'Gold' Gets New Life in the Microsoft Partner Network

Microsoft this week will announce that the competency and advanced competency designations of the Microsoft Partner Network are being renamed "silver competencies" and "gold competencies."

The new labels were listed in a "Microsoft Partner Network 101" document handed out to the press at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) on Sunday. A spokeswoman confirmed the name change for the competency types.

As part of the gradual transition to the Microsoft Partner Network, Microsoft began rolling out new competencies in May, and planned to launch advanced versions of each competency in October.

One of the casualties of that MPN transition was the Gold Certified Partner level. Even with the changes to be announced this week, the Gold Certified Partner level, which applied to the whole company rather than a technology or business specialty, will still be gone when partners re-enroll in the Microsoft Partner Network this year.

The new names for the competencies, however keep alive the branding efforts that Microsoft and its partners have built together for the term "gold" since the Gold Certified Partner level was introduced in October 2000.

In its MPN 101 document, Microsoft stated that gold and silver "will still describe specific competency expertise, not the aggregate partner. Partners can earn a combination of both silver competencies and gold competencies."

Like the advanced competencies they replace, the gold and silver competencies will be available to partners beginning in October 2010.

The name change won't dispel controversy, especially among smaller and midsize partner companies, that the advanced (now gold) competency requirements create unnecessarily high barriers against them in certain areas. For example, to earn a gold competency, one requirement is that four engineers pass exams related to the technology behind that competency, and that those same experts cannot be used toward exams for other gold competencies.

Many partners are sympathetic to Microsoft's goal of creating branding that only its most capable and committed partners can meet, and the related goal of bringing down the number of partners that could claim to be top-level Microsoft partners. But many other partners have argued that the requirements of having four experts unique to every competency make little sense in areas where competencies overlap.

In an interview with RCP late last month, Judy Kolde, Microsoft director of reseller strategy, made the case that there is a legitimate place in the new MPN for small partners with a broad focus -- the new Midmarket Solution Provider competency at the advanced level.

"We believe that the Midmarket Solution Provider competency will be one of our biggest competencies. We're projecting that we'll have about 16,000 of them worldwide," Kolde said. "Some will come up from the Small Business Specialist Community or over from Networking or Licensing or some of the Information Worker competencies."

Meanwhile, partners and other observers are hoping that when the name changes to "gold" and "silver" are formally announced, presumably durin Worldwide Partner Group Corporate Vice President Jonathan Roskill's keynote address on Tuesday, they will be accompanied by more substantive changes.

"I think they were convinced competent and advanced competent would take too much explaining. Silver and gold is much easier to explain to a customer. It is cosmetic, purely, it's just a name change," said Howard Cohen, northeast regional chairman of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP).

The thing to pay attention to is what the rule changes will be, Cohen said. "They need to allow the partners who played by the rules to continue doing so without harming their businesses," he said. "From what I am hearing, there will be answers."

Also partners will be looking to hear what the revenue requirement will be, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. This, he said, can be difficult for partners who must also devote more resources to the new competencies. "Do you want me to be really competent or sell a lot of software?" DeGroot asked.

Also, Microsoft needs to ensure it can carefully account for who is selling what. "When you make specific revenue targets, I want Microsoft to have a bulletproof system to make sure the partner gets credit for every dollar of software they sell," he said. "I don't think they have such a system."

The advice to partners, he added, is to keep partner account managers at Microsoft up to speed on all accomplishments. "We recommend to partners that they tell their PAM every time they have a win -- they need to know you are performing. They need a process in place that isn’t burdensome to partners and customers."

RCP Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz contributed to this report.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.