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Industry Builder Tells You a Lot About Microsoft

While the program isn't scalable, its structure exemplifies Microsoft's preferred partner role.

Many ISVs and services partners would like to have just a small part of the resources that Microsoft spends on marketing and product promotion every year. There are numerous signs that Microsoft sees the value of that, but probably nothing that says it as well as the company's Industry Builder program.

The Industry Builder program is aimed at Dynamics AX partners. AX, formerly known as Axapta, is as close as Microsoft comes to a real enterprise resource planning solution, and it came to Microsoft when the company acquired Navision. It's a well-designed product with substantial development tools.

Through the Industry Builder program, Microsoft takes in-house some applications built by Axapta partners. It reviews partners' source code and tests their applications, and it examines their businesses to ensure that they can back and extend their solutions for the foreseeable future. It then officially certifies and endorses the programs and markets them as Microsoft products for which Microsoft provides support. Any Dynamics partner can resell these solutions, and Microsoft field salespeople will promote them.

Perhaps most important, when customers buy these products, they see Microsoft behind them. Why would the company put this much skin in the game? You can see why when you look more closely at how Industry Builder maps partner products to Microsoft priorities.

These partners give Microsoft a serious foothold in a market the company really, really wants. Microsoft started out as a desktop company, and for its first 15 years its products made their way into corporate environments almost by accident. Someone saw a PC, figured WordPerfect or Lotus could make his job easier, and paid for it out of the office-supplies budget.

Today, Microsoft has grown up, and it's lusting for the data center. But it faces strong incumbents and its own reputation for not knowing much about its customers' businesses. The Industry Builder program gives Microsoft not only products that can appeal to enterprise customers, but the backing of ISV partners whose technical and industry expertise in these markets far exceeds Microsoft's.

These products reinforce an important Microsoft product trend. Axapta has been anointed as the flagship of the Dynamics line. OK, this isn't official, but it's not a well-kept secret. Dynamics GP, NAV and SL aren't excluded from the program, but the fact is that Microsoft needs to consolidate the four Dynamics product lines. Various efforts (Project Green, the Microsoft Business Foundation) to create a product line that is simultaneously new (to customers) and familiar (to existing partners) have not worked. So the company is putting its resources into the Axapta bucket, as the Industry Builder program makes clear.

Industry Builder exemplifies Microsoft's preferred partner role. Any partner who has spent more than a year listening to Microsoft executives has probably got the mantra down by now: Build on our platform, don't compete with it. Microsoft's great strength is in horizontal solutions; partners have more vertical expertise. Creating industry-specific solutions is not a Microsoft skill, nor is it particularly desirable because of the resources Microsoft would need to add to produce thousands of specific solutions. Microsoft wants partners to create solutions that meet very specific enterprise and industry requirements. That's exactly what Industry Builder does.

I don't want to suggest that Industry Builder is a solution for everyone. To be honest, given how much work it is for both Microsoft and the mere nine partners (as of August 2006) in the program, it's clearly not scalable.

But don't look at the program; look at its objectives, some of which I've outlined above. That can give you some significant clues about how you can improve the fit between you and Microsoft. Look at the markets Microsoft wants the most, at the products it's putting its weight behind and the role it wants partners to play.

About the Author

Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.

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