In-Depth

Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference: The RCP Track

Redmond Channel Partner magazine identifies 13 must-see sessions at the upcoming Microsoft WPC in New Orleans.

When you've got a channel consisting of hundreds of thousands of partners like Microsoft does, you've got to segment your partner program into a nearly bewildering array of sub-programs for your partners to get anything out of it.

That's certainly the case at Microsoft, with its dozens of competencies and partner categories. Microsoft's team is currently at work on revamping the partner program, with the idea of moving pieces around to make categories more effective, but they'll no doubt continue to be relatively complex. It's the nature of the beast.

The upcoming Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans reflects that reality. As Microsoft slowly unveils the sessions for the conference, the company has sorted content into multiple tracks, and even the tracks have categories.

There are the solution tracks, including application platform, business leadership, business productivity, core infrastructure, Microsoft Dynamics, mobility, sales and marketing, small and midsize business (SMB) solutions and Software plus Services. Then there are the customer segment tracks, which include enterprise partners, SMBs again, industry-specific groupings and a new public-sector track. Another superset of tracks is business model segments, and those include Certified Partners for Learning Solutions, Digital Agency, ISV, OEM, LAR/Distributor/SAM Partner, Systems Integrator, Web Development and U.S. Partner.

As a magazine covering the entire Microsoft channel, we've got a fairly wide-ranging set of interests. Basically we're tuned in to the sessions across the spectrum that seem likely to generate the most news. Most of the headlines from a show like the WPC come from the keynote speeches by Microsoft executives such as Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner and Corporate Vice President for the Worldwide Partner Group Allison Watson. A number of key developments will come from the so-called "value keynotes," segment-specific messages from high-level executives like Simon Witts, corporate vice president of the Enterprise and Partner Group, or Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of the OEM Division. That speaker list hadn't been finalized as of mid-May.

But we've been keeping our eye on the evolving session list for any content that indicates new directions, that might point to expanded information in emerging areas or that just looks particularly helpful to partners right now.

What follows is a list of 13 sessions we've bookmarked to monitor in New Orleans next month. Just like there's an enterprise-partner track or a public-sector track for the Worldwide Partner Conference, you might call this the RCP Track. The session names and the Microsoft descriptions are in italics, followed by explanations of why we think each will be important.

Out of the Closet ... into the Cloud: Three Ways to Make Software-Plus-Services a Reality
Make your software service a reality! Learn about three partnering scenarios for leveraging Microsoft partner hosted solutions to get your software services to market quickly, efficiently, and cost effectively: 1) White label messaging and collaboration providers for the resale of Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Server and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, 2) S+S incubation centers for ISVs moving to or delivering SaaS, and 3) Web infrastructure services providers to enable dedicated or virtualized Windows environments.

Every WPC for the past several years has arrived accompanied by calls from the channel for Microsoft to spell out exactly how partners can make money with S+S. The 2008 conference came closest, with Microsoft laying out the details of the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and associated offerings and the specifics on margins involved. In the year since that blockbuster WPC announcement, Microsoft has been rolling out BPOS offerings around the globe. Microsoft is promising several rubber-meets-the-road sessions this year to help partners figure out how to make money from the company's various S+S offerings. This is one of those sessions. Another is ...

Best Practices for Building a Successful S+S Business within the SMB Space
A Software plus Services offering enables partners to create a predictable high margin business and to add further business value for their customers. How can you adopt a services strategy for your business? Learn how different SMB VARs have successfully created a recurring services revenue stream. Three progressive partners give insight on how they adopted S+S, sharing their key learning and exposing sales, marketing and operational challenges for their respective solutions.

While the company hasn't done much yet to address partner concerns that Microsoft owns the customer relationship in BPOS, Microsoft at least has the opportunity to prove to partners that other partners are finding ways to make money and retain customers by using BPOS and other Microsoft S+S technologies. This session, with its three partners, could be a chance for Microsoft to show that there's more partner opportunity in the S+S offerings than many partners saw at first blush.

LAR/ESA Incentives: Aligning Revenue Performance with Rewards
Learn how incentives will reward EA and other revenue goals, along with a dialogue on the long-term channel incentives strategy for LARs/ESAs.

This session covers the ESA fee program and rebate programs, and key performance goals and rewards. LAR/ESA partners engaging in this discussion have a participatory view into how Microsoft channel incentives (including marketing funds, promotions and offers) support our mutual business goals and opportunities in a challenging revenue environment.

As RCP columnist and Directions on Microsoft analyst Paul DeGroot has detailed in his column, Microsoft has made major changes to the way that large account resellers are compensated, with cuts to many of the traditional sources of LAR revenues. LARs tend to be well-informed and outspoken at conferences. With the program changing, and not necessarily to the LARs' benefit, this should be a lively session.

Game Changing Technologies for ISVs
Your business success depends on your ability to innovate. Join Neil Leslie, general manager of Platform Evangelism, to understand the business upside of Windows 7, the impact of S+S on the Microsoft platform and how Microsoft's developer tools, servers and databases drive innovation and profitability.

ISVs seem to be emerging as the stars of Microsoft's current S+S universe. Microsoft needs ISVs in order for its S+S platforms to be valuable vertically to industries and horizontally for more specialized applications. Conceivably ISVs will occupy some links in the value chain that VARs and SIs occupy in a non-SaaS world. That said, it's not a given that all ISVs will be able to adapt to the S+S changes. This session could provide a good overview of the landscape that both ISVs, and other partners, could find valuable.

With Windows 7 grinding closer to release, this is one of several sessions focusing on partner opportunities in the new client OS. Another is ...

Build New Service Models with Windows 7 and MDOP
Learn how to drive additional services opportunities by deploying Windows 7 with Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).

MDOP is an interesting package of six products sold as an add-on subscription license for Software Assurance customers. The opportunity was there with Windows Vista, but Windows 7 has the potential to be a more popular client operating system, and MDOP may get a little more traction ahead of the new OS.

Decoding Microsoft to Maximize Your Partnering Relationship
Learn how to effectively get someone at Microsoft to take your calls, listen to your value proposition and engage with you in reference to your customers. This session, an adaptation of one of the best-rated MS Partner 101 sessions, unlocks the code to get in that door.

A recurring theme here at RCP is that the Microsoft Partner Program is an incredibly rich resource, but it's hard for partners to find everything they need. Microsoft recognizes this issue as well, thus the "decoding Microsoft" session. Even experienced partners benefit occasionally from a refresher on the basics of navigating Microsoft.

Selling with Microsoft
This session will provide an overview on the sales cycle and highlight opportunities for partners to engage with Microsoft. Topics include: Joint execution, industry priority solution scenarios, priorities around Account Planning, Partner Solution Plans (PSPs), and Partner Business Plans (PBPs).

Continuing the theme of decoding Microsoft, many partners don't understand how willing Microsoft is to help partners with their sales. Obviously, this is truer in the managed partner arena than in the breadth space, but most partners who attend the WPC come from managed partner companies anyway. For example, high-level Microsoft executives are often willing to attend customer meetings to close deals, for partners who know who and when to ask.

Business Opportunities and Economic Advantages of Azure Services Platform
The Azure Services Platform of Windows Azure, SQL Services and .NET Services changes the economics of services-based offerings and creates new opportunities across the Microsoft partner landscape. For ISVs and services, discover how Azure can be used to effectively transition to a SaaS business model. For systems integrators, creation of Azure centers of excellence can help shepherd customers into the cloud era and provide technical leadership and consulting opportunities.

Azure seems to be the direction Microsoft is heading in the next few years. While it's not likely to amount to much business in the July 2009-June 2010 time frame that the WPC mostly prepares partners for, Microsoft is taking the opportunity to prepare partners for what could be a major change in customer infrastructure. This session promises to net out the Azure opportunity for several different classes of Microsoft partners.

How to Compete Against Oracle
In this session, learn the tremendous revenue opportunity with Microsoft's Application Platform and how we could grow our business together by taking share from Oracle. The truth is customers are fed up with Oracle's expensive maintenance contracts, confused by their Fusion promise, and looking for alternatives. Walk away from this session with key strategies, offerings and sales resources we put together specifically for you to win against Oracle.

This session is interesting because it's the only one in the catalog-as of mid-May-that singles out a competing vendor. No Google sessions, no Salesforce.com sessions, just Oracle. That could change as the catalog develops over the next month, but, at the moment, it's a telling indicator of where Microsoft's sights are set. With Oracle greatly expanding its footprint with the Sun Microsystems Inc. acquisition, Oracle's importance as a multi-front competitor to Microsoft is only likely to increase.

Microsoft Exchange and the Partner Business Opportunity
Learn about the newly released Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, the cornerstone of Microsoft's unified communications solution, providing enterprise messaging, calendaring and voicemail solutions. Learn about the new capabilities coming in Exchange Server 2010 and Exchange Online, with a focus on deployment, upgrade and solutions integration opportunities for partners.

Exchange 2010 is one of the biggest landmarks on the Microsoft release roadmap. The more information Microsoft gives partners about this major generator of partner revenues and service opportunities, the better. Unified communications appears, thankfully, to be a major theme.

Shovel Ready Session #1 and #2
1) Opportunity for U.S. Partners in Stimulus Spending on Fiscal Management and Transparent Governance
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides unprecedented oversight, accountability and transparency to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested effectively, efficiently and as quickly as possible. Join Microsoft thought leaders to understand the opportunity for partner services and solutions relative to transparent government and fiscal management.

2) Opportunity for U.S. Partners in Stimulus Spending on Health IT
ARRA provides very specific details into how stimulus funding is to be used to support the goals of the administration around health-care reform. Microsoft partners are able to capitalize on the areas of electronic health data, sharing of health information, and efficiency improvements. Learn about how Microsoft is approaching the opportunity around Health IT and how you can engage with sales teams and partners currently in market.

There are big bucks in the nearly $800 billion stimulus package that Congress passed in the first few months of the Obama administration. Microsoft's guidance on how partners can help public and private sector customers use that money should make for an interesting, and well attended, pair of sessions.

Social Media 101: Defining and Understanding How to Connect with Your Citizens and Colleagues Using the Latest Technologies
Social media is the latest trend, but many leaders face big hurdles with getting online and creating a buzz. Hear how you can use social media tools internally across your organization and as a mechanism to quickly share important information. This session takes a hands-on approach on how to: use social media to connect with employees, team members and clients; design a blog; write your message clearly and concisely; and apply delivery mechanisms and alerts for notification of new content.

Using social media effectively is tricky. Part of the allure of this session is the instructor, the well-connected Stuart Crawford of the Canada chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners. Crawford, who is currently vice president at Bulletproof InfoTech, a managed service provider in Alberta, will talk about Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media strategies.

There you have it. These 13 sessions should be ground zero for some of the most important developments out of Microsoft's largest and most critical conference for partners this year. That said, we reserve the right to change our minds. At press time, Microsoft had listed about 120 of its planned 200 sessions, and some of the still-to-be-scheduled value keynotes and other events could emerge as keepers.

Still, we're confident that the themes developing in these sessions will be among the most important of the show, whether in these particular sessions or during other conference sessions or keynotes. Either way, you can bet that we'll bring you all the developments from New Orleans as they happen the week of July 13.

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