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Microsoft's 2016 WPC Was the First for Millennials

  • See our full WPC 2016 coverage here.

Setting the tone for what may be a new generation of Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conferences (WPCs), Ariela Suster, founder of Sequence, opened last week's WPC with her powerful story of a childhood besieged by violence in El Salvador. With remarkable stage presence, Suster described her mission to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth to break the cycle of crime and violence. The underlying message -- and recurring theme throughout the conference -- was that Microsoft enables people and partners to make a difference in the world.  

With a new generation of entrepreneurs and workers looking for meaning in the work they do, Microsoft seemed to be phasing out the tech-talk to focus on partners as agents of change. Keynotes at past WPCs have always included heart-tugging videos with partners helping nonprofit organizations use technology to make a bigger impact, but at WPC 2016 last week, the theme of purpose was pervasive. 

Nadella's Keynote Set the Tone
There seemed to be universal agreement among partners that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's 2016 keynote was his best WPC address yet. He set the theme of purpose early on: "It's not about celebrating any one of our technologies, products or services; it is about celebrating what our customers are able to do with technology, how they are transforming their own business, achieving their own success and having their own impact." Each of his keynote segments focused on the outcomes that businesses are achieving, rather than just the technology.

Nadella's onstage interview with GE CEO Jeff Immelt was a refreshing acknowledgment that it's not only the under-30 startup crowd that understands digital transformation in business. While there was a pitch for the GE-Microsoft Predix analytics partnership, the bulk of the conversation between Nadella and Immelt focused on how companies need to adapt to the digital economy. The discussion played well to the partner role in leading change for customers.

Judson Althoff Caught Off-Guard
Judson Althoff's North America briefing, which will be his last as he moves into his new position as executive vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Commercial Business, started out with customer/partner demos delivered with a twist of humor -- standard fare, though the lighter approach was appreciated by the audience. In the last segment, Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, surprised Althoff with a heartfelt tribute to Microsoft's impact on the effectiveness of missingkids.ca. There wasn't a dry eye in the house after her portrayal of how children's lives are being saved by the digital connections supported through Azure.

McDonald was a tough act to follow and Althoff struggled to regain his composure as he closed the session. As this was his final presentation to the North American partner audience before taking his new role, he clearly wanted to thank partners. The emotion of the moment won out -- Althoff had to make do with a wave -- but the crowd responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation. It was the human side of Microsoft executives we don't often get to see at WPC.

Mixed Reactions
Not everyone seemed to appreciate the humanization of WPC. There were grumblings in the press room that there wasn't enough substance. There were no device demos during the keynotes, no big product release announcements. Software was in the background, with partners and purpose taking center stage.

The partners I spoke to did like the change. Partners were there to learn how to improve their own businesses, rather than to learn about the latest technology. There were some complaints about a lack of detail around Dynamics 365, but session reviews were positive for the most part. They particularly liked the high percentage of sessions that featured partners sharing best practices and lessons learned.

Most said their meetings with field sales and product teams were very productive, with a renewed focus on going to market together. As usual, networking with peers was a primary reason to attend WPC, and with 16,000 attendees, there was plenty of opportunity.

Support for Gavriella Schuster's appointment as channel chief seemed unanimous from both partners and Microsoft employees. Schuster is highly regarded for her understanding of the challenges partners face in dealing with Microsoft, and there is trust that she will make a positive impact and improve programs, as well as relationships.  

WPC 2016 was different, designed for a new generation of partners. Since Microsoft needs to convince upcoming entrepreneurs that the channel is a good place to be, it's good for them to start practicing that message. Millennials want purpose, and Microsoft let customers and partners make a strong case for how meaningful this work can be. Instead of the showing us the latest form factor, WPC 2016 reminded us of the positive human impact from the technology we deliver.  

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 18, 2016 at 1:03 PM0 comments

Partners: Follow the CIO with Packaged Services

Two recent reports, taken together, provide valuable insight for those partners searching for their "angle" to focus their business and create packaged services.

A 2016 survey of CIOs confirmed the growing strategic role for IT leaders in their organizations. Those findings, combined with the latest release of the Modern Partner Series, which makes a strong case for packaged services, could guide partners as they choose where to specialize.

The call for partners to specialize is nothing new, but the drumbeat is getting louder. "Differentiate to Stand Out" is the second of the Modern Partner Series from IDC and Microsoft, and makes a convincing argument based on actual partner experience. For most partners, the challenge has always been in how to narrow in on the specialization that will deliver rewards quickly enough to justify the investment of time and resources.

While industry solutions used to be the primary path to specialization, partners are finding success with functional packaged services, as well. The "Differentiate to Stand Out" report recognizes the viability of building a service offering based on a business function. Partners can use their deep understanding of Microsoft technology and roadmaps to help customers improve the processes that will build strategic advantage. Improving customer service systems, building team collaboration sites, and centralizing business intelligence are just a few examples.

Since CIOs have long been the primary connector between partners and their customers, insight into their current challenges and priorities can help guide the choice and positioning of packaged services. To that end, "The Creative CIO" survey recently released by Harvey Nash and KPMG provides a banquet of food for thought.

Some of the top findings and how they could drive the selection and design of a packaged service offering include:

  • 57 percent of CIOs now sit on the executive board or senior leadership committee: Packaged service offerings need to be easy for non-technical decision makers to understand. Define the value of technology improvements in business-value terms to help the CIO explain it to the rest of the leadership team.

  • 67 percent of CIOs expect the strategic influence of the CIO role to grow in 2016: Packaged service offerings need to serve a strategic objective. The business-process improvements delivered should be linked to driving revenue, breaking into new markets or cutting costs.

  • 87 percent of companies are pursuing digital strategies: With insight into the Microsoft digital roadmaps, help your CIO clients plan for the future. Become the technical expert that the CIO depends on to figure out how to pursue their digital strategy.

  • The top three CIO priorities are increasing operational efficiency, improving business processes, and delivering consistent and stable IT performance to the business: By delivering packaged services with a clear connection to top priorities, it's much easier to make the business case to the CIO.

  • 50 percent of CIOs will increase investment in outsourcing this year, up 9 percent from 2015: There is no time to lose. Create packaged services based on the best possible information but don't over-analyze. You can adjust as you go.

Choosing a specialization is a big decision -- so big that too many partners simply avoid it. For those partners ready to narrow their focus, the CIO survey can be a starting place for conversations with your leadership team. The Modern Partner Series includes three more reports on marketing, operations and customer lifetime value that provide practical guidance on execution once you have made the decision. With these two sources in hand, and the summer months ahead, it seems like the perfect time to take on differentiating your business.

How have you approached specialization and packaged services? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 22, 2016 at 10:51 AM0 comments

Microsoft Partner Opportunities in SharePoint 2016

Last week's "Future of SharePoint" event held by Microsoft in San Francisco earned high praise from the SharePoint community. The importance of SharePoint in the Microsoft ecosystem was reconfirmed, which seemed to reignite energy in the SharePoint community.

To help those of us who don't live and breathe SharePoint understand the impact of the 2016 release on partners, I spoke to Naomi Moneypenny, chief technology officer at ManyWorlds Inc.

"From the visionary standpoint, SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 will deliver the intelligent Internet, which surrounds employees with the conversations, the content and the apps they need to get their work done," said Moneypenny, an MVP for Office Servers and Services. "Intelligence built into SharePoint is one of the building blocks that will really make a difference for customers and service providers."

For the two core groups of SharePoint service providers, system integrators (SIs) and ISVs, Moneypenny highlighted the top opportunities as she sees them.

Top Opportunities for System Integrators
Moneypenny sees the role of SI as "the architect of change readiness." As partners have already experienced, the cadence of releases -- from versions to feature packs -- is increasing. Updates with new tools and new functionality will be coming out continuously.

"As an SI, you need to look at the framework you can deploy to help your clients' internal IT teams manage that level of change," said Moneypenny. "It's not just the SharePoint installation that we are all familiar with; the readiness aspect has become critical."

A second major opportunity exists by helping those internal IT teams look at the interconnected pieces of the corporate SharePoint experience from a higher-level perspective. As enterprises implement across the stack with Office 365, Azure Active Directory, SQL Server 2012 and SharePoint, they need guidance to optimize their overall architecture and use of SharePoint. 

Search is another big opportunity opened in SharePoint 2016 through extended functionality. "One of the wonderful things with SharePoint 2016 is the ability to search from a cloud or hybrid version and extend it back into previous versions of SharePoint," explained Moneypenny. "That allows you to treat your on-premises content the same as the content contained in SharePoint 2016."

Since clients won't need to spend their budgets on massive migration projects, this ease of content accessibility has the potential to free up funds for more productive service projects.   

Next up is the governance opportunity emerging from the announcement that many of the security and compliance tools that are a part of Office 365 will now be shared with SharePoint. "The whole area of governance -- helping clients design their architecture to best support their security, compliance and reporting requirements," noted Moneypenny. "And also the aspect of governance inside of the organization -- defining who can do what through authoring capabilities. The new functionality of SharePoint 2016 makes governance a big opportunity from a consulting perspective."

And finally, Moneypenny recommends that SI partners work proactively with their clients to take full advantage of the enhanced compatibility in the SharePoint 2016 development framework. "If you have customers currently building Web parts for SharePoint 2013, looking at the functional compatibility is important," she said. "You want to make sure what you are building now for the customer will work now and port into the future."  

Top Opportunities for ISVs
For those partners building custom applications on SharePoint, the new model framework supports a much wider range of development tools. "With support of client-side object models, developers can incorporate newer technologies into SharePoint 2016," said Moneypenny. "The new framework supports more standard Web technology, so it opens up opportunity for a lot of development folks."

While a separate product from SharePoint 2016, Moneypenny sees Microsoft Flow as a game changer. "Amazing potential is being unleashed with native support of Microsoft Flow in SharePoint 2016," she said. "Microsoft Flow is sort of the enterprise version equivalent of IFTTT [If This, Then That], bringing disparate data streams together. For example, you could mine data out of Dynamics and Twitter and put them together as a list in SharePoint. Combining workflow with the data pulled through Microsoft Flow is powerful stuff." 

Last, but not least, the graphing APIs available through Office Graph allows developers to personalize applications for the user. "From the SharePoint perspective, whether you are delivering content to specific employees or a team site, you can mold the experience to the individual or group," said Moneypenny.

Given this huge challenge to pare a list down to the top opportunities for partners, Moneypenny pointed out that there is much more that she didn't cover that partners should consider. "In the end, there is huge opportunity for every type of partner," she said. "SharePoint 2016 is making the platform -- which we always said we had -- a reality for both delivering data, as well as consuming data. That data can come from anywhere inside your business or beyond."

Microsoft's Web site describes the current state of SharePoint this way: "More than 200,000 organizations use SharePoint today and an extraordinary community of more than 50,000 partners and 1 million developers make up a $10 billion solutions ecosystem around SharePoint." With a renewed sense of future, SharePoint partners will be doubling down, continuing to build that ecosystem. The best may be yet to come.

How are you going to capitalize on the SharePoint 2016 opportunities? Add a comment below or drop me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 11, 2016 at 2:01 PM0 comments

Partners Look to the Future of Microsoft Envision

The next Microsoft Envision event is already scheduled to kick off on Feb. 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. Hopefully, following the advice of partners, Microsoft has already begun planning, building on the strengths and learning from mistakes of the first Envision held in New Orleans earlier this month.

One of the most common observations from both customers and partners about the first Envision was confusion about who should attend the event. Clarifying the roles, along with the corresponding value proposition for each, should be a pretty straightforward exercise for Microsoft. This year's sessions were aimed at business, finance, IT, marketing and sales leaders.

In terms of content, attendees I spoke to approved of the direction of sessions, which focused on industry trends and business challenges. "The key is not to try to serve everyone. Stick to the formula that appeals to executives, not all the bits and bytes of tech talk," said Nils Rasmussen, CEO of Solver, a Silver Sponsor. "The content should be a blend of ideas to be implemented today and tomorrow. Have the vision that is exciting, but at the same time deliver the practical value that they can take home to implement immediately."

Several customers I spoke to agree with Rasmussen's perspective on the importance of attendees bringing practical ideas in addition to visions for the future. "Executives need to be able to justify their time and expense," said Rasmussen. "When attendees come back with specific ideas that bring immediate value to the business, it defends the investment, builds momentum and provides the reason to return."

Providing guidance on products that businesses already own was another topic that was high on customers' lists. Several I spoke to had come with the specific goal of seeing how other companies were using solutions like Dynamics CRM and Power BI. The popular customer panels of Convergence events were missing -- probably the biggest single weakness of Envision content.  

"I like where Envision is headed with decision makers, but those people want specifics on how to leverage their existing investment in whatever products they have purchased," said Linda Rose, CEO and president of RoseASP Inc., a hosting partner. "Sessions I went to were so general that I didn't leave with anything tangible. I was really hoping for more content from people outside of Microsoft, but with the late planning for this conference, I am sure they ran out of time to seek such people out." 

Attracting more customers to next year's Envision is obviously good for everyone involved. To achieve the full potential, Microsoft should actively enlist partner help as it did for Convergence, putting marketing materials -- from blog posts to e-mail invitation templates -- in the hands of partners early to support a grass-roots attendance push.    

Many Dynamics partners invested heavily in promoting Convergence to their customers and then "hosting" them during the event. Special events and personalized experiences for attending customers deepened relationships and drove significant service opportunities for those partners. In contrast, an Envision attendee who participated in a Microsoft customer feedback session reported multiple customers complaining that their partners were more of an impediment than a help in their relationship with Microsoft. Those customers wanted to have a more direct relationship with Microsoft. As disturbing as that perspective is, it's a good reminder that Microsoft is continually challenged to find the right balance in its relationships with partners and customers.

Envision has the potential to provide the connection that business decision makers would like to have with Microsoft. Partners can either be threatened by that or use it to their advantage. With proactive engagement, partners can build the value of Envision for customers and reap the rewards.

For Microsoft and partners alike, planning for Envision 2017 should be underway. The opportunity to meet face to face with customers, guide them in their technology choices and be a part of their business planning is priceless. It deserves our full attention.

How do you plan to use Envision to build customer connections? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.     

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 13, 2016 at 12:36 PM0 comments

A Bumpy Ride at Microsoft's First Envision Conference

Fair or not, almost every conversation at the first Microsoft Envision conference, which took place earlier this week in New Orleans, began with a comparison to Convergence, the discontinued Microsoft Dynamics event.

Loyalty to the Convergence legacy borders on fanatic, but the event is a tough act to follow by any measure. The Convergence team had become a well-oiled machine that consistently delivered great content and smooth operations.

The most puzzling part of the whole Envision experience is why Microsoft seemed so set on reinventing the wheel instead of building on the strengths of Convergence. Unfortunately, it made for a bumpy ride.

Beginning with its astonishingly late announcement in January, confusion was an underlying theme for Envision. Session lists weren't posted when the initial announcement was made, so that ISVs and customers already registered couldn't make an educated decision about whether or not they should attend.

Even though a number of longtime Convergence exhibitors stayed away, the expo hall still felt full of familiar ISVs. Molly Van Kampen, director of sales for Greenshades, a tax and payroll solutions ISV, agreed that the late notice was challenging. "We start planning for next year's Convergence as soon this year's is over, so a change of direction makes a big impact," Van Kampen said.

Greenshades decided to continue with its plans, bringing six employees to staff the booth.

"We've done business with Microsoft for 20 years," said Van Kampen. "We can understand why they wanted to expand the focus from just Dynamics. Change is hard, but we want to participate in this new direction. We see the event as an investment in the community."

Another longtime Convergence exhibitor, Solver, chose to maintain its Silver-level sponsorship after the switch to Envision. "Like most ISVs, I was skeptical when they made the announcement," said Nils Rasmussen, CEO of the business intelligence ISV. "Convergence has been our biggest sources of leads. In the end, it will all come back to the ROI. While this year may not match Convergence, we have had many good partner meetups and a fair amount of traffic."

Even if there weren't as many people visiting the booths as vendors (and Microsoft) hoped for, exhibitors universally reported that they were having high-quality conversations with attendees. Eric Jensen, account executive with Cutwater, an inventory management solution ISV, said, "We are seeing a high percentage of business decision makers instead of IT folks. They are the right people for the conversations that we want to have."

Guessing the actual attendance was a favorite topic at the conference. During the opening keynote, Chris Capossela, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Microsoft, declared that there were 6,000 attendees -- a number that was viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

In terms of content, both customers and partners seemed to feel Microsoft was headed in the right direction. There was a clear focus on changing the conversations from the functional to business outcomes. One customer provided good reviews to a session that focused on controlling business risk instead of simply addressing IT security.  

Partners and customers alike reported a mixed bag on the quality of sessions. "State of the Industry" sessions featuring panels of experts were widely praised. The number of presentations that included outside experts instead of Microsoft employees was a promising development. On the other hand, there were not nearly enough customers included in panels and presentations -- which may simply be a reflection of the late planning of content. 

In addition, quality control on partner-led sessions seemed to be lacking. Many were little more than a sales pitch without any discernable educational content.

Multiple people reported errors in the schedule, including roadmap sessions that most thought were canceled and weren't. The highly trained staff of Convergence past may have set a high bar, but the Envision staffers were woefully underprepared, providing consistent misdirection delivered with a lackadaisical attitude.

To his credit, Capossela was a visible presence, attending events and mingling with crowds -- clearly observing and listening. Hopefully, his engagement will be reflected in a more consistent experience at next year's Envision, already announced for Feb. 27 in Los Angeles.  

Overall, Envision wasn't the disaster that some expected but it wasn't as good as it could have been. The session content was reasonably good, customers had a full expo hall to seek out solutions, and vendors had conversations with well-qualified prospects. The disappointment of Envision was that someone at Microsoft apparently made a decision to create something new instead of building on the longtime success of Convergence. That decision was a disservice to every vendor and attendee. 

What was your Envision experience? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 07, 2016 at 12:37 PM0 comments

Microsoft Partner Taps Power BI for SMB Market and Beyond

Microsoft's Power BI Partner Showcase is a testament to the success of partners helping their clients, from enterprises to SMBs, realize the potential of data through analytics and visualization. For most SMB partners, however, experience and resource challenges put building a Power BI practice beyond their reach. 

But one of the showcase partners, RoseBud Technologies, has set its sights on taking Power BI to the SMB market -- and helping other partners do the same.

While RoseBud, a 10-person IT service provider based in Atlanta, may seem an unlikely Power BI advocate, it has deep roots in data. "A large part of the success of any partner is a result of the background their people bring to the equation," said Joe Treanor, president of RoseBud. "I spent time in banking when metrics and analytics were becoming the drivers in the industry. It gave me an understanding of the importance of making data useful."

Beginning with the self-service analytics released with Excel 2010, Treanor was intrigued with the practical application for RoseBud clients, predominantly small and midsize businesses. In 2013, RoseBud was an early adopter of Power BI, seeing the opportunity to support business intelligence (BI) without big infrastructure investment. 

Since that time, Treanor has seen a reluctance in partners to pursue the BI opportunity. "SMB partners face two major hurdles," Treanor explained. "The first is the experiential comfort with managing and directing business intelligence work. The second is where to find the people who can speak to clients and deliver the services." 

To solve the second challenge, RoseBud has established a relationship with Kennesaw State University's Coles College of Business. The college has a strong program that focuses on the practical business applications of quantitative analytics. KSU also offers a master's degree in applied statistics and more recently launched a Ph.D. program in Analytics and data science.

"Kennesaw is very much aligned with what we are doing," Treanor said. "They are training people who are comfortable holding a conversation about business and data analysis. They are developing data scientists for business, not just academia."

Just like most partners who are searching for their value-add in a cloud world, Treanor sees BI as a specialty that RoseBud can build on for the future. "It's a changing game. There is only so much business you can do with migrations," Treanor said. "We looked at what we could do with analytics. Microsoft is making very sophisticated enterprise-level capabilities available to the smallest businesses through subscriptions and tools. So we are helping our customers take advantage of Power BI, and we think it is just the beginning of a very big wave."

With Microsoft's heavy promotion of Power BI, RoseBud is seeing more proactive interest from customers. "There is more awareness through Office 365 and the infrastructure barriers are gone," Treanor said. "Many of the clients we talk to, even small business owners, understand the value of predictive and prescriptive analytics. They are looking beyond reporting to solving specific business challenges by using data."

Additional potential -- helping other partners who don't have the experience or resources to offer Power BI on their own -- is also developing for RoseBud. "A single partner can't be a generalist anymore," said Greg Treanor, vice president of RoseBud. "We're applying our experience and resources, becoming a go-to partner for Power BI. Partners can focus on their niche, work with us for Power BI and offer even more value to customers. They don't have to build the practice for themselves."

Microsoft's Power BI is clearly fertile ground for the service opportunity attached to Office 365. For those partners who can overcome the knowledge and resource barriers, the future of BI is very promising. And even for those partners who don't want to jump in the deep end, partnering allows you to fill the expectations of your customers. BI is finally going mainstream to help every one of your clients realize the potential of their data.

How are you taking Power BI to your clients? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story. 

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 29, 2016 at 3:51 PM0 comments

IAMCP Women in Technology E3 Program: Deadline Extended

The Women in Technology (WIT) community of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) has gained impressive momentum over the past two years. Well-attended webinars, popular regional meetings and standing-room-only Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) luncheons establish the value WIT brings to the channel.

Taking another step forward, the IAMCP WIT is sponsoring the Entrepreneurs, Executives and Excellence (E3) Program, an intensive entrepreneurship program for women in the channel. 

Through E3, 15 female entrepreneurs and executives will be selected to participate in a four-month educational program. Virtual training, delivered by subject-matter experts in finance, marketing, sales and corporate innovation, will help the participants scale their businesses and develop skills to run world-class companies. At completion of the program, participants will be able to showcase their businesses at WPC 2016 in Toronto.

Through an intensive four-week educational program, workshops and coaching, the E3 program will help selected participants refine financial strategies and business plans to grow their businesses. The program will be managed by Venture Hive, a leading entrepreneurship education company and Microsoft partner based in Miami.

"IAMCP WIT is thrilled to partner with Venture Hive to offer the E3 Program -- Entrepreneurs, Executives and Excellence. We believe that mentorship is a vital practice for women who want to elevate their businesses to new heights of success," said Jennifer Didier, international IAMCP WIT chair and CEO of Directions Training. "Engaging in productive relationships with people who have proven business skills and professional acumen can profoundly impact entrepreneurs and executives by equipping them with the tools they need to pursue fruitful careers, establish inspiring workplaces, and encourage the next generation of business leaders."

Didier has been the driving force behind WIT's latest initiative. After learning about the entrepreneurial training that Venture Hive provides, she saw the potential to make a real impact for women in the channel. Didier's pitch to fellow leaders in IAMCP WIT and the greater Microsoft ecosystem was well-received, leading to the launch of the E3 program and WPC 2016 showcase   

According to the program application form, preference will be given to women who are entrepreneurs, CEOs or executives leading companies with between $1 million and $10 million in annual revenues. Participants in the 15-week E3 program should expect five to seven contact hours per week, plus an additional 20 or more hours of preparation and assignments. The program is open to international participants.  

Additional details on the program are available at the E3 program site. To apply, access the application form here. The original closing date of March 11, as stated on the Web site, has been extended. Applications must be received by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Friday, March 18.

The IAMCP WIT community is making a difference in the Microsoft partner channel. Better-equipped business leaders who build strong technology companies add value to the entire ecosystem. Young women who see opportunity to take their place in a growing industry are more likely to join us as the next generation of developers, salespeople, system architects, consultants, data analysts, practice leads, product managers and CEOs.

How are you supporting diversity in the channel? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 09, 2016 at 12:03 PM0 comments

Study Finds 'Mixed-Up Approach' to SharePoint and Office 365

The results of a recently released survey of 1,000 SharePoint and Office 365 developers provide an interesting look into the business realities that Microsoft partners must balance.

The study, titled "The State of SharePoint and Office 365 Development," was conducted by Rencore, a SharePoint and Office 365 ISV, and can be accessed here with registration. It revealed "that many organisations have a mixed up approach to SharePoint and Office 365. Microsoft's vision of a cloud-first world just has not materialised yet. In fact, organisations regularly use a broad mix of Microsoft's most recent and legacy software."

The primary objective of the research was to answer the question, "What is the real state of SharePoint and Office 365 development in 2015?"

The study's 1,000 respondents included SharePoint and Office 365 architects, developers, IT professionals and project managers. Participants represent 10 countries, with 37 percent from the United States. The 24-page survey analysis breaks down the demographics of the respondents, providing some interesting insights from the start. Stand-outs include the gender gap, with women representing only 11 percent of the respondents, and the international representation of developers under age 30, with India way out front.

Rencore's analysis of the survey results focuses on four primary findings, including:

  • Microsoft wants a "mobile-first, cloud-first" world. This is currently far from the reality.

  • SharePoint customization is still a varied discipline.

  • Governance and day-to-day management is undervalued.

  • The Office 365 and SharePoint community is thriving.

While developers are using the cloud, with 58 percent hosting infrastructure service on Azure, 39 percent of respondents report that they are still entirely on-prem. With almost half of the SharePoint deployments on-prem, the results suggest the cloud adoption cycle has a long way to go. The report states, "Microsoft's vision of a cloud centred world appears distant to many organisations, who continue to use 'legacy' platforms for a variety of reasons."

An interview with Jeremy Thake, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft, extends the commentary on customization trends for SharePoint and Office 365. Microsoft has added more options for developers and shifted the focus to add-ins, but based on the survey results, developers still rely heavily on traditional methods.

Governance, which SharePoint professionals have long known plays a huge role in adoption and usage, still is not a high priority for businesses. Respondents revealed that well-documented and rigorous control processes are still the exception rather than the rule.

The unique unity and dedication of the SharePoint community is reflected in the survey results. Only 14 percent of the respondents said they were not active in the community. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said they participate in online forums, and over 60 percent attend conferences -- which is no surprise to anyone who knows many SharePoint professionals.

The report includes an interview with Tobias Zimmergren, Microsoft MVP and Rencore's Cloud Offerings Product Owner, that provides deeper interpretation of the results. Zimmergren closes with advice for those interested in learning SharePoint and getting more involved in the community.

Rencore clearly dedicated considerable time and energy to collect and present a research-based picture of the changes affecting SharePoint and Office 365 professionals. The report provides a valuable baseline to evaluate the pace of cloud adoption over the coming years. With most customers using some form of SharePoint or Office 365, Rencore's report should be of interest to most Microsoft partners.

What trends are you seeing in your SharePoint practice? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 24, 2016 at 11:07 AM0 comments

Can Microsoft's Envision Event Take the Place of Salesforce's Dreamforce?

While not everyone in the channel is excited about Microsoft Envision, the replacement for Microsoft's old Convergence event, could it be just the right content offered at just the right time? 

Billed by Microsoft as the flagship event for business leaders, this year's Envision may be Version 1 of a well-timed bid to replace Salesforce.com's mega-event, Dreamforce, as the destination for those seeking a strategic vision of technology.     

According to an announcement in January by Chris Capossela, Microsoft's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Envision "is designed for CxOs and their senior department and functional leaders who are driven to shape their own future and position their organizations and business for success in a mobile first, cloud first world." Attendance at this first Envision event, which will take place on April 4-6 in New Orleans, La., is reportedly expected to be around 8,000.

A Dreamforce Competitor?
When Dreamforce launched in 2003, only 1,300 people attended. After steadily building an audience over the years, Dreamforce is now the largest business conference in the world, with 160,000 attendees in 2015. The event brings together top thought leaders -- even Satya Nadella joined the keynote lineup last year -- representing business, culture and politics.

Dreamforce has become much more than just a business conference -- which could be a huge opportunity for Microsoft.

It's not hard to imagine that there are plenty of executives who would prefer to bypass the hype and crowds to just focus on business-technology strategy. With its success over the years, Dreamforce has demonstrated that businesspeople are willing to leave their offices to seek insight into the future of tech. An event devoted to those who drive the decisions about technology makes a lot of sense.

Potential for Partners
For the partner channel, the reaction to Envision has been mixed. As reported on MSDynamicsWorld.com, a January conference call in which Microsoft explained event changes to the Dynamics ISVs who have traditionally exhibited at Convergence turned "colorful." Reportedly, many of those sponsors have downgraded or cancelled their participation.

Longtime Convergence attendees I have spoken to remain on edge about attending Envision. With no session list posted yet, it's hard for them to know who to invite. That's a valid criticism and it seems that Microsoft could have been better prepared.

Wayne Morris, corporate vice president of business solutions marketing at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post: "Microsoft Envision provides an opportunity for attendees to hear from some of the most forward-thinking minds in business and technology, with each day featuring prominent industry visionaries and business experts who will share the latest ideas, trends and innovations." With corporate-speak like that describing an event less than two months away, it's not hard to understand why partners are cautious.

It is clear that for ISVs with functional add-ons for the Dynamics ERP products, Envision is not the right place for them to connect with their typical interest group of end users. But for ISVs across the Microsoft solution set who provide a strategic advantage to businesses, Envision has the potential to be a valuable venue to connect directly with a broad cross-section of executives.

For SIs, Dynamics VARs, MSPs and cloud partners, Envision has even greater potential -- if Microsoft can deliver high-quality content. The event could help these partners identify customers who recognize technology as an investment in the futures of their businesses. Partner leaders, salespeople and business analysts could spend multiple days talking about strategy with top customers.     

It takes a leap of faith to ask your customers to attend an unproven event in its first year. It's not cheap for you or your customers to attend Envision. But that very fact may help you determine which of your customers is willing to invest in technology for strategic advantage. Those are the customers that you want to spend time with. Sitting by their side while Nadella explains Microsoft's vision for the future of business seems like a pretty smart place to be.

Could Envision really take the place of Dreamforce? Maybe not for the hordes of thought-leadership junkies. But for serious businesspeople dealing with a very confusing and cluttered technology world, sensible guidance from a trusted source may make Envision just the right event at just the right time. 

How are you going to take advantage of Envision? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 10, 2016 at 4:10 PM0 comments

Microsoft Partner Takes Action To Bridge Gender Gap

While many partners are making progress attracting and retaining women in the Microsoft ecosystem, a visit to most any partner's leadership page reveals a continuing challenge: Women are not proportionally represented in leadership roles.

Recognizing the problem, one partner moved beyond rationalizations to look for specific ways to break down barriers and tap the value of its entire workforce.

In a recent Inc. article, Tribridge CEO Tony DiBenedetto described facing the realities of Tribridge's employment data. The pride in achieving a 40 percent representation of women in Tribridge's workforce was tempered by the absence of women represented at the leadership level.  DiBenedetto wrote, "The company I spent years building may have failed some of our women team members. As CEO, I'm holding myself accountable for the mistakes of the past and helping to drive much-needed change."

Facing the realities of gender disparity in your own company is hard. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously illustrated last year, the perceptions of advancement in the workplace are different for men and women. Most CEOs undoubtedly think that they provide equal opportunity. The hard data for most partner organizations do not support the success of those good intentions.

At Tribridge, a cloud and Dynamics system integrator, uncovering the root causes of why women were not advancing into leadership roles was the first step. "The conversations were extremely uncomfortable for a long time," said Holly Grogan, vice president, People Team at Tribridge. "We weren't sure how to talk to the team about it. We weren't sure how to talk to each other about it. It was the elephant in the room and it was uncomfortable."

"But we didn't stop. We kept going and now we are really glad we had the conversation," Grogan said. "We are seeing real benefits -- not just the women, but for the entire organization."

Through confidential interviews, Grogan and her team uncovered communication challenges and unintended barriers that women in Tribridge felt were holding them back from advancement. Grogan noted that during the interviews, the women consistently said that they did not want preferential or different treatment. 

Based on feedback and recommendations, Tribridge took action to implement programs and cultural development to help every team member -- men and women -- achieve their full potential. Communication training, paid maternity/paternity leave and the Tribridge Women's Network (TWN) are just some of the outcomes that are advancing balance within Tribridge.

Tangible Benefits of Bridging the Gender Gap
Grogan said that Tribridge is realizing significant benefits for all team members through the initiatives. "One of our initial goals was to make sure we had an easy way for women to develop their career path, finding and applying for new positions," she said. "What we have found is that the changes we made have benefited everyone."

Promoting recognition and respect for different communication styles, a common concern exposed during the interviews, is another top priority. Grogan said team members have seen a significant improvement in collaboration, sharing knowledge and learning from one another more effectively.

The TWN has been a particularly well-received program. With a multi-pronged focus on recruitment, retention and development, the TWN is supporting gender initiatives inside and outside the company. Working with the Boys & Girls Club, Tribridge women are giving back to the community and helping the next generation embrace technology.    

On the business side, Grogan said that Tribridge believes diversity makes its workforce more creative. That creative energy is a competitive advantage to differentiate Tribridge from the rest of the market. Many competitors aren't yet tapping the full value of their workforce.

For partners trying to foster a more inclusive corporate culture, Grogan suggested looking objectively at the data for your organization as a first step. "Regardless [of] the size of your business, you have to be willing to own your numbers and realistically set goals for improvement," Grogan said. "If it's a general lack of women in the organization, then recruiting should be your focus. If women are well-represented in the workforce but not in leadership roles, look for barriers that may not be obvious to you."

Above all, partners need to start the conversations, uncomfortable though they may be, to understand how to promote a more inclusive corporate culture. In his article, DiBenedetto cited a study that found most employees don't think their CEOs make gender diversity a priority. What would your team say?

How are you promoting diversity in your organization? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 09, 2015 at 12:13 PM0 comments

Microsoft CSP Program Demands New Mindset from Partners

Vendor programs of the past were designed to make it easier for channel partners to sell a set of solutions as one "package." While the intent of Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program shares that goal, this time partners have to complete the package on their own. The CSP requires a new mindset, where partners must clearly define the role they want to play in their customers' future.

For those partners used to a transactional rather than strategic relationship with their customers, the CSP program represents a transformational business model change. Microsoft's intent with the CSP program is to drive long-term consumption, which means promoting user adoption and expanding workload footprint. Those partners wishing to gain the attention of Microsoft need to develop their CSP offerings with those objectives in mind.

"CSP is the value model. You cannot view this as a transaction, like you would through a traditional disti sale," observed Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates. "This program is such that you buy the technology and you control the billing. You create your special offering -- management, sensors, custom applications, development change management, custom SharePoint...whatever -- and you sell the whole value."

One of the factors that makes this transition so challenging for partners is that there is no cookie-cutter way to proceed. The services that a partner is likely to add on top of an Office 365 subscription can be as simple as adding in a monthly fee that provides the classic managed services of user support and backup/recovery. Or those add-on services can be as complex as partner-created intellectual property (IP), SharePoint deployment or unified communications. The options can be overwhelming.

"Managed services means something different to every partner based on segment or vertical or capability," Opal said. "For me, managed services means that I want to own IT operations. I want to participate in strategy and drive them to a better value prop by taking my high-end, well-trained talent and spreading them over my managed service clients. That gives my customers access to strategic technology expertise that is relevant and current. In turn, it gives me a highly utilized bench."

With no template to follow, partners have to objectively evaluate their strengths and resources and define the value add they can deliver to customers. More than just a new offering, the CSP program requires partners to design the business model that will take them into the future.

"It's incumbent on partners to offer services that are relevant to our customers," Opal said. "Figure out what your long-term value proposition is. Then you can walk it back to determine if you have the right people and processes to support that model."

With the addition of Azure and Dynamics CRM to the CSP program lineup, the options continue to expand. "With Azure, the sky is the limit. From five seats to 5,000, and across industries," Opal said. "Customers are looking for integration, mobility and security experience. These are high-value, high-margin services where customers need a partner to help them apply technology that will give them competitive advantage."

CSP is likely to be the most transformational program that Microsoft has ever offered to partners. It requires an evolution in mindset -- from vendor-driven solution packaging to partner-driven value solution packaging. A unique opportunity for partners to plan their future on their own terms.

How are you driving value as a CSP? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 11, 2015 at 10:45 AM0 comments

E-Mail Migration Opportunities Evolve for Microsoft Partners

As the floodgates open and massive amounts of data move to Office 365, the nature of e-mail migrations has changed forever. Instead of being the primary force of migration projects, e-mail has become just a small piece of the migration opportunity. The cloud, and specifically Office 365, is driving a fundamental shift from data-centric to user-centric migrations.  

Historically, e-mail archive projects involved migrating one on-premises legacy archive to a more efficient, space-saving archive solution. In the early 2000s, growth of archiving took off as compliance requirements meant that more data had to be retained along with the e-mail. The high cost of storage created a strong market for efficient archiving. 

"The market for on-premises legacy migrations was huge," explained Dan Clark, chief strategy officer at QUADROtech. "There were hundreds of projects going on every year, each migrating well in excess of 8TB of e-mail, which means hundreds of millions of e-mails."

When Office 365 was introduced, after being proven out through BPOS, many businesses realized that they didn't need to use an enterprise archive anymore. Office 365 delivered the same benefits and more than on-premises archiving -- inexpensive storage and compliance at a level that could support e-discovery, plus the elimination of expensive-to-support hardware.

QUADROtech, a gold application development Microsoft partner, provides migration tools to the Microsoft partner channel that have supported that dramatic shift to the cloud. "We've seen a huge exodus of data moving to Office 365 as an archiving solution," Clark said. "Customers are pushing hundreds of terabytes to Office 365."

At the same time, Office 365 has allowed customers to take a more strategic approach to migrations. While they are centralizing data, businesses want to take the opportunity to improve the accessibility of data and the corresponding productivity of workers.   

As companies migrate to Office 365, they no longer view e-mail as the focus of migration. They want to migrate the user experience along with all the data that they need. With data that supports workers' daily tasks spread out in multiple places, from SharePoint to Shared Files to CRM, customers want a user-centric migration.

Clark sees this as a fundamental shift for partners. "Instead of just migrating buckets of data, now it's about moving the functions and processes that go with it," explained Clark. "To make the switch to a user-focused migration process, partners need to understand the dependencies between the systems and how users work. You're migrating more than one system, so you need to understand how the users interact with each one."

With the opportunity to refresh processes, customers also often express a desire to improve their data structure. The customer doesn't simply want an exact copy of their data moved, they want to restructure to support more efficient processes. To achieve that end, Clark recommends that partners use a tool that allows the data to be restructured as it goes through the migration.

To successfully support these new customer expectations, Clark believes that those partners who focus on active upfront engagement through project pilots and trial migrations are the most successful. "Through trials, the partner gets a better understanding of how the customer wants the data to be structured in the Office 365 environment. The customer can see if what they think they want is really what they want before a full migration," Clark said.

One of the barriers to Office 365 migrations for enterprise organizations has been the concern of data moving through potentially unsecure cloud-based tools during the migration process. "QUADROtech has addressed this concern by designing our migration tool as an 'exclusive' controller," explained Clark. "It controls the migration, but no data goes through our platform. It all goes directly to Office 365."

In today's market, QUADROtech sees well over 60 percent of migrations moving data to Office 365. "There doesn't seem to be a slow-down; if anything, it's going faster," Clark said. "In addition, there is the opportunity for partners to go back to customers to migrate data to Dynamics and other applications in the cloud."

The nature of e-mail migrations has changed and so has the opportunity for partners. Businesses want users to be at the center of the Office 365 experience, merging data with business processes to make work easier and more productive. Partners can play a key role helping customers design user-centric experiences, so that the Office 365 migration is just the beginning of the conversation.

How are you building relationships through migrations? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 30, 2015 at 1:46 PM0 comments