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Q&A: The Microsoft Cloud Partner Program Is Here

This week, Microsoft officially flipped the switch on its new partner program. As of Oct. 3, the old Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) is gone, and in its place is the new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program (MCPP).

Of the programmatic changes heralded by the MCPP, these are the three biggest ones:

  1. The silver and gold badges that were a hallmark of the MPN are being retired.
  2. The MPN competencies, of which there were nearly 20, are being consolidated into just six "Solutions Partner" designations
  3. Partners earn Solutions Partner designations based on a score system (dubbed by Microsoft as the "partner capability score," or PCS, system). Partners get points for, among other things, adding new customers and certifications. Partners that have a PCS of 70 or higher are eligible to become a Solution Partner.

The table below shows how a partner's old MPN competencies will translate in the new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program (point No. 2 above):

Old MPN Competency Solutions Partner Category in the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program
• Cloud Platform
• Datacenter
Infrastructure (Azure)
• App Integration
• Data Analytics
• Data Platform
Data & AI (Azure)
• Application Development
• App Integration
• DevOps
Digital & App Innovation (Azure)
• Cloud Productivity
• Collaboration and Content
• Communications
• Messaging
• Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions
• Windows and Devices
Modern Work
• Enterprise Mobility Management
• Security
Security
• Cloud Business Applications
• Enterprise Resource Planning
• Project Porftolio Management
Business Applications

Source: Microsoft

"Those of you who have already met the requirements for a designation will receive it immediately if you have legacy benefits, or once you have paid the fee if you're attaining benefits for the first time," wrote Nicole Dezen, Microsoft's top partner executive, in a blog post Monday commemorating the launch of the MCPP. She also shared information regarding legacy benefits:

Partners will continue to receive legacy benefits until their next anniversary date. On a partner’s first anniversary date after today (October 3, 2022), those who attain a Solutions Partner designation can choose to move to the updated Solutions Partner benefits or retain their legacy benefits, and pay the corresponding fee. Partners who do not meet the requirements for a Solutions Partner designation, but who renewed a competency by September 30, 2022, will have the option to continue to pay the fee to retain their legacy benefits at the time of their next anniversary date.

In an interview this week, Julie Sanford, Microsoft's recently appointed Vice President of Partner Go-to-Market, Programs & Experiences, gave a few more details about the switch from the MPN to the MCPP. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

RCP: What kinds of feedback from customers and partners have you received that have influenced the structure of the MCPP?
Sanford: What we heard from our customers when we started this process, was they that basically had three questions for us. [They] want to understand partners that have a proven track record of delivering success within the respective solution area, because those solution areas are aligned to how [they're] helping solve customer outcomes. So No. 1 was proven track record. Second was existing performance for how partners deliver, and then the third was does the partner have the right skilling profile that [they] can bet [their] business on. And so delivering clarity to customers -- not only on the technology solution area, but on those three pivots of how they knew they were picking trusted partners to depend on -- was really important.

The feedback we got from our partners was [they wanted us] to simplify how they engage with Microsoft. So moving from 30 [competencies in the MPN] to six solution areas, absolutely. ... But also critical was aligning with how Microsoft goes to market, which is in those six solution areas. We make our investments that way from a product portfolio perspective, our go-to-market programs, and so just making sure we were driving alignment so we can continue to go to market and harmony together was really critical feedback we got from partners. I would say the other piece of feedback we got from partners is they really wanted a construct that allowed them to differentiate themselves.

At Microsoft Inspire this summer, you said during the keynote that industry-related designations are coming to the MCPP. Any updates on those additions?
Yes, at Inspire we use the opportunity to announce the industry designations and open up the co-design session. So that is currently running now.

Do you know when those industry designations will launch or is that still to-be-determined?
It's still TBD.

Which industries will be added first?
We are going to start with health and life sciences, financial services, sustainability and retail.

On a purely logistical level, what will be different for partners when they log into their partner accounts on Oct. 3? What will they see and what should they expect?
Although the partner the program goes live on [Oct. 3] partners that have already reached the point thresholds will be automatically granted into the new benefits construct. So the badging criteria will be live, [as well as] access to all of the benefits. In addition to that, partners will continue to have access to a dashboard that educates them on where they are today compared to where they need to get to for the new criteria and designation, and a pathway and how we can support them to get there over the next 12 months.

I would say most importantly, partners that are not on Day 1 meeting the 70-point threshold, they will not lose any benefits. We are going to continue to support our partners with the gold and silver benefits that they enjoy today. ... Again, we want to partner with our with our partners and make sure that we're on this journey together. So that's why we have kept the existing gold and silver benefits to support partners as they work towards these new designations. The branding and the badging of the gold and silver [competencies] will be decommissioned with the launch of this new program on [Oct. 3]. And so we want to work really hard with all of our partners to meet the new thresholds to earn those solutions designations.

Microsoft's messaging to partners about the importance of going vertical goes back years. Is this the first time that industry has been featured so explicitly in the Microsoft partner program? And why is now the right time to make it so explicit in the partner structure?
It's the first. As for the "why now," when you I think of the last 24 to 36 months moving through the pandemic, every single industry has had to accelerate their digital transformation. And technology vendors are playing such a pivotal pivotal role in every aspect of their businesses. So for us, it was really important that we accelerate our industry execution and be more tightly aligned with our partner ecosystem. Knowing that the partner program is our one place to really engage all partners, it was important that that reflected our go-to-market, both solution area and industry.

We have launched industry clouds into the market, and with any new innovation that Microsoft brings to market, we have to make sure we're making the right investments with our ecosystem so that we can collectively deliver on our joint customer outcomes. So this was just a natural extension and a way for us to ensure that we can skill and onboard partners into the new cloud innovations and then support them with the go-to-market support that they need.

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