Market Forces

The Partner Opportunity in Packaging Microsoft's Power BI

As much as business intelligence has gone mainstream, it's still not a simple conversation. One Microsoft partner has found a solution to reduce customer confusion.

As the shift from IT to line-of-business (LOB) decision making continues, technology solutions need to be easy to understand and promise tangible results. To respond, there's a growing trend for partners to package services into well-defined projects with demonstrable outcomes. One such partner has created a library of Microsoft Power BI templates that give customers immediate value, while opening the door to build long-term relationships.

As much as business intelligence (BI) has gone mainstream, it's still not a simple conversation. "For a lot of people it's hard to get started with BI," says Sharan Hildebrand, vice president of sales at Capax Global. Customers have many questions, she says, such as who is going to consume it, is it internal or external, how secure does the information need to be and does it have to be real time? "It's too much to think about, so people just avoid it."

As much as Hildebrand tried to distill the meaning of Power BI for customers, it was still difficult to connect. "People were still glazing over," explains Hildebrand. "Then I saw the success that other partners were having with packaged solutions, putting them in what I call a 'bread box.' Very clearly defining what the solution is and what the customer is going to get."

Applying the packaged service concept to visualizing your data, Capax Global launched a library of BI Accelerators for Power BI. Including function- and industry-specific reports, data visualizations and dashboards, the BI accelerators were developed to help customers quickly harness the capabilities of Power BI. The BI accelerators are customized for organizations, but are based on best practice templates that include Workforce Analytics, Benefits Analytics, Revenue/Sales Analysis, Customer Database Health, Social Network Information and Industry-Specific Dashboards.

Clients choose their base templates from more than 100 options and Capax Global provides a fixed fee engagement that spans 2.5 to 3 weeks. "We may show the customer 25 dashboards specific to their industry. They'll see four that look really close -- it's easy for them to envision just swapping out the field names. So we start with those," says Hildebrand. "As part of the engagement, we determine where the data is and customize the reports and dashboards to meet their needs."

While the original concept was focused on making BI as easy as possible, Capax Global has realized more benefits than it had expected. "The package makes it easier for people to understand and embrace," notes Hildebrand. "And it also makes it easier for them to socialize within their own organization. Having people inside the organization evangelize your solution is very powerful."

Because more BI conversations are being held with LOB managers instead of IT, technology has to fall to the background. "The accelerators make it easy for LOB managers to understand and tie real value to BI," says Hildebrand. "You can go to a bank and ask them how long it takes to compile the Excel spreadsheets and develop the charts and graphs for monthly reporting. Last-minute changes mean everything needs to be redone. Those are very real pains for them, and we can show them a very real ROI."

The bigger picture for most packaged services offerings is the lead-in they provide to bigger engagements with the client. Packaged services allow both parties to test out working with one another without a big risk. For clients, it's the value of the packaged solution plus getting a feel for the caliber and cultural fit of a partner. For the partner, a limited engagement provides a glimpse into the organization much deeper than presales or requirements gathering can provide.

"Through these initial engagements, we get an understanding of their overall wish list. That allows us to position our expertise to make a big impact," Hildebrand says.

Packaging services, no matter what solutions you represent, makes it easier for customers to understand the value. Customers are looking for simple-to-purchase, simple-to-execute solutions. With an understanding of your client's needs and some groundwork, you can create packaged services offerings that deliver value and lay the foundation for long-term relationships.

More Columns by Barb Levisay:

About the Author

Barb Levisay owns Marketing for Partners, a marketing and service delivery leadership firm for Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint and ISV partners. She serves as the event chair on the Board of Directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners.

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