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Microsoft CSP Pain Points Lead Partner To Develop Partner-Facing Solution

For about five years, Microsoft has been encouraging partners to develop their own intellectual property. Reston, Va.-based IOTAP took that advice to heart in a way that's already helping other partners struggling to overcome some of the difficulties inherent in being a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP).

As a CSP itself, IOTAP had difficulty tracking licensing for CSP customers. Straightforward orders went fine. Things got complicated when customers wanted to add seats, change Office 365 or other Microsoft cloud product SKUs, or otherwise change orders during the middle of a billing period, to name a few of the many examples. When a customer wanted to know why their charges came in at a certain amount, it could be hard to find an answer.

IOTAP Co-CEO Ismail Nalwala recalls looking around the emerging ecosystem of CSP-related tools vendors for someone who could provide billing and invoicing for cloud and subscription services, customer service and incident management, self-service and automatic provisions, and e-commerce and payments.

"There's about six or seven folks that we looked at. Everybody had a SaaS-based app with some capabilities. You could build a portal, you can build some self-service, you can customize it, you can expose it out," Nalwala explained in describing solutions on the market. None of the products did everything IOTAP wanted, and what's more, IOTAP found a lack of another element that was important to it as a Dynamics partner.

"The reality was that all our data would be in a separate system, all our customer orders would be in separate systems -- cases, service tickets," he said. In other words, none of them were in Dynamics, which IOTAP used internally, leveraging its Internal Use Rights (IUR) as a Microsoft partner. "We didn't want to go outside and build integration back into Dynamics."

With that in mind, IOTAP started working on a system for internal use that would serve as a fully integrated customer experience platform that would be built on Dynamics 365. After all, said the co-CEO, who is a regular attendee at Washington, D.C., chapter meetings of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), and whose company has held gold competencies from Microsoft for years, "Partners should be using Dynamics if they can to run their business."

IOTAP put its system into production internally in July 2017. "Toward the end of last year, we said, 'You know what, this is a pain point,'" Nalwala said. At that point, the company pivoted from maintaining an internal tool to creating a product that other partners could use.

After beta tests with a few partners early this year, IOTAP made its solution, Work 365, generally available last month.

At the time of the launch in early March, Nalwala described Work 365 this way in a statement: "This system was built to overcome the challenges that Microsoft CSP Partners face every day when handling customer billing, subscription, and service management. Our solution is built on Dynamics 365 using the partner's IURs, which allows the partner to keep ownership of all the data. Dynamics 365 is at the core of the digital transformation agenda and partners that use Dynamics 365 to run their business will be able to help their own customers with these initiatives."

One early adopter is Rosalyn Arntzen, president and CEO of Redmond, Wash.-based Amaxra, which has been using Work 365 to manage its business as an indirect CSP partner for a little over a month.

Arntzen, a 15-year Microsoft veteran before starting Amaxra in 2007, said Work 365 is helping her wrangle licensing. That task is complicated enough when it's just Microsoft, but her company has the added challenge of third-party licensing to manage through add-on solutions, such as ClickDimensions, for Amaxra's Dynamics customers.

"All of that needs to be tracked. With licensing, oh my, the spreadsheets you have to be tracking," exclaimed Arntzen, who added that one of her mottos is "anything done twice is once too often."

She's found herself as the bottleneck previously for the good reason that someone needed to make sure the company was profitable overall. "Nobody could really have a handle over the licensing because I had to keep it very close. You very quickly could leak money: $1 here, $5 here. Pretty soon you could be losing money," she said.

In two senses, Work 365 has been a help already for Amaxra. "It absolutely makes a huge difference because I now can have one place in my CRM that's tracking all of these, 'Hey, I need one more license, now I need an E3,' all of that history is there," she said. The second way it's helped is that questions can be better delegated and answered more quickly.

"If we get any questions, 'Hey you just billed me x dollars back to the first of the month, I don't think that's right,' I was about the only person that could answer the question," Arntzen said. "We've only been using Work 365 for about a month, but already [others] can go in, see the quotes, look what the client signed and get a lot further along and answer 80 percent of the questions."

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 20, 2018