How New Signature Won Back-to-Back Microsoft U.S. Partner of the Year Awards

What did it take for the Washington, D.C.-based National Solution Provider to win twice in a row? A relentless focus on cloud and an aggressive emphasis on growth.

According to the Microsoft Pinpoint directory, there are nearly 20,000 Microsoft partners in the United States.

So Microsoft's decision to choose New Signature for the second year in a row as the United States Partner of the Year sends a pretty strong message that the Washington, D.C.-based National Solution Provider is doing something that Microsoft hopes the rest of its channel will emulate.

"[There are things] I see in New Signature, for sure, that I speak to other partners about quite frequently when I speak about transformation," says Phil Sorgen, who as corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group is Microsoft's top channel executive.

One of those things at New Signature is a deep participation in cloud, which Sorgen says tends to correlate strongly with the fastest-growth partners in the Microsoft Partner Network. Successful cloud-focused partners tend to be doing four things right, Sorgen says:

  1. Building their own intellectual property, be that repeatable methodologies, or ISV-type solutions.
  2. Doing digital marketing effectively.
  3. Adjusting salesforce compensation to match annuity sales models.
  4. Taking advantage of the more borderless world enabled by cloud.

"We are really trying to challenge folks and the goal is to really come in and make them think about IT differently."

Christopher Hertz, Founder and President, New Signature

"[New Signature is] doing well on a lot of those fronts. It's showing in their results in the United States," Sorgen says.

By product, New Signature CEO Jeff Tench highlighted the company's focus in a statement about the award: "We are uniquely positioned to help customers plan, deploy, and operate solutions using Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics CRM Online."

Christopher Hertz, founder and president of New Signature, went deeper on the alignment between New Signature's focus and where Microsoft is going. "Office 365, Azure IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service]/PaaS [Platform as a Service] and then CRM Online -- those three product groupings now represent Microsoft's product stack of today and into the future. You can replicate everything you could have done in the past. You have a brand new software stack, which is these three product groupings," Hertz says.

Microsoft started beating that drum more loudly than before at the Microsoft Convergence show in Atlanta this March, Hertz says. "That's where [CEO] Satya [Nadella] stood up and said, 'Here's the new software stack -- Office 365, Azure, CRM Online.' That's what we've been driving at for several years. We've been ahead of the game."

That's not to say on-premises expertise isn't a key ingredient in a hybrid and transitional business environment.

"I would say that maybe 30 percent of our new projects today are on-premises. The rest are hybrid or pure cloud, and the 30 percent tend to be around things like Skype for Business, enterprise voice, which is purely an on-premises offering," Hertz says. What's more is that many of the other on-premises engagements tend to be preparation for later cloud work, such as Active Directory consolidation projects to provide the identity services that are fundamental to successful cloud implementations.

Meanwhile, New Signature's aggressive approach toward growth is the kind that senior Microsoft executives tend to notice.

In April, New Signature landed a $35 million funding commitment from Columbia Capital, an Alexandria, Va.-based venture capital firm that also has investments in Cloud Sherpas and 2nd Watch. Tench joined the company as CEO with the Columbia Capital investment.

Executives at New Signature positioned the funding as being available to accelerate capacity, geographic growth and acquisitions. Sure enough, a little less than a month later on June 1, New Signature acquired a pair of related Toronto-based companies -- CMS Consulting and Infrastructure Guardian (IG).

That first paired acquisition, creating the New Signature Canada unit, deepened and expanded New Signature's Azure expertise. CMS was a solution provider specializing in Azure and related infrastructure. IG was an ISV and managed services company that used Microsoft System Center to provide datacenter, endpoint and cloud management. On the intellectual property (IP) front, IG brings New Signature the Azure Governance Portal, which is designed to help companies manage and control Azure subscriptions, usage and spending.

"The challenge with the most recent Azure portal is that it's hard for customers to understand how they're consuming resources and spending dollars. The Azure Governance Portal is really a mechanism for customers to do that," Hertz says.

CMS had also been running a "CloudLab Training Tour" of full-day, hands-on Azure training in the United States and Canada.

Hertz jokes that he was in Canada when he found out the company won the U.S. Partner of the Year award. "I feel like I was cheating on my home country," he says.

But the Canadian expansion supports what Microsoft's Sorgen says about the cloud helping aggressive Microsoft partners to take advantage of a borderless world.

Whether Microsoft would consider New Signature in 2016, the company is poised for more growth. The addition of 50 people from the Canadian acquisitions brings New Signature to 145 employees, Hertz says.

More acquisitions are clearly on the roadmap. The investment strategy has three pillars -- increasing the depth of New Signature's practice areas, building out recurring revenue opportunities and expanding geographically beyond the company's current base in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and, now, Toronto.

With customers, New Signature is also pushing, whether they're small to midsize businesses, midsize companies or enterprises. "We are really trying to challenge folks and the goal is to really come in and make them think about IT differently," Hertz says. "We still have customers who shy away from the cloud, who see it as challenging and don't want to go there. We do those projects, but we're always advancing them forward