In-Depth

9 Huge Opportunities for Microsoft Partners in 2012

For many partners, matching their priorities with Microsoft's is a sure-fire way to boost business. Conveniently, Microsoft has just listed its top priority areas -- or "priority workloads" -- for the Microsoft Partner Network. Here they are, along with the related products and competencies for each.

Those Microsoft partners that attain a Microsoft Partner Network competency enjoy faster growth than other partners, Microsoft executives often say. But not all competencies are created equal.

During an MPN Interactive Leadership Forum this month, Microsoft released the current list of what it calls its "Priority Workloads." Generally, Priority Workloads cover the areas where Microsoft either sees huge market demand already, or where the company hopes to create big demand for a new product.

For partners, concentrating on Priority Workloads doesn't just mean more customer business (although that's reason enough to pay attention to Microsoft's priorities). Partners that represent Microsoft's Priority Workload products get access to A-team Microsoft support personnel and also usually reap the best incentives Redmond has to offer.

What follows are the eight Priority Workloads Microsoft cited during the MPN forum, along with the associated products and related competencies. The ninth opportunity may be the biggest one of all for Microsoft partners, even though it's not technically a Priority Workload.

1. Communications
Product: Microsoft Lync
Competency: Communications

Microsoft recently split the Unified Communications competency into two. The Communications competency is now specifically for voice and video, and the expertise to do things like replace PBXes and set up voice lines. Microsoft is boasting of massive momentum for Lync, with a recent claim that Lync now has 3 million voice lines. This is the product for which several Microsoft executives have predicted hockey stick growth, and incentives and resources are aligned for partners that can help make that a reality.

2. E-Mail Servers
Product: Microsoft Exchange
Competency: Messaging

The other half of the former Unified Communications competency is the new Messaging competency -- expertise in the good, old-fashioned practice of installing and supporting e-mail systems based on Microsoft Exchange. The e-mail server is the dominant corporate e-mail server, and enjoys a high place on Microsoft's list of products that bring in more than a billion dollars in annual revenues.

3. Database
Product: Microsoft SQL Server
Competencies: Data Platform, Business Intelligence

With a new version of SQL Server about to ship (SQL Server 2012 hit the release candidate stage last month), the huge partner business around databases continues to be a significant area of focus for Microsoft. Company executives say they're continuing to compete with Oracle for deals and want to equip partners to help win that business.

4. Business Collaboration Platforms
Product: Microsoft SharePoint
Competencies: Content Management, Portals and Collaboration, Search

Partners from a number of competency areas are eligible to bring their skills to bear on the business collaboration platforms opportunity around SharePoint.

5. Optimized Desktop
Products: Windows, Microsoft Office
Competency: Desktop

When it comes to Microsoft revenues, nothing is more important than the desktop. Since the MPN-related competency overhaul that went into effect in 2010, though, most of the emphasis on the desktop side has been on Windows alone. Microsoft is refocusing its efforts around desktop to put more resources and incentives in place to help partners work an Office component into their engagements.

6. Management & Virtualization
Products: Windows Server, System Center
Competencies: Virtualization, Systems Management

Next spring, Microsoft plans to merge the Virtualization and Systems Management competencies for partners. Also over the next few months, Microsoft is expected to release System Center 2012 components that integrate more virtualization management capabilities. But the company's not waiting for that competency update or the product releases to focus partners on the opportunities in combining virtualization and systems management.

7. Customer Relationship Management
Product: Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Competency: Customer Relationship Management

Microsoft is planning to integrate its cloud computing products into many of the MPN competencies over the next few months. One area where that integration between on-premise and online within a competency is well underway is Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Microsoft is pushing hard against Salesforce.com with its hybrid-focused story and is putting resources in the field to help partners sell the solution.

8. Web & Software Development
Product: Windows Azure
Competencies: Web Development, Software Development

File this one under the category of Microsoft using its resources and incentives to try to create some momentum around a product. Windows Azure and the rest of the Azure platform is going to get a lot more attention within the MPN over the next year, according to Microsoft executives.

9. Emerging Markets
Products: All of the Above
Competencies: All of the Above

While the above examples are Microsoft's Priority Workloads, the geographic area makes a difference, too. Generally, Microsoft is looking for nearly twice as much growth in emerging markets as in developed markets. The revenue expectations go up accordingly for Priority Workload areas. In short, Microsoft is advising partners in or near emerging markets to focus their efforts there.

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About the Author

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