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Has Microsoft Found the Key to a P2P Business Boom?

Microsoft is connecting its most significant-breadth partner business model with a strategic technology initiative in a way that could unlock truly scalable partner-to-partner (P2P) business interaction within its giant partner ecosystem for the first time.

"Today, we're excited to announce that by connecting our marketplace to our cloud solution provider companies, through our channel, we're enabling ISVs that publish their solutions to our marketplace to have unfettered access to our entire ecosystem directly," said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft One Commercial Partner (OCP), during a media briefing on Tuesday.

Cloud solution provider, or CSP, is Microsoft's most important broad-based partnering program. Under the program, partners sell mostly Office 365, but also other Software as a Service (SaaS), Azure cloud and other products as part of their own service bundles, giving them better control over margins and the ability to put their own vertical or specialized service wrappers around Microsoft offerings.

The marketplaces involved in the announcement are AppSource and the Azure Marketplace, two Microsoft marketplaces that currently include more than 8,000 solutions from more than 4,000 ISVs and other partners.

In the past, CSPs could search through AppSource or the Azure Marketplace for complementary solutions, but the process was manual and then would require reaching out to an ISV to figure out how to enter a reselling relationship.

When the feature that Schuster announced is implemented in March, an ISV entering an application into AppSource or the Azure Marketplace will, with one click, be able to enable all CSPs in the Microsoft ecosystem to resell the product, according to Microsoft. The marketplaces also allow repeatable service packages from solution providers, not just applications by ISVs. Those solutions will also work with the new P2P system.

"One click will give a partner's solution exposure through tens of thousands of Microsoft cloud partner resellers and about 17 million partner sellers who work for them. Plus, their solution will be searchable by more than 75 million customers and thousands of Microsoft sellers," Schuster said. "By transacting through our Cloud Solution Provider channel, partners will be able to take their managed service offerings and package them with other first- and third-party solutions in the marketplace to create specialized offerings for their customer."

The ability for partners to open their solutions to CSPs is only one element of the near-term changes coming to the marketplace. Other elements include simplifying the experience, improving the search experience for both partners and users so that natural-language queries are more likely to return relevant results, and a private marketplace option for enterprises. Schuster said those enterprise-ready private marketplaces will also make it possible for partners to customize terms for any specific customer.

Additionally, Microsoft will be engaging in a parallel push to develop the Dynamics 365 and Power platform ISV ecosystems. "We recognize that technology is only part of what makes ISVs successful, it is important that the business side is equally as robust," said Steven Guggenheimer, corporate vice president for ISV & AI engagement at Microsoft, in a blog post Tuesday. "Being able to publish once to merchandize across storefronts to all Microsoft's customers, sellers and partners will open new growth opportunities to most ISVs."

In an interview Tuesday, Schuster said Microsoft has been working for the last 18 months to create a core commerce back-end that will support multiple storefronts, such as Azure Marketplace and AppSource.

"What the single store does is it enables our partners to have the one place they come in, get their applications certified, get it into the marketplace, and then we will promote it through multiple storefronts, whether that's our own or even syndicated through other partnerships that we have. It's about helping our partners with solutions and services get their solutions more discoverable," she said.

Schuster said the P2P work builds on what Microsoft started internally with the OCP Catalog, which was an initiative for Microsoft's internal field sellers to find relevant partner solutions that they could take to customers. "We refined how do you search and how do you label and how do you put metadata across those solutions, and then that's what we're using as our best practice into the marketplace," she said.

The other real value, after broad market exposure, comes in automating the process of provisioning and invoicing for ISVs and other solution partners.

Schuster, who has been talking about creating back-end engines for P2P connections at a strategic level for several years, calls the marketplace-to-CSP connection a game-changer. "This is a massive investment for the company that underpins our whole partner strategy," she said.

Microsoft has over-promised before on marketplace initiatives, but this move represents a different type of effort. It creates a back-end infrastructure to support P2P connections on top of a Microsoft infrastructure. If the implementation is strong (a big "if" at this stage), Microsoft wins when its services sell as part of a bundle; ISVs win as their solutions get wider attention from other partners, customers and Microsoft sellers; and CSPs win by being able to expand their service packages with much less friction.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 05, 2019 at 1:11 PM