In-Depth

Ready, Set, Launch!

SharePoint and Vista implementations head the list of opportunities that Microsoft's new product wave offers partners -- but taking advantage of them requires careful preparation.

Chris Caplinger, CTO of KnowledgeLake Inc. in St. Louis, Mo., can sum up with one word the big opportunity he sees in the Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 launches: SharePoint. Jason Liu, CEO of Intrinsic Technologies LLC, is looking forward to implementing Vista along with some virtualization technology that he thinks will be crucial for seamless upgrades. Others talk of the security enhancements inherent in Vista and how various Microsoft products launching in 2007 will work together in concert, turning Microsoft's ubiquitous "People-Ready" marketing campaign promises into reality.

With respect to Vista and Office 2007, there's no shortage of opportunity for the properly prepared. Indeed, service providers and ISVs that know how to work the Microsoft partner system have been preparing for the launches for months, if not years. Syntergy Inc., an ISV that makes SharePoint add-ons, has been at it since about mid-2005 and its resellers have been ramping up since the spring of 2005, says Douglas Arthur, president of the La Jolla, Calif.-based company, a Gold Certified Partner. Says Arthur: "If you're just starting today, you're behind the curve."

Many partners are bullish on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 because it's server-based, making it relatively simple to install, and because it brings immediate benefits even to companies that want to stick with Windows XP desktops. ISV partners have been champing at the bit to sell their SharePoint add-ons for months, while service providers are likely to see plenty of ancillary work installing and customizing the tool.

Other partners, like Liu, see plenty of opportunity in Vista and in the desktop-based Office suites, but say they will be longer-term sells. Security is the area of opportunity mentioned most often. Most notably, the BitLocker technology will make it far easier for companies to implement full-disk encryption, thus mitigating, among other problems, the risk inherent in lost laptops.

Economic conditions surrounding the product launches are reasonably favorable, says John Gantz, chief research officer and senior vice president at IDC, the Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm. "Conditions now are better than when XP came out, but not as good as Windows 95," Gantz says. In 1995, the IT industry was booming, particularly in the United States. On the other hand, today's companies are more technologically sophisticated compared to when XP came out, Gantz says, and there's far more concern about security -- a plus for Vista.

Sold on SharePoint
Caplinger, of KnowledgeLake, a Gold Certified Partner that provides document-imaging tools, sees lots of plusses in MOSS 2007. For one, he says, its enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities are a massive improvement over those in the previous version.

"We were losing deals to other ECM vendors because there were things that weren't in the platform," Caplinger says. Examples include item-level security and more flexible ways to classify items inside a document library so that users don't have to create separate libraries for each type of document.

Additionally, Microsoft is now delivering server versions of tools such as Excel and the InfoPath forms tool, which means that users don't need to install client versions on every machine that might need to use such resources. "For large enterprises, it'll be a lot less expensive," Caplinger says. The Excel piece means that companies could create an Excel template, distribute it to users, have them plug in values, then execute the calculations on the server whether the client is running Mac OS or Linux.

Caplinger also expects the new XML Paper Specification (XPS) to have a huge impact on the document-imaging industry. He believes that, with its ability to store almost anything in an XML format from within Office (and other) applications, XPS has the potential to become the de facto document-imaging format, replacing myriad other formats, including PDF and TIFF. XPS-capable printers can also print native XPS documents without the need for Postscript and other printer formats. "If we can get everybody to do XPS, it means we'll have a native file format supported by the operating system, which neither PDF nor TIFF is," Caplinger says. "If somebody's doing PDF, you need the Adobe Reader. You always have to give them something extra."

David Long, practice leader of application development for Tribridge Inc., a Gold Certified Partner in Tampa, Fla., is likewise bullish on MOSS. His company uses SharePoint as the collection point for data coming from various applications, including CRM and Microsoft Dynamics. The new version, Long says, makes it far easier to pull elements together without custom code. Now when MOSS presents a demonstration of what CRM can do, for example, it typically shows the results not through the CRM interface, but from within a familiar Office application. "To us, it's no longer a stand-alone solution," he says. "And that's huge for us."

How Fast Will Windows Vista Spread?

Opinions vary, but here are the highlights from two surveys and a prescient Microsoft CEO:

Market research firm IDC forecasts 162 million shipments of all Windows client operating environments in 2007. Of those:

  • 35 million copies are projected to be Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Enterprise
  • 55 million shipments will be Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate
  • 72 million copies will be other versions of Windows, primarily XP

Microsoft seems to believe the Vista-related numbers carry some weight. In a letter to partners to coincide with general availability of Windows Vista in late January, Allison Watson, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the worldwide partner group, wrote:

"By the end of 2007, we expect 90 million PCs will be running Windows Vista."

In one of the most comprehensive public studies on Windows Vista adoption plans, direct market reseller CDW Corp. surveyed 761 IT decision makers. According to CDW's survey, which was released in November:

  • 86 percent of the respondents plan to upgrade to Vista
  • 20 percent expect to upgrade within 12 months
  • 51 percent say that at least half their hardware would require upgrading or replacement to support Vista
  • 16 percent say that 91 percent to 100 percent of their hardware would need to be upgraded or replaced to support Vista
  • 26 percent have a Vista-upgrade plan in place
  • 14 percent were delaying some IT purchases based on the launch of Vista

At the November volume licensing launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Exchange 2007, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted of the three products: "We expect that more than 200 million people will be using at least one of these products by the end of 2007."

Microsoft officials have also been saying that the company expects to sell 200 million copies of Vista to business and consumer customers worldwide in the product's first two years on the market.

SharePoint also comes in different versions, including the entry-level Windows SharePoint Server 3.0 that's offered as an add-on to Windows Server 2003. "You can always use that as the base and build people up to the full SharePoint Server, which has a lot of other capabilities to it," notes Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm Directions on Microsoft. "And SharePoint almost always offers a lot of customization opportunities," which, he says, is a good reason to get familiar with the SharePoint Designer tool.

Alternatively, partners can use SharePoint tools from the likes of Bluespring Software Inc., itself a Gold Certified Partner in Cincinnati. The ISV makes tools that automatically implement business process management applications in SharePoint; in fact, Bluespring was featured in the Office 2007 press kit. "We run into partners all the time who, when they look at our technology, say they've been hard-coding processes around MOSS and creating from scratch all the activities associated with it," says Jeffrey Mills, the company's vice president of channel development and partner enrichment. "Our product comes out of the box pre-integrated with virtually everything customers would ever ask you to do."

Peering into Vista
Liu, of Gold Certified Partner Intrinsic, sounds a similar theme with respect to Vista, noting that his company's SWIMAGE platform is intended to enable automated installation of the new operating systems (as well as other Windows OSes). Typically, he notes, the challenge with any new OS is making sure that it plays well with the installed base of applications.

That's where Microsoft's recent purchase of Softricity and its SoftGrid product comes in, Liu says. SoftGrid is virtualization technology that essentially abstracts applications from the underlying desktop OS. Applications are installed and managed in a central location, then delivered in a streaming, virtualized package upon demand, requiring no interaction with the desktop OS.

"We think the play is not only in deploying Vista, but also in deploying Softricity to ensure application virtualization and application compatibility," Liu says. "You can partition applications away from all the potential conflicts with DLLs, registry settings and things like that."

Such issues can be significant for companies with lots of applications, and Liu says most companies have between 1,000 and 5,000 applications. DeGroot has observed the same issue. "I was talking to a global company the other day that has thousands of custom applications. About one-third of their applications are broken by Vista -- about 3,000 of them," DeGroot says. "There's a lot of work for somebody to go see why 3,000 applications don't work properly with Vista and make any necessary modifications."

Crash Course

Need to get up to speed on some of the new products launching in 2007? Microsoft's online Launch Central has scheduled a variety of live and on-demand Webinars. Here's a sampling of the breadth and focus of those offerings, as of January:

Windows Vista

 15 for ISVs
 14 for system builders
 30 for systems integrators
 7 for resellers

Microsoft Office 2007 (for all types of partners)

 23 sales
 9 technical

Microsoft Office 2007 (for ISVs)  4 sales
 16 technical
Microsoft Office 2007 (for systems integrators)

 5 sales
 6 technical

LAR/DMR/VAR

 9 sales

For more information, visit the partner Web site at Partner.Microsoft.com. -- P.D.

As for demand, Liu says that BitLocker, which enables full-disk encryption, has the potential to drive a more rapid adoption for Vista than previous desktop OSes. "The threat of laptops getting lost is causing significant paranoia in the marketplace," he notes. While third-party products exist to perform full-disk encryption, they cost $20 to $40 per desktop and require an IT person to type in a password each time they need to make a change to the desktop, he says. BitLocker, on the other hand, is built into Vista and allows for automated, unattended desktop updates.

DeGroot says partners may find lots of work in reformatting hard drives to install BitLocker, which requires special partitioning on the hard drive. At the very least, BitLocker presents a simple, high-visibility issue that partners can raise with customers: the need for full-disk encryption.

Partners should also get familiar with the new imaging format in Vista, DeGroot recommends. Many companies, particularly enterprises and larger midsize firms, keep master images of all their various desktop configurations. Vista has a file-based image format that will make it easier for companies to update those images, such as with security patches, without having to rebuild them from the master computer. "That's far too tedious to do with any quantity of images," DeGroot says. "Imaging can be very valuable. If you have a corporate image it keeps your desktops consistent, and allows you to recover more rapidly from some kind of major setback."

Vista also presents an opportunity for ISVs and custom software developers to kick off an upgrade cycle for any desktop application software they've sold, DeGroot adds: "It's an opportunity to go back and say, 'We've got an upgrade. This is Vista-compatible.'"

Planting the Seeds
Forward-thinking partners have been investing heavily in garnering a share of the Vista and Office pies. KnowledgeLake, which has about 125 employees, invested some $1.5 million in preparing for the Office launch between late 2005 and January 2007. Caplinger says the company plans to shell out another $200,000 to train its help desk staffers on Office 2007 because they'll be responsible for supporting the company's products.

The outlay includes KnowledgeLake's investment in a Technology Adoption Program (TAP) with Microsoft, which involved sending teams of developers to Redmond for weeks at a time beginning about 18 months before the SharePoint product release. "Microsoft gave us a lot of help and put a lot of people in front of us," Caplinger says. "It was very helpful."

Intrinsic is also involved in a TAP with Microsoft. As of early this year, Intrinsic was in the process of deploying Vista for two Fortune 1000 companies, although Liu said at the time that he couldn't identify those enterprises.

Tribridge was involved in a TAP involving SharePoint, InfoPath and other Office applications for Lockheed Martin Corp. Tribridge presented the results of that effort in May 2006 at a SharePoint conference in Bellevue, Wash. Since then, Long has held weekly two-hour meetings with his SharePoint team to discuss the new product. Tribridge also conducted its own internal SharePoint migration, practiced its customer implementation five times and created proof-of-concept implementations for various features and functions, such as Excel services and workflow functions. Long estimates that launch investment at about $100,000.

"We've been as proactive with training and getting ready for this launch as we have with anything ever in our history," he says. And the work is already paying off: "I've been writing SharePoint implementation proposals non-stop for the last two or three weeks," he says. Fully half of the company's prospects are interested in the 2007 versions.

Many partners were also involved in some of the many launch events Microsoft held around Vista, Office and Exchange. Intrinsic was involved in five of the 15 launch events that Microsoft held in major cities in January and February, while KnowledgeLake participated in four.

In recent months, Syntergy was a launch sponsor for Windows Vista at events in 10 cities in the United States, five in Canada and one in Berlin, Germany. "It's a large investment of our marketing dollars, but based on the results of the Canadian events [alone], well worth the investment," says Arthur, Syntergy's president. "We've closed sales from prospects we met on the Canadian tour." While sponsorship fees vary, he notes that platinum level sponsorships cost more than $100,000.

However, plenty of opportunities exist for partners that can't spend that kind of money. Alex Beletsky, CEO of Sentri Inc. in Westborough, Mass., says his company hosted a daylong event at a nearby Microsoft facility to educate customers and prospects on various Vista and Office technologies. Sentri, a Gold Certified Partner, used a mix of its own personnel and Microsoft employees as speakers, with Sentri's only direct cost being for the food provided at the event. Altogether, Beletsky figures his 23-employee company has invested maybe $40,000 to $50,000 in the Vista/Office 2007 launch.

Advice for Latecomers
Asked what partners should do to prepare for the Vista and Office 2007 launches, Sherle Webb-Robins, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Program, pulls no punches. "They should already be prepared," she says. "It's already happening."

Her advice for those who might be a bit behind in their Vista preparation is equally direct: "They need to learn it and use it so they can talk to their customers about their needs."

DeGroot agrees. He says it's important for partners to be familiar with Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 for a variety of reasons. One is to simply take advantage of Microsoft's massive marketing campaign and any promotions, rebates or other special offerings. In addition, partners can piggyback on the interest the products generate, using that as a way to start conversations with customers. "It's always valuable for a partner to get into a new customer site, or [talk to] an existing customer, and see what they need. That's always an opportunity to sell what you're best at," he says.

A Rosy Forecast

IDC researchers crunched some numbers for Microsoft on the market opportunities related to Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Exchange 2007. Here are some highlights of their findings:

Desktop deployment: $31 billion
Enterprise content management: $27 billion
Performance management: $25 billion
Unified Communications: $20 billon
Smart client development: $20 billion
Portals and collaboration: $15 billion
Enterprise portal management: $5 billion
Data visualization: $3 billion
Search: $2 billion

Microsoft says the total market opportunity for services related to Office 2007 is $148 billion. Get busy on those proposals! -- P.D.

Being familiar with the new products also positions a partner as an expert adviser to customers. "When a customer asks, 'Would this solve my problem?' you can give a highly qualified answer," DeGroot says. "You as a partner are going to be more valuable if you lead them toward the best solution, whether it's staying with what they've got today or migrating to something else."

Beletsky says partners that are just getting started on the 2007 rollouts should focus on one or two products that are most compatible with their existing practices. "There's too much technology out there and it's going too fast for people to become expert in everything if they're just starting out and don't have a history," he says. "So focus on one or two things as wedge products -- products that help you get in the door."

Once partners do that, Microsoft's Webb-Robins says, they should take advantage of the various tools Microsoft has available to promote their offerings. Among the choices are the online Solution Finder and Demo Showcase, which are packaged demonstration and presentation tools intended to help partners demonstrate practical business applications of Microsoft tools. Partners can use the packages as they are or add in their own customized solutions.

"So the call to action is: 'Get your solutions into Solution Finder, get Demo Showcase and demo [the products],'" Webb-Robins says. "Hopefully, that's going to drive the customer to say, 'Yes, this is the solution that can help solve my business need.'"