Switch Is Flipped on Microsoft Partner Network

Microsoft  on Monday formally flipped the switch on the final, and biggest, step in launching the Microsoft Partner Network, the first major overhaul in seven years of Microsoft's program for engaging its 640,000 partners.

The last step for Microsoft was opening the enrollment process for the new Gold Competencies. The Microsoft Partner Network narrowed its dozens of competencies and competency specializations into 29 competencies in May. But the big change was making each competency two-tiered. The Silver versions of the competencies effectively began in May, while the Gold versions only became available Monday.

[For more on making the transition, see's special section on the Microsoft Partner Network]

The switchover date also marks the beginning of the end for the Gold Certified and Certified levels of the Microsoft Partner Program. Partners will now be Gold or Silver in a specific competency area or areas; they will not be Certified or Gold Certified as a company. Partners are able to continue using the retiring Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and Certified Partner branding until October 2011 if they choose.

Microsoft officials used the term "significant" to describe the changes to the program. Jon Roskill, who took over as Microsoft's worldwide channel chief in July, said in an interview on Friday that the large scope of the changes has become more clear to him as he's spent more time in the job. "I think it's something that as the 100 days has gone on, I've really started to fully appreciate. The change to the competency model that we've done, I think, initially is subtle, but it is very significant. We're moving from an organizational-based competency model to one that's based truly on workload," said Roskill, the corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group.

Jeff Pyden, president and CEO of Omnivue, a Microsoft partner company based in Alpharetta, Ga., was more blunt about the changes. "This is probably the most advanced, the most bold, change to the partner channel that Microsoft's ever made," Pyden said.

Julie Bennani, the general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, was tasked with overhauling the then Microsoft Partner Program soon after she joined Microsoft from Accenture in May 2007. As a consultant, she'd helped former Microsoft channel chief Allison Watson launch the previous program in 2003.

"It's harder to do a V2 [version two] than a V1, only because people get used to the V1. If the V2 is quite different, it's kind of like when we shifted from Office 2003 to Office 2007. The product was way better but the user interface was so different, it just took time for people to get used to it," Bennani said.

Ever since Bennani began laying the public groundwork for the MPN changes in 2008, she has defined one of the central issues driving the change in a consistent way. As she framed it on Friday, "Because of the points model for getting certified, we have a lot of partners who would attain the level and then they would attain eight or nine competencies. You might be talking about a 20- or 30-person organization, which, if you really think about it, do you think a 20- or 30-person organization can be good in that many places at that level of depth? Probably not."

"The transition is how they've marketed themselves in the past versus how they will in the future," Bennani said of partners." I strongly believe the benefit for the customer and for that partner organization long-term is going to be better."

Pyden, who is supportive of the changes, said his 30-person firm which will have a Dynamics ERP Gold Competency under the MPN often faced competition from Gold Certified companies with less depth. "Fog a mirror and you could be a Gold Certified partner," he said of the old method based on Partner Points, which have been retired.

The competency changes taking effect this month also mark the first price change in Microsoft's channel program since 2003, Bennani said.

Companies pursuing the Silver Competency, either in one or multiple areas, will continue to pay about $1,800 (the figure represents a global average, which is adjusted by currency), Bennani said. That's the same price Certified Partner and Gold Certified Partners have paid for years, she said.

Joining the program with a Gold Competency will cost $4,000, also a one-time fee and an increase of about $2,200 over the old Gold Certified price, Bennani said.

"As we did some analysis on the value we were putting into the different areas within the network, we also did some competitive benchmarking and looked at, say, what Cisco, Oracle, etc., are asking for at that top tier," she said. "We always like to go at the lower end, and we [still] are."

While Microsoft often talks about having 640,000 partners worldwide, a slightly smaller group is actually enrolled in the Microsoft Partner Network. The roughly 430,000 enrolled partners were able to begin re-enrolling under the completely overhauled program on Monday. According to Bennani, the bulk will re-enroll during the first quarter of the calendar year, so the effect of the changes -- in terms of drop outs or additions -- will be fully clear next April.

"Today, there's about 430,000 unique organizations in the network. We hope there's more than that tomorrow. Where they are [in the network], and the way they communicate with us and surface will be different. In Silver and Gold, it will be more precise," she said.

It is fair to expect that there will be fewer partners sporting Gold badges after the changes, Bennani predicted. "Today,  the split is actually 50/50 [Gold Certified/Certified], and that's part of the issue," Bennani said, referring to the roughly 35,000 partners worldwide who are at either the Gold Certified or Certified levels currently. "We probably see two things happening. [First,] we see each partner having fewer Gold Competencies, meaning they'll focus where they might have had four to five, they might have one to two. That, in turn, will probably narrow the number at Gold, but not necessarily the total. We actually think Silver will grow," she said.

About the Author

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


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