The Changing Channel

IAMCP Bets Big on New Free Membership Level

The mother of Microsoft partner communities is shaking things up by adding a no-cost tier, shifting its focus to online meetings and setting lofty diversity goals.

There may never have been a time in the history of the Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) or the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) when the need for an International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) has been greater.

Microsoft is a behemoth compared to most companies with channel programs. To be able to tell Microsoft what you need from it, what you need the company not to do to you, and how to help you build a bigger, better business, you can't do it alone. You need to aggregate your voice with the voices of your colleagues, your competitors, your peers. That's what the IAMCP was originally created to provide.

At the same time, anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of Microsoft partners is getting smaller. Microsoft used to brag about the number of partners registered in the MSPP, and later the MPN. The company stopped sharing those numbers publicly years ago -- not a good sign.

Elements of the MPN, introduced in 2009, seemed specifically designed to cull partners, especially those in the Dynamics ranks and those small, jack-of-all-trade partners who had earned Microsoft Gold Certified status. The competency focus of the MPN forced Microsoft partners to declare a specialty, creating an absolute need for partners to learn to truly partner with each other to provide more comprehensive solutions for customers.

The constriction of partners isn't just programmatic. Follow the Azure/Office 365 drive to its logical conclusion. Those "classic" partners in the infrastructure business need to start looking for a different business because Microsoft and its competitors will all be everyone's infrastructure very soon. Nobody will have much use for on-premises infrastructure.

With all those forces in play, it's not surprising that the IAMCP's membership has suffered. "We've been in decline for about a decade," admits recently appointed IAMCP Global Chairman and longtime member Per Werngren. "There are about 400,000 Microsoft partners and we only have 1,700 of them as members worldwide. A year ago it was four or five hundred more."

Churn has also been a problem for the IAMCP, given that thousands have joined and quit the organization over the past decade. When asked about the problem being recruiting or retaining, Werngren says, "The problem is that our modus operandi is same as it was before the Internet. We hold personal meetings in local chapters. Some of those chapters are great, but others are only chapters on paper.

"We are so focused on in-person meetings. We need to step into the era of the Internet and do more online, drive more business opportunities online," says Werngren. "We must reduce the importance of local chapters. Right now, if you are living in the wrong place, you will have a very poor IAMCP experience. We must create a baseline for IAMCP experience in which online is the main experience, then your own local in-person events."

Werngren has recently introduced a free-of-dues level called Network Membership. He likens it to the MPN's minimal level. "This way," he explains, "you can participate in the online experience and only pay dues when you decide you want chapter affiliation."

Werngren calls the free level his "big bet," and says Microsoft is supportive of the early-stage plan.

Globally, Werngren's top concerns are that:

  • Too many board members are vendors, not true Microsoft partners. They're selling consultancy services to Microsoft partners and using IAMCP to reach them.
  • Being a chapter president is a task, more effort than return.
  • The bylaws are unwieldy, more than twice as long as the U.S. Constitution.

Werngren also worries that IAMCP is a dinosaur in diversity. He compares Microsoft, which he says is onboarding young people of all races, religions and genders, to IAMCP, which he observes "is mainly middle-aged white men."

Werngren says he may "shock the board" with his goal of achieving a 50/50 mix of men and women in IAMCP leadership. "We need more young people in our organization, especially in leadership. Young partners are born in the cloud, and are busy creating apps."

With a free tier in the IAMCP, there's no reason not to participate now. Partner together to represent your interests more effectively and impactfully to Microsoft. It still does listen to the IAMCP. Become a part of it, and Microsoft will be listening to you.

More Columns by Howard M. Cohen:

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a consultant to IT vendors and channel partner companies and a board member of the U.S. chapter of the IAMCP. Reach him at hmc@hmcwritenow.com.