In-Depth

Take a Seat at WPC

Sure, schmoozing is a big part of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. But to get the maximum benefit from the event, you need to do more than mingle. Here are our picks for a dozen-plus sessions that you won't want to miss.

If the past is any guide, Microsoft will draw nearly 10,000 people to its fifth annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Houston next month.

As we noted in our preview for last year's show in Denver, the biggest benefit of the conference for most partner attendees is the virtually unlimited networking. You get to meet other partners from your regions and your vertical industries as well as those with similar business models.

You get exposed to hundreds of potential new vendors. And you can make critical face-to-face contacts with Microsoft partner and product executives. That won't change this year.

Between all those networking meetings, though, there are those little agenda items known as keynote addresses and conference sessions. At press time in early May, Microsoft was still fleshing out the exact schedule of keynote addresses for the event, which runs from July 7-10 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The conference organizers do have commitments from usual WPC speakers: Chief Operating Office Kevin Turner, CEO Steve Ballmer and Worldwide Partner Group Corporate Vice President Allison Watson.

However, the conference session schedule was much more solid. In early May, Microsoft posted a session catalog describing 226 sessions at the WPC. That's a lot of pages of small type to scroll through looking for the gems. So we at RCP did the digging for you. Following are 12-plus high-priority sessions that are likely to generate as much buzz as a Texas-sized mosquito near a Houston pond. Dates, times and locations were still being hammered out at press time, and session titles and other details are subject to change.

1. Software Plus Services Essentials: Deep Dive on Monetizing Services
This particular session illustrates a major theme across many of this year's sessions: specific advice on how partners can make money with Software plus Services (S+S). At the 2007 conference, Microsoft handed out an S+S white paper that was roundly criticized as being too skimpy on details.

Sessions such as the "Deep Dive on Monetizing Services" and its sister presentation, "A Real Conversation About Real Dollars for Your Business," promise "concrete examples of how to monetize services from Microsoft." Those looking for specifics and insights on the S+S future can also attend "Adding Advertising Dollars to Your Revenue Mix," "Building a Recurring Revenue Stream by Betting on S+S Delivery Models Hosted by Partners" or "Expanding Your Microsoft Dynamics Business Through S+S."

2. A Successful Blueprint for Improving Customer Satisfaction
Whatever Kevin Turner talks about in his keynote, his influence will be felt in a session on customer satisfaction, or "C-Sat." One of the former Wal-Mart exec's first acts as Microsoft's COO was to ask why the company had no data on how satisfied its customers were with their Microsoft partners. He's been working on getting those metrics ever since. The description for this WPC session opens by noting "'customer satisfaction' is a key metric for the majority of Microsoft Partners" and offers to provide a framework for maximizing that satisfaction. The session also is supposed to show partners "how best to involve Microsoft in a partner customer-satisfaction program."

3. Evolution of the Microsoft Partner Program
Even the best-running machinery needs a tune-up after five years. Microsoft's 400,000-partner program is currently in the garage for some repairs; the results will be unveiled at the partner conference in July. So far, the company has been mum about what will be different, but the session description suggests that we'll hear about minor work rather than a massive overhaul. Called out in the description are changes to help drive customer satisfaction, provide ease-of-use for licensing benefits and increase the value of Microsoft competencies by aligning them to industry standards.

4. Leading at the Speed of Trust-and Thinking Better
A couple of well-known business-book authors will be featured at this year's WPC. Stephen M.R. Covey, son of the author of the bestselling "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," will apply the principles of his own The New York Times bestseller, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything (Free Press, 2006), to the Microsoft channel. Microsoft also booked Tim Hurson, author of Think Better: An Innovator's Guide to Productive Thinking (McGraw-Hill, 2007) to speak at this year's event.

5. SMB Revenue Growth Opportunities and SMB Product Roadmap
An entire conference track is dedicated to Small & Medium Business (SMB) Solutions. (Other tracks include Application Platform, Business Fundamentals, Business Leadership, Business Productivity, Core Infrastructure, Dynamics, Mobility, and Sales and Marketing.) One standout session from the SMB track: A "Value Keynote," with a speaker yet to be named, that will cover growth opportunities and provide a product roadmap. As described, this course will "showcase new SMB incubation products" and review the SMB-partner angles on S+S as well as cover market opportunities in managed services and hosted services.

6. Growing Your Core Infrastructure Business through Virtualization Opportunities
Virtualization is one IT area that's growing, dovetailing as it does with the current twin impulses to save money and make infrastructure greener. In recent years, Microsoft has been busy with technological development and acquisitions; currently, the company has about as much virtualization technology on the market as anyone between its own brand and those of close industry partners such as Citrix Systems Inc. This session combines virtualization with infrastructure optimization (IO), another Microsoft pet project (for more on IO, see "Optimize Sales," February 2008).

7. Hosting State of the Union
Only hosting partners will be allowed to this session, scheduled for Monday, July 7, as part of the Industry Partner Forum. But it could be one of the more intense sessions as hosters try to figure out where they stand in the delicate dance between partnering with Microsoft and competing with the $51-billion-a-year company that happens to be investing several billion of those dollars in building out data centers around the world. "The hosting industry is being transformed by disruptive technologies and new business models," the session description reads. "Learn about key industry trends, how hosters can move up-stack and evolve while partnering with Microsoft."

8. Meeting the Enterprise Search Challenge: The Business Case
The Microsoft Competency and Specialty program has been relatively stable over the last few years. One of the few additions was Enterprise Search, which launched in QuickStart fashion. The company is still working to recruit enterprise search partners.

The WPC session focuses on the business case for enterprise search solutions and describes the technologies that partners integrate -- primarily Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and Windows Search -- in order to make those solutions work. Another session, titled "Enterprise Search: Meet FAST," will focus on the experience of a partner in using FAST, a search company recently acquired by Microsoft, to enhance enterprise search solutions.

9.Collaboration: The New World of Enterprise Web 2.0 Solutions
This is the catch-all session covering all those new-fangled technologies that the kids are playing with -- is there a business model there? On the agenda: social networks, blogs, wikis, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), rich-client software and tags. Microsoft intends to show how partners can use SharePoint Server and Microsoft Office Groove to bring Web 2.0 technologies into the enterprise.

10. Citizen Service Platform
After three years of planning and development, Microsoft released the Citizen Service Platform (CSP) this spring. Plans call for extensive discussions with government partners about CSP during the Industry Partner Forum on July 7. Microsoft defines CSP as "an Applications Framework that helps public-sector customers address key challenges by accelerating their ability to quickly and cost-effectively deliver new services to clients while leveraging previous investments." Citing recent research, Microsoft believes there is a $9 billion market for the approach, of which up to $7 billion would pass through to partners.

11. Business Intelligence: 'Ask the Expert' Panel Discussion
With the new version of SQL Server 2008 released on top of the business intelligence (BI) capabilities built into Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, BI is top-of-mind for many partners. Given the generally longer adoption cycles for databases and BI technologies, there's still time for partners to think about exactly how they'll get in on the SQL Server opportunities before the market erupts. This panel discussion builds on the basics outlined in another WPC session titled "Business Intelligence: The Fundamentals of Building Your Practice."

12. Microsoft Worldwide Services and Partners
Last but certainly not least, certain S+S topics will be featured in some closed-door discussions, which are far more likely to be frank. The Enterprise Partner Forum on July 7 will afford Microsoft's national and global systems integrators several opportunities to hear about Microsoft's Worldwide Services and Partners progress and plans-always a topic of interest to anyone seeking reassurance that partners and Microsoft Services personnel are aligned, rather than competing, in customer engagements. Large Account Resellers are also scheduled for closed-door meetings about how they fit into Microsoft's S+S universe.

So there you have it: RCP's 12 key sessions for this year's WPC, plus a few extra related events. If you miss any sessions-or even the whole conference -- don't worry. RCP's editors will be in Houston, blogging furiously from the show floor, and we'll post all the highlights to RCPmag.com.

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