Schuster Touts Microsoft Teams as 'The New OS' at IAMCP Event

Microsoft's top partner executive didn't mince words when it came to telling an audience of partners what the company considers to be its current top channel opportunity.

"The biggest, bar-none, opportunity for you right now is Teams," said Gavriella Schuster, vice president of One Commercial Partner (OCP) at Microsoft, during a keynote talk last week hosted by the Southern California chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP). Taking place in Irvine, Calif., the talk was part of an event marking the 10-year anniversary of IAMCP SoCal. But with roughly 500 attendees from across the United States and abroad, multiple levels of sponsors, charity drives, and a roster of about three dozen Microsoft executives with whom partner attendees could network, the resulting event felt more like a scaled-down Inspire conference than a simple anniversary gala.

Schuster was the headliner of a keynote that comprised multiple OCP executives, partner spotlights and Q&As. In a talk that outlined market opportunities for Microsoft partners, she championed Teams as the biggest opportunity today the same way that SharePoint was 10 years ago, but better. "Teams is growing faster than SharePoint. The adoption of Teams is faster than SharePoint. The ability to build on Teams is better than it was on SharePoint," Schuster said, echoing her messaging around Teams from this summer's Inspire. "Teams is the new operating system, essentially, for a customer. It is where they will do everything that they need to do."

Along with Teams, Schuster spotlighted Microsoft 365 security, Dynamics 365 and PowerApps, Azure migrations, and analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) as key opportunity areas for partners today. She also urged partners to start exploring lines of business based on quantum computing, mixed reality and Internet of Things (IoT) as these technologies become more refined and grow in consumer acceptance.

Teams, however, is the undisputed centerpiece of Microsoft's current channel strategy. Over the past year, the company has been heavily focused on making the Teams feature set richer, expanding its availability and drumming up partner excitement over the product. Brent Combest, general manager of U.S. OCP whose IAMCP presentation preceded Schuster's, said that it shouldn't be difficult for partners to figure out that Microsoft's current goals for its channel revolve largely around Teams. "Follow the money," he said, referring to Microsoft's myriad investments in the collaboration tool.

Combest also included a discussion of what characteristics a partner must have to gain Microsoft's attention and largesse. Chief among these characteristics, according to Combest, is a unique value proposition. "Differentiation is the cornerstone" of a good partner strategy, he said. Combest encouraged attendees to have a focused vertical strategy, develop expertise in specific solutions, create their own intellectual property, and foster a "healthy dose of paranoia" that drives them to excel above their competitors. It's no longer enough for a partner, even a successful one, to rest its laurels on its track record, he noted: "I'm looking for pioneers."

Microsoft and Partner Culture
The IAMCP 10th anniversary event seemed intent on being more than a partner-to-partner networking opportunity. Schuster's and Combest's keynote talks were preceded by an extended panel on diversity and inclusion, as well as speeches from all six presidents of IAMCP SoCal -- from Justin Slagle, event chairperson and the chapter's earliest president, to current president Eddie Bader -- emphasizing the spirit of camaraderie that buttresses the IAMCP's more practical professional aims. Philanthropy was also a key objective; charity drives organized by the IAMCP for the Children's Hospital of Orange County and the Ronald McDonald House drew over $100,000 in donations from attendees, according to Slagle. Overall, "culture" was as top-of-mind among attendees and speakers as was business strategy.

This messaging had particular resonance with Reza Palizban, president and co-founder of Aegis Innovators, a Microsoft managed partner with offices in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles, Calif. Palizban noted that one benefit of active participation in the IAMCP is that it encourages partners to absorb and adopt cultural changes from within Microsoft into their own companies, especially in the Satya Nadella era. "[Nadella] has revitalized [Microsoft's] culture," Palizban said. "That doesn't only trickle down at their organization -- it trickles down the entire ecosystem of partners and into organizations like the IAMCP. And that has trickled down into my organization."

For partners, this trickle-down effect has the potential to turn into tangible business benefits. In his talk, Combest indicated that besides differentiation, an attribute that Microsoft looks for in its star partners is "cultural alignment." The idea is that companies that share many of the same corporate values as Microsoft are more likely to benefit from Microsoft's attention and resources than those that don't. One corporate value that Microsoft has been especially trumpeting, at the IAMCP event and elsewhere, is inclusivity. Speaking at an earlier talk, Microsoft U.S. OCP Sales Director Beth Cavanaugh hammered that point home when she said, "We at Microsoft have to look like the rest of the world" if the company is to deliver on its mission statement ("to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more").

Palizban has seen first-hand how seriously the IAMCP has taken that message of inclusivity. He said he joined the IAMCP less than three years ago and was, somewhat to his surprise, warmly welcomed by the group's members, who by then had nearly a decade of shared history together. Palizban, now president of the IAMCP San Diego chapter, appreciated the lack of geographic homerism among the group's members, as well as their focus on service and community. "It has a real, true heartbeat to it," he said. In turn, inclusivity has become a core value in his own company, Aegis, which was nominated for two IAMCP SoCal awards at the event: Diversity & Inclusion Partner of the Decade and Most Partner-Friendly. Palizban himself was nominated for the category of Area Member of the Decade.

(Pictured: Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft One Commercial Partner, onstage at the IAMCP SoCal 10th anniversary event. Source: IAMCP)

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.