Microsoft Partner Network Roadmap: A Guide to Upcoming MPN Changes

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Microsoft is readying a wave of modifications to the Microsoft Partner Network. Between the launch of new competencies and the retirement of several cloud programs, partners will be busy over the coming months as they prepare for the changes. Here's a timeline detailing what changes to expect, and what each will entail for partners.

UPDATED, 11/22: Microsoft has announced several major changes to its partner program plans. Read the story here.

Over the next few months, Microsoft will introduce more changes to its Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) than at any time since the MPN fully launched in 2010.

The biggest changes revealed broadly to partners in July at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston are the integration of cloud into the competencies, a few new competencies, the retirement or renaming of some other competencies, the conversion of the hosting competency into a track, and changes to the popular subscription program known as Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions (MAPS).

On Nov. 21, Microsoft unveiled some important delays to the roadmap laid out in July, and the roadmap is less settled than it was originally.

Here are some of the important changes coming up, listed by the date the changes go (or went) into effect. To jump to a date, click on the links below:

Microsoft also describes the coming MPN changes in its MPN disclosure guide here.

July 8, 2013 Cloud Essentials Benefit Scaleback
One of the best deals for partners in the MPN for the last few years was Cloud Essentials, a simple program designed to get partners to try out Microsoft's cloud offerings. Now that Microsoft is having some success in getting partners to participate, and reportedly doing more than $1 billion a year in revenues in Office 365 business alone, the company feels less of a need to incent partners with lots of free Internal Use Rights (IURs) of the cloud products. Until July 8, 2013, partners got 25 seats each of Office 365 and CRM Online to test just for signing up for the free Cloud Essentials program. Now, those IURs are being scaled way back to five seats of Office 365 and five seats of CRM Online for new partners signing up for Cloud Essentials.

The move is a precursor in Microsoft's plan to integrate cloud as a track within several competencies in January and then to shut down the Cloud Essentials program, along with other cloud-only programs, when Microsoft's fiscal 2014 ends on June 30, 2014. [Back to top.]

Aug. 31, 2013 TechNet Subscriptions Retired
Just ahead of WPC, Microsoft announced that it was retiring the TechNet subscription service, which was included in many MPN programs. Microsoft is no longer selling TechNet subscriptions after Aug. 31.

For partners, it means a few things. According to a FAQ, partners who renew their competencies or MAPS Solution Provider after Aug. 31 will no longer get TechNet as part of the package. Those enrolling prior to Aug. 31 must activate their benefits by Sept. 30, 2013. TechNet software and support will continue to be available to any partners who enrolled before Aug. 31 until their enrollment end dates. For partners with competencies, the rights on the included MSDN subscriptions have been expanded to cover accessing software for evaluation purposes. [Back to top.]

Oct. 1, 2013 Partner Incentives
Microsoft uses Partner Incentives to entice partners to line up their sales efforts with Microsoft's internal sales priorities. The schedule of Partner Incentives is set at the beginning of each Microsoft fiscal year (July 1), with individual incentives going live on a rolling basis. Three Partner Incentives go live on Oct. 1, 2013: Enterprise, Solution and SAM Services.

These follow four Partner Incentives that went live on July 1, 2013: Managed Reseller, Distributor, Online Services Advisor and Windows Azure. [Back to top.]

November 2013 Partner Incentive
Another Partner Incentive goes live on Nov. 1: Channel Developer. [Back to top.]

Goodbye Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC)
The SBSC was once a thriving community of Microsoft partners serving small businesses. A mix of shifting market demand and pressures, partners getting what they asked for in a Small Business competency, and the partially self-imposed (by Microsoft) decline of Windows Small Business Server mean that the SBSC, which once rated its own special SKU of the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription, is going away. Microsoft will formally retire the program in November 2013.

Microsoft currently offers a Small Business competency and a Midmarket Solution Provider competency for small business-focused partners and has announced plans to roll out some sort of peer-to-peer community effort for SMB partners in January. [Back to top.]

New Limits on Business-Critical Phone Support
Up until now, Microsoft partners with gold or silver competencies were entitled to unlimited phone support for business-critical issues on behalf of their customers. In November 2013, Microsoft will clamp down, limiting gold competency partners to 15 incidents and silver competency partners to 10 incidents. A related benefit for both competency levels of a five-pack of incidents of phone support for non-critical issues is unchanged. [Back to top.]

Price Changes
Last year, Microsoft rolled out a 38 percent price hike to the cost of a gold competency. Early indications this year are that the annual November price changes for MPN competencies will only involve currency adjustments for the most part. [Back to top.]

Digital Push for MAPS
(Updated 7/31) Microsoft has been nudging partners toward digital-only delivery for software in the Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions for years now, primarily by charging a higher price for mailing physical media. Now Microsoft will only offer digital delivery of the MAPS subscription in some geographies, while allowing partners in other places to continue to have the mailed option for a higher price.

Asked for clarification on which geographies will not have the mailed/physical media option, a Microsoft spokesperson said via e-mail, "The guiding principle is for countries with reliable network or high digital adoption to not have the paid/mail option, such as [the United States], countries in [Western Europe] or where the local field team has made the decision to go 100 percent digital (e.g. India)." [Back to top.]

Sometime in 2013 WEPP to MPN
Compared to many tech vendors' channel programs, Microsoft's partner program is remarkably unified in the MPN. However, one outlier within Microsoft has been the Windows Embedded unit, which had its own Windows Embedded Partner Program (WEPP). Microsoft plans to transition WEPP into the MPN sometime later in 2013. When that happens, the Windows Embedded Team will launch an Intelligent Systems Specialization. Not quite a competency, the Intelligent Systems Specialization will be designed to support Microsoft solution partners who support the enterprise market with Windows Embedded-based products.

(Updated 10/16) Rather than an Intelligent Systems Specialization, Microsoft now says it will, in fact, launch an Intelligent Systems Competency sometime in January 2014. [Back to top.]

January 2014 New Competencies Launch (UPDATE 11/21: DELAYED INDEFINITELY)
With the MPN, Microsoft created a somewhat short list of specializations, known as competencies, for its partners. At the start, there were nearly 30. Last year, Microsoft whittled the list down to 25, and when all the changes go into effect in January, there will be might be as few as 23.

Nonetheless, Microsoft is actually adding three two competencies as it eliminates and redirects others. A true addition to the competency structure is the User Experience Design competency, which is a nod to the growing importance of the UI designer's role in everything from mobile to desktop to cloud. (Microsoft formally killed the User Experience Design competency on Nov. 21 after announcing it but before launching it.) A new competency is Datacenter, but that is mainly a consolidation of some competencies that are being retired. Data Analysis, meanwhile, is a new name for the competency formerly known as Business Intelligence. [Back to top.]

Competencies Getting Retired (UPDATE 11/21: DELAYED INDEFINITELY)
Microsoft is retiring six competencies in January. The Business Intelligence competency is being renamed Data Analysis. Three competencies are being folded into the new Datacenter competency: Server Platform, Identity & Access and Management & Virtualization. The Mobility competency is being split into two existing competencies. Mobile device management scenarios will fall under the Devices & Deployment competency. Mobile application scenarios will fall under the Application Development competency.

Meanwhile, a quasi-competency in the previously separate Windows Embedded Partner Program will also become part of Application Development. (This is different from the Intelligent Systems Specialization mentioned above.) The Hosting competency is becoming a track in several competencies (see next item). [Back to top.]

Hosting Competency Gets Tracked (UPDATE 11/21: DELAYED INDEFINITELY)
"The Hosting competency is not a key business driver today: 40 percent of top [Service Provider License Agreement] partners do not have the Hosting competency," a Microsoft slide from WPC states. Microsoft regularly claims 15,000 or more hosting partners. The same slide shows that there are only 269 Hosting gold competency partners and 2,295 Hosting silver competency partners. Microsoft is rebooting its efforts to find a place for hosting partners by creating a hosting track across four competencies: Datacenter, Data Platform, Messaging and Communications. [Back to top.]

Microsoft has been making noises about integrating cloud into the core competency structure for a few years. Partners will see those changes in January 2014. At that time, Microsoft will launch cloud tracks in a dozen competencies.

Office 365 will be the core of the cloud track in Devices & Deployment, Messaging, Collaboration & Content, Communications, Project & Portfolio Management, Small Business and Midmarket Solution Provider. Windows Intune will be part of the cloud track in Devices & Deployment and Midmarket Solution Provider, as well.

Windows Azure will be the flagship product for the cloud track of Application Development, Datacenter, Data Platform and Data Analytics. Dynamics CRM Online will be the product for the Customer Relationship Management competency's cloud track.

Because cloud revenue is easier for Microsoft to tie to individual partners, there will be specific revenue or seat deployment requirements as part of the cloud tracks for both silver and gold competencies. [Back to top.]

February 2014 New Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions
Microsoft is launching redesigned MAPS. Originally planned for release in January, Microsoft now intends to launch the new MAPS in February. The new MAPS replaces the existing MAPS Development & Design and MAPS Solution Provider. Now partners will subscribe to a universal and customizable MAPS that will emphasize cloud solutions and be focused on partners serving small and mid-size businesses. As with current MAPS subscriptions, the IURs will be geared toward outfitting partner organizations with up to 10 employees. Meanwhile, the new MAPS will be the landing spot for the cloud program formerly known as Cloud Essentials.

MAPS will consist of six "resource centers" designed to organize content and recommend benefits based on core business practices. The resource centers are application design & development, reselling, professional services, hosting, managed services and device design & development.

In addition to IURs, MAPS benefits include technical support, training resources, Visual Studio developer tools, $600 in Bing advertising credits and Ready-To-Go Marketing Campaigns. [Back to top.]

Partner Incentive
The final scheduled Partner Incentive for Microsoft's FY14 goes live on Jan. 1, 2014: SPLA Reseller. [Back to top.]

Small Business Silver Stays Cheap
Because the Small Business silver competency is an upgrade path for partners who used to pay Microsoft about $350 for a small business version of the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription, Microsoft created a much lower joining fee for that competency than usual. While most silver competencies have a $1,850 joining fee (U.S. price), the Small Business silver competency costs $999. Microsoft has extended the promotional price several times, and the current guarantee runs through January 2014. (See Microsoft Partner Network Cost: How Much To Join the MPN?) [Back to top.]

A Small Business P2P Network?
Even as Microsoft formally retires the Small Business Specialist Community in November 2013, company officials are promising some sort of new peer-to-peer community for small business-focused partners. According to company documents, plans were being finalized as of July 2013 to spin up the new P2P community in January 2014. [Back to top.]

June 30, 2014 Cloud Essentials Retires
As part of the integration of cloud programs into MPN competencies and MAPS, Microsoft will officially retire Cloud Essentials. The once free program is basically being folded into MAPS. Cloud Essentials launched in 2010. [Back to top.]

Country Qualifications
(Updated 7/31) Microsoft partners with offices in different countries will have to earn any Microsoft competencies in each country where they want to claim that expertise beginning at the end of Microsoft's FY 2014. This requirement is something of a moving target, having had its launch extended from an original date of October 2013 to January 2014 (in Microsoft's WPC 2013 change disclosure document) to the end of fiscal 2014 target (announced in late July). [Back to top.]

Sometime in 2014 Cloud Programs Retire
Completing the integration of cloud programs into MPN competencies and MAPS, Microsoft will retire Cloud Accelerate, Cloud Deployment and Windows Azure Circle sometime in the third quarter of 2014. Elements of the three programs will be headed for cloud tracks of various competencies. [Back to top.]


  • New Nov. 21: Important Update to Previously Announced Microsoft Partner Network Program Changes (PDF)
  • MPN Disclosure of Upcoming Program Changes (PDF)

About the Author

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


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