Where Does Microsoft Want to Go Today?

Microsoft's roadmap for partners and customers continues to be muddled with too many goals and no defined direction.

Partners of software vendors often need flexible necks to keep up with all the policy and attitude shifts. It's like a pendulum: One year they want lots of partners, the next they want fewer; sometimes they want more resellers, other times more integrators.

Microsoft is no different. Markets change, personnel change, technology changes and Microsoft's business is changing, so we can expect that its relationship with partners will change as well.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is sending confusing messages these days. On one hand, Steve Ballmer mentioned at the Worldwide Partner Conference in July that the company wanted to dramatically increase -- perhaps double -- the number of partners it has.

On the other hand, Redmond makes no secret of the fact that it thinks there are too many partners in some places, such as at the top Gold Certified Partner tier of the Microsoft Partner Program.

In an effort to shed some light on where it wants to go, Microsoft has described some new metrics that it wants to apply to partners. But if what's been offered qualifies as shedding light, then I hope I never see darkness.

One slide I've seen describes the following metrics:
  • Four major "elements": enablement, capability, commitment, revenue and customer evidence
  • Four "lenses": customer focus, vertical, business model and solution area
  • Three levels of "goodness": Good, Better, Best

In other words, we have a four-by-four-by-three matrix -- or 48 different ways -- to categorize a Microsoft partner.

But that's only the beginning. Each category has its own scale or parameters. For example, Microsoft cares about more than a dozen verticals, it defines at least three business models plus combinations of business models (integrator plus ISV, for example) and, let's say, 20 different solution areas. Add these to the matrix and we get -- let's see here -- 57,600 different types of partners. And we haven't even tried to measure all the different kinds of goodness-you know, the good lookers, the good singers, the good dancers, the good dressers and the good cooks.

Well, at least we've put every partner in a pretty small club -- with 57,600 categories you could cover 600,000 partners and still have barely more than 10 partners who fit any given combination of elements, lenses, et al, on average. Multiply it with a three-point scale for partner revenue and a three-point scale for customer evidence and we can fit every single partner company into its own cubbyhole.

More Time, More People
But what exactly (hey, I'd settle for "vaguely") does this all achieve?

The point, presumably, of coming up with all these ways to measure partners is to achieve some understandable goal-happier partners, a richer Microsoft, more successful customers, better beer, whatever.

My concern is that partners may get more forms to fill out, more reports to write, more measurements to take, more choices to make and more meetings to attend-none of which will sell more software, create new services or bring in new customers.

Articulating these strategies to partners in ways they can understand, and convincing them to, if necessary, change how they're working and to come onboard with the company's goals and methods is the hardest and most important part.

Unfortunately, the current roadmap isn't likely to deliver it. It's a look-at-the-trees-not-the-forest approach that could leave partners deeply in the dark about where Microsoft really wants to go and how they can work on getting there together.

About the Author

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