft products.

They soon found out the answer was the Power Platform, which was designed as a low-code platform enabling anyone to build custom applications and automate workflows. Speaking in native Microsoft, the goal was to accelerate digital innovation and transformation to help everyone do more. Consistent with its larger strategy, Microsoft launched the ISV Connect program which would help ISV partners develop low-code/no-code solutions and publish them on the Microsoft Marketplace.

Microsoft's vision for the Power Platform is "to empower businesses to do more with less by making it easier than ever to securely scale low-code, increase organizational collaboration for accelerated innovation, and infuse AI and automation into all of your business processes."

Occupying 'The Middle Ground'
As with any new technology, the arrival of LCAPs delivers excellent opportunities to Microsoft partners to seize the middle ground, offering to build applications for their customers using Power Platform. The idea is to build your own engagement model to first assess the current state of the customer's IT environment, then apply your LCAP to develop and deliver relevant and impactful solutions with no sign of infrastructure in them. Instead, they're totally business-relevant applications provided by partners.

At any given time in the history of personal computing, there has been little that partners do that customers could not ultimately do themselves. Customers could, if they wished to, install and implement servers, storage, routers, switches and other infrastructure components -- but they preferred to have partners do it for a fee. Provisioning cloud services, security, high-availability and much more were all possible for an end-user to accomplish, but seldom attempted. Users value the services of partners and are more than happy to engage them.

The takeaway here is if you're looking for ways to expand your business to recover the lost reseller ground and then some, explore LCAPs. There are hundreds upon hundreds of them. Master any of them and create applications for your customers without ever learning to produce even one line of code. The catalyst for the dawning of the age of the evolution of solution is LCAPs, and they are here.

Posted by Howard M. Cohen on June 26, 2023


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