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Microsoft's Top Communications Partner Leads with Skype User Adoption

With a new brand presence, Skype for Business simplifies the unified communications message for partners. Promising much more than just a name change, Microsoft's Skype for Business team wants the Office 365 suite to be at the center of all business conversations -- written, audio and video.

For some advice on how partners can take advantage of the growing opportunity led by Skype for Business, we looked to Enabling Technologies, Microsoft's 2015 (and 2009, 2010, 2012) Communications Partner of the Year.  

"We are seeing success because we are in alignment with where Microsoft is going, and must go -- user adoption," said Bill Vollerthum, president of Enabling Technologies. "About a year ago, we developed a formal organizational change management program which we call 'Lights, Camera, Adoption.' It's been a very effective way to promote user adoption, even creating passionate users who are excited about evangelizing the new tools."

The first step in Enabling Technologies' "Lights, Camera, Adoption" program is to work with stakeholders to develop the project success criteria. Next is creating an effective user communication plan, which identifies the users most likely to champion the new technology and help other employees who are more resistant to change. Quick reference guides used in admin and end-user training are customized to support the client's unique business processes. At the end of each client's change management program, a user survey helps identify any problem areas that should be revisited.  

Interest is reflected in the numbers, with 80 percent of Enabling Technologies' clients opting for organization change management as part of their project engagement. Offered for Office 365 and SharePoint engagements in addition to Skype for Business, a dedicated Enabling Technologies team builds a customized program for each client.

"It is a fully staffed team devoted to change management -- and we anticipate that team growing by 100 percent over the next year," Vollerthum said. "We have trainers and documentation specialists, as well as a CIO advisor who leads envisioning sessions to ensure the technology investment is aligned to the business strategy."

Enabling Technologies is adding an impressive 10 to 12 new Office 365 and Skype for Business clients every month. With a run rate of 100 to 120 new customers per year, maintaining service levels has to be a top priority.  

"It comes down to execution first. If you don't have the very best talent, you won't have the best team," Vollerthum said. "We have best players from sales to the technical experts to execute on our game plan. As a result, we have the highest levels of customer satisfaction."

The benefits that Enabling Technologies reaps from that level of satisfaction include clients who are willing to provide testimonials on the Microsoft Pinpoint partner directory, host reference calls and participate in case studies. "But the most compelling evidence that we help our clients achieve their goals is reflected in collections," Vollerthum added. "Less than half of 1 percent of our billings are uncollectable. That is a testament to delivering on our promises."

As many partners find, Skype for Business serves as a foundational engagement that opens the door for long-term client relationships. Communications touches every part of the business, which can lead to further engagement for SharePoint, Dynamics and managed services opportunities for partners.

"A big part of our growth is coming from managed services following implementations. Clients don't want the day-to-day admin responsibility -- they'd rather focus on strategic IT projects," Vollerthum explained. "In addition, clients are looking for custom development to integrate Skype for Business with other applications, like CRM and ERP."

As to the recent name change, Vollerthum is enthusiastic, "Changing the name to Skype for Business was a great move by Microsoft. Skype is a strong brand -- people even use 'to Skype' as a verb. That comfort level with the technology will help with adoption in the business community."

The way businesses think about communication is changing and Skype for Business appears to be well-positioned to enable the shift. Perhaps more than any other technology, to be successful, communication tools have to be universally adopted across an organization. Partners can capitalize on the Skype for Business opportunity by helping their clients build out that user engagement. 

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 24, 2015 at 4:57 PM0 comments


ISV Sees Partner Opportunity in Predictive Analytics

There is no doubt that data analytics is coming of age, turning the wealth of data that we are collecting into meaningful input that guides the direction of business. Though it's still early for mainstream data analytics adoption, this is the time to understand and build on the opportunity.

The low cost and high availability of computing power have brought machine learning to the masses. Microsoft Azure Machine Learning opens the door for any business and every partner to experiment and test without a big investment. Combine that with the increasing availability of public domain and commercial datasets, and you have the ingredients to support predictive analytics projects. The challenge so far, though, has been how to convince clients to take on those projects when the end game is unclear.

One ISV with unique insight into the market for predictive analytics shares its lessons learned.

"It seems that the whole world is trying to figure out how to make better use of analytics," said Bob Bedard, president and CEO of deFacto Global Inc. "Even the firms leading the charge, like Microsoft and IBM, are still working out how to make money in areas like predictive analytics. It's no wonder that partners aren't sure how to help their clients through the world of big data analytics."

For deFacto, whose Performance Management solution helps businesses improve budgeting and forecasting, predictive analytics and machine learning are a natural extension. "Traditionally, financial forecasting was a rudimentary process, with lots of room for improvement," Bedard explained. "There weren't the tools or they were too costly. The whole arena of predictive analytics was really out of reach for mainstream business."

"That has changed dramatically. Affordable computing power, large datasets and the tools like Azure Machine Learning are coming together to make it practical for all business to take advantage of the benefits," continues Bedard. "The next two years are very promising for everyone in the BI [business intelligence] and analytics space."

Not all customers are good candidates for predictive analytic projects. Since this is a developing field, customers have to be open to exploring possibilities, even where ROI is harder to predict. Management must have some level of trust in the guidance provided by machine-led forecasting. Old-school companies that prefer the gut-instinct approach to forecasting and decision-making are unlikely to embrace predictive analytics.  

In addition, predictive analytics projects require a broader perspective than traditional BI projects. "The methodology for machine learning and predictive analytics project is a different path. You have to take a more global approach," Bedard said. "In the past, customers and partners were focused on using the data from inside the company. For predictive analytics, high-level value comes from understanding how external data interacts with or enhances the quality of internal data."   

Microsoft is building the availability of those datasets that partners can tap into on the Azure Marketplace. Also in its infancy, the breadth of datasets available for businesses to apply through machine learning will surely explode over the coming years. 

"It can be overwhelming," Bedard said. "But that's where methodology comes in. How do we bite off what we can chew and step through it in a logical fashion? There is tremendous value in that practical guidance to help businesses take the first steps into predictive analytics."

For partners taking on predictive analytics projects, that larger perspective is where they can bring tremendous value to clients. Understanding what data is available, from industry-specific sources to something as ubiquitous as weather data, and how that input can be applied through machine learning takes BI to the higher level of predictive guidance.  

Now that predictive analytics is within reach of every business but still early in the adoption curve, the opportunity for partners is here. Gartner identifies "Advanced, Pervasive and Invisible Analytics" as one of its Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015. Microsoft partners are in the unique position, with Azure services and learning paths designed to prepare staff, to get ahead of the new age of data.

How are you helping clients adopt predictive analytics? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 20, 2015 at 9:48 AM0 comments


After Microsoft Ignite, How Do You Fan the Flames?

When you leave a Microsoft event like Ignite, Convergence or the Worldwide Partner Conference, the flame is definitely lit. You feel invigorated and ready to take your business to new heights.

You may also feel a teensy bit guilty. Yes, it's four days of intense learning -- sessions, the Expo, meetings with Microsoft, more sessions -- but it's also a ton of fun. With a little planning before you leave, you can share the wealth of knowledge and maybe even ignite some fun for your own team. 

Put a Plan in Place Long Before You Go
The right time to start planning is when you register. As soon as you commit, decide how you are going to extend the learning and the jolt of enthusiasm across your team. A few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Schedule a mini-Ignite in the office. While you can't afford to send everyone to Chicago or Orlando, a single day in the office dedicated to learning will be worth the investment. Review and choose the best sessions to stream to the group. Engage the team to discuss how the topic can be applied to specific customer engagements.
  • Connect to the team during the event. Your schedule is so full during the event that it is tough to stay connected, but it can pay off. Your employees will likely be following the event on social channels and may have a specific question that they need answered.
  • Build the excitement with a party. You get to do a bit of partying during the event, so why not make your event debrief more fun than just a company meeting? Even if it's beer and pizza, thank your team for holding down the fort while you were gone. 

Take Full Advantage of the Resources
During the event, you've discovered a ton of resources and people that you didn't know about. How are you going to share them when you get back? Set aside the time to review and deliver newfound information to the right people in your organization. Make introductions and follow up with key contacts. 

During Microsoft events, you're likely to meet Microsoft employees and MVPs who can be valuable resources for your team. Following those people on Twitter or through their blogs will give you and your employees an inside view to announcements and developments of the solutions you support. Many of the MVPs do continuing outreach during the year. For example, Office 365 MVP Christian Buckley has organized a series of CollabTalk tweetjams this year that attract an impressive group of MVPs and thought leaders who share their perspectives on current topics.

Attending Microsoft and other vendor events plays an important role in keeping your organization abreast of the latest developments, as well as building personal relationships. When you come home after four days out of the office, it's easy to get sidetracked and not get around to sharing the experience. Take the time to plan before the event to ignite the energy in your own business.

How do you bring vendor events back to your team? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.  

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 07, 2015 at 7:33 AM0 comments


The Journey to Dynamics CRM: A Partner Perspective, Part 2

As Microsoft continues to encourage partners to widen the suite of applications that they support, Dynamics CRM, as part of Office 365, is an obvious choice.

Last week, we followed the journey of Microsoft national solution provider RBA as it added Dynamics CRM services to its portfolio in response to changing spending habits of customers. A critical adjustment that took RBA multiple years to complete was aligning the right roles and people, in both sales and delivery, to achieve the full potential of the practice.

Different Conversations Require a Different Sales Approach
When the sales conversation moves from the IT department to other business units, technology is no longer the focus of the conversation. "Prior to 2011, the majority of our sales were to IT," said Jay Lendl, director of CRM solutions at RBA. "With CRM, we are talking to the business manager and the technology is in the background. They are looking for ideas to help them achieve outcomes. It is a subtle but dramatic difference."

The transition to selling CRM-focused engagements has been one of the more challenging aspects for RBA. The expectation that the entire sales team would begin to seek out the CRM conversations didn't materialize. In addition to adding dedicated CRM sales specialists, the company has found their real success with "solution leads."

"We've added the role [of] solution lead that is similar to Microsoft SSP [solution sales professional]," Lendl said. "They come from functional and technical roles with experience in the business problems that our customers are dealing with. They are subject-matter experts providing sales support and facilitating conversations."

Apparently, the strategy is working. According to Lendl, "We have not lost to Salesforce in a compete situation. We create a complete vision for how the company can achieve the outcomes they are looking for. It's all of Microsoft, not just Microsoft Dynamics CRM. That's how we win."

Building the Functional Support Team
To build its CRM service support team, RBA started with the acquisition of a small firm with a core group of Dynamics CRM experts. "Then we added functional experts, plus business strategy people who understand the problems that we are trying to solve with this platform," Lendl said.

In addition to outside hires, three of RBA's SharePoint business analysts have chosen to cross-train on Dynamics CRM. As with SharePoint, the role of business analyst is the foundation for the success of Dynamics CRM projects. 

RBA looks for three characteristics in the business analyst. First is the ability to facilitate and document requirements. Second is a strong functional understanding of the platform to provide context. That context includes understanding what can be configured and what requires customization. The third quality is configuration skills.

"We believe that context matters. When people are buying Microsoft Dynamics CRM, they believe that there is value in the platform. You are not starting with an empty sheet of paper like custom development," Lendl said. "When we are going through discovery on a CRM project, we need to be able to explain what is out of the box, what takes simple configuration and what takes development work. A functional business analyst needs to lead the organization through requirements with that context."

For RBA, the addition of Dynamics CRM to its service line has been an excellent opportunity for employees to apply and expand their skills. "We've seen such a great carry-over of skills. One of our lead .NET technical architects moved into the CRM group last January to become the CRM technical lead," Lendl said. "Because Dynamics CRM leverages so much of the Microsoft technology, he was an expert from the technical standpoint within a quarter. It's a gap that these really smart people can cover quickly."

For partners considering a similar journey to RBA's, Lendl recommends first putting in place the functional experts, including business analysts, functional configurators and technical people who can handle data integration and migration. The good news is that there is plenty of overlap with the other technologies that a Microsoft partner supports.

As RBA has learned, the shift to supporting Dynamics CRM requires some fundamental business process changes. The essential change -- supporting conversations with business managers instead of only IT -- is one that all service providers are having to make regardless. As technology recedes into the background, partners have to be able to speak the language of business outcomes.

Is the role of business analyst becoming more important to your projects? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

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Posted by Barb Levisay on April 22, 2015 at 4:10 PM0 comments


The Journey to Dynamics CRM: A Partner Perspective, Part 1

Changes in IT spending, cloud technology and the growing importance of digital customer engagement are all factors prompting system integrators (SIs) to add customer relationship management (CRM) to their service portfolios. For many partners, the obvious choice is Microsoft Dynamics CRM, with its easy availability through Office 365.

What does it take to build a CRM practice? One partner shares its journey, three years in, as Dynamics CRM takes its place in the company's next generation of services.

The tagline on RBA's Web site, "A digital and technology consultancy," reflects the journey that the Microsoft national solution provider started in 2011. "We were a classic SI partner doing migrations to Office 365 and capitalizing on the hockey-stick growth of SharePoint," explained Jay Lendl, RBA's director of CRM solutions. "As we were planning out our next steps to grow the business, Gartner released a report predicting that CMOs would be spending more on technology than CIOs over the next few years."

While RBA had noted a transition in IT purchase decisions, its observations were focused on discretionary spending. "It wasn't so much that IT wouldn't spend money, it was that most of their budget was fixed in things like hosting and online services," Lendl said. "We didn't envision that the CMO's spend on IT would increase every year, but they did have more discretion over their funds than the CIO. A large percent of the CMO's spend involves choices -- like deciding to focus on retaining customers with a loyalty program or acquiring new customers with a digital push."

Based on its own observations of changes in technology purchases and market predictions, RBA acquired a digital marketing agency. The agency's expertise was in helping companies engage with their constituents, whether they be patients, customers, vendors or dealers. The acquisition also built on RBA's experience in helping enterprise clients with loyalty programs.

The acquisition led to a year of learning about how the technology that RBA had focused on, like SharePoint and mobile solutions, would apply to customer-facing digital interactions. "Our perceptions changed. The agency became more like us and we became more like them," Lendl said. "It was an important first step in the journey. We really needed to adjust our lens. The process was as much about what we were selling as it was about how we were selling it and who we were selling to."

Customer Data as the Pivot Point
The common denominator was customer data. "Microsoft Dynamics CRM was the natural extension since it is built on the Microsoft technology, including SQL, .NET and Office 365," Lendl said. "The technical stuff was easy for us, but we realized that we needed more functional expertise. We acquired a small CRM practice which added the folks who understood the functional capabilities and business problems we needed to address."

With the addition of Dynamics CRM and customer-focused expertise to its solution set, RBA is now able to talk to the business decision-makers about customer engagement. "From a technology standpoint as well as strategic design, we can have much more meaningful business conversations," Lendl said. "While everyone these days seems to be saying they are doing that, we have put the pieces in place to support it. It has been a very interesting journey."

For partners who are considering adding a CRM practice to continue services for customers once they have switched to Office 365, Lendl offered some advice: "Unlike Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is not something that you just light up. Provisioning and migrating data is just a small part of a Microsoft Dynamics project. Clients are looking for guidance. They expect you to help them define their sales process, not just configure it."

As current Dynamics CRM partners have found, a significant part of a CRM practice is in providing that guidance to improve business processes, which should align with the strategic direction of most technology service providers today. As technology recedes into the background and buyers focus on business outcomes, partners need to be equipped to deliver process improvement.

"The great news about Microsoft Dynamics CRM is that you get to leverage all of your technical folks. It's phenomenal that way," Lendl said. "But you need to have a few experts that truly are focused on CRM and understand what it means to the customer and how to promote adoption. Start on smaller opportunities to build expertise."

Part 2: Staffing the CRM Practice
Through its journey, RBA found that it takes a different set of skills in both sales and delivery to support the Dynamics CRM practice. In Part 2, we'll look at some of the staffing lessons that RBA learned.

How are you transitioning your business to tap into changing markets? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

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Posted by Barb Levisay on April 16, 2015 at 11:35 AM0 comments


IAMCP Kicks It Up a Notch

In January, the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) inducted a new board of directors that is putting plans in place to take the organization to a new level.

With 80 regional chapters around the world and a rapidly growing number of Women in Technology (WIT) communities, the IAMCP already has an established presence in the channel. The current board has committed to providing relevant education and enablement initiatives that support all Microsoft partners, with special emphasis on representing and adding value to the unmanaged partner community. 

As the newly elected president of the IAMCP, Gail Mercer-MacKay led a recent planning session in which the IAMCP set out a five-year plan to take the organization to a new level of influence representing the broad spectrum of Microsoft's channel partners. Following a theme of "IAMCP is Open for Business," Mercer-MacKay and the rest of the board have made structural and operational changes to increase the transparency and impact of the organization.

"IAMCP International is open for 'partner-to-partner' and 'partner-to-Microsoft' business. We are excited by the growth we have seen in the past year. New chapters have formed and new communities (like IAMCP WIT) are broadening member reach and impact," Mercer-MacKay said. "Members tell us their IAMCP membership has helped them grow their business, with returns that range from 2 percent to 30 percent or more. I would urge any Microsoft partner who is not a member to find out more about us. Attend a meeting or register for a webinar and find out how we can help you."

Initiatives for the Coming Year
Demonstrating value to both members and sponsors is the driving force for the renewed energy of IAMCP's board. Some of the initiatives the board is undertaking for the coming year include:

  • Quarterly webinars to provide exclusive content and insights to members.
  • Increased involvement and presence at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).
  • Broader communication with membership.
  • Promotion of the IAMCP Partnering Maturity Model (.DOC here), a concept outlined in the whitepaper written by past IAMCP president Per Werngren, that provides guidance for partners on developing their business models.   

In response to a survey of members, one of the year's early initiatives will be a social media education program. "Even though many of our members are socially savvy, they don't feel that they are fully leveraging social media to help their business," Mercer-MacKay said. "We're going to provide training on the specific steps they should be taking."

Growth of WIT
One of the high notes for the IAMCP over the past couple of years has been the growth of the WIT communities, which are a subset of the regional chapters. Currently, there are 20 WIT communities, with a goal that every chapter will have an active WIT community by year's end. Three quarterly WIT-sponsored webinars have been well-received, with over 150 registrants each. With an increasingly prominent presence at WPC, the WIT panels and luncheon are very popular, providing women in the channel encouragement and support.

Chapters Making an Impact
To help guide the direction of the organization, the IAMCP board is looking to build on the success of standout chapters like Southern California (SoCal) and Spain.

With a 20 percent growth in membership, SoCal chapter President David Gersten attributes much of the draw to the "Partnering for Success" program. SoCal's 102 members, representing over 65 companies, take partnering past simple lead sharing to include introductions, mentoring, joint marketing, joint product development and more.

"Partnering is the No. 1 reason why people join IAMCP in SoCal," Gersten said. "It 100 percent aligns with the connect/learn/grow concept and direction of the Microsoft channel."

[Click on image for larger view.] The annual social event of the IAMCP Spain chapter in May 2014 in Marbella, Spain.

Spain's IAMCP chapter has experienced an impressive 44 percent membership growth over the past 14 months. "What members value the most is doing business with each other, not just networking," said Jose Maria Moreno, president of the Spain chapter. "And many benefit from a better relationship with Microsoft considering that many of them are unmanaged."

According to Moreno, IAMCP members are growing their Microsoft business 2.5 times faster than non-members as a result of working together and building a tighter relationship with Microsoft. As the chapter has grown in membership, they've seen a corresponding interest and level of involvement from Microsoft.

With a refreshed set of goals, the IAMCP hopes to achieve a greater presence and influence in the channel. Through a focus on member training and enablement, the goal is to revitalize their relevance to partners. The move is well-timed. Microsoft continues to look for effective ways to reach the broader, unmanaged partner community and IAMCP is in a good position to provide that connection.

What benefits do you get from your IAMCP membership? Leave a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.  

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Posted by Barb Levisay on March 11, 2015 at 11:24 AM0 comments


7 Resources To Make Internet of Things and Machine Learning Easy for Partners

Businesses are coming to the realization that they have to put data to work to stay ahead of the game. Whether that means improving product performance, expanding services with preventive maintenance or predicting what products consumers are likely to purchase, the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning (ML) turn data into action. Microsoft and others are making a convincing case that partners of all sizes and competencies are in the right place and the right time to build on the market potential.

There are a growing number of resources that bring the concepts of IoT and ML down a notch, into the practical, real-world business situations that most partners help clients manage. The center of the resource universe is Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning site that provides easy-to-use tools that allow non-developers to build powerful predictive analytics models.  Documentation is approachable and the free trial makes it testable without a big investment.

Not Just for the Enterprise Space
Microsoft's IoT and ML customer stories tend to showcase the large-scale application for enterprise firms like ThyssenKrup and Pier 1 Imports, which can be a bit intimidating for partners who serve smaller customers. But IoT and ML solutions can help every size business. There are plenty of scenarios where partners can provide services to midsize businesses, like:

  • Helping an HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) company use data from equipment sensors to provide proactive maintenance.
  • Showing a manufacturer how to avoid downtime by putting the production-line machinery data that it has been collecting to work.
  • Using predictive analytics to help retailers fine-tune promotions and e-mail marketing. (See Belinda Allen's tutorial below.)

These types of solutions also lend themselves to packaged service offerings aimed at solving a specific industry challenge -- another way to specialize and differentiate your own services.

Resources To Start the Journey
For every partner, the success of adding a service line is, in large part, dependent on the interest and enthusiasm of your team. When employees are excited about the possibilities of technology, you don't have to ask them to follow the learning path -- they'll pursue it on their own. With that in mind, the list below is a place to start the journey in evaluating the opportunity of IoT and ML.

  • ConnectTheDots.io is a new open source project by MS Open Tech that will help you get started connecting tiny devices to the cloud and analyzing data through Azure services.

  • Microsoft's Internet of Things Blog is building a good knowledge base of IoT-related topics. Hopefully, more partner stories will make their way to the blog as IoT solutions go mainstream.

  • Microsoft Internet of Things YouTube channel is another source for inspiration.

  • Microsoft MVP Belinda Allen's tutorial on Predictive Analytics is an excellent video, providing advice for undertaking predictive analytics projects, plus a technical demo of Azure Machine Learning.

This list of introductory resources is not meant to suggest that building an IoT and ML practice is easy. Achieving Microsoft's Intelligent Systems competency, which demonstrates your proficiency, requires a commitment to training, proving execution capability with customer references and significant fees. But it's all achievable if you decide that IoT has the potential to add value to your customers and build your business.

The bottom line is that IoT and ML aren't just a play for the big consulting firms. Find the person in your company who is interested in solving challenges and point them to these resources. Build the excitement and interest in the organization and establish your game plan. There's no reason that you shouldn't be able to ride the IoT and ML wave.

How are you taking advantage of the IoT and ML service opportunity? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 25, 2015 at 1:45 PM0 comments


The Dynamics CRM Partner Opportunity Gets More Fuel

Recent analyst coverage and Microsoft announcements are prompting partner conversations about the value of adding Dynamics CRM to their portfolio of services.

As small and midsize businesses clamber to catch up in the customer-engagement game, they need help from their technology partners. Cloud productivity, mobile and CRM are natural, complementary solutions and can be a powerful combination that offers high value to your customers.

This week, Paul Greenberg, the globally recognized CRM analyst, added Dynamics CRM to his highly anticipated "CRM Watchlist 2015 Elite." In explaining why Dynamics CRM has earned the top designation, Greenberg cited Microsoft's plan to build out an ecosystem "around not just CRM but customer engagement." In addition, he believes that Microsoft's commitment to the partner channel sets it apart from all other CRM vendors.

Microsoft also recently delivered on its promise from last year's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) to include Dynamics CRM Online in the Open Licensing program. According to a partner-directed announcement from Neil Holloway, corporate vice president of sales and partners for the Microsoft Business Solutions Division, this gives "small and mid-sized businesses access to the full suite of Microsoft Online Services in a way that fits their current engagement with their partner or service provider."

In addition, Holloway announced that the Cloud Customer Relationship Management competency is set to launch at the end of February. "Similar to the Azure and Office 365 cloud competencies, it is predicated on cloud performance. Partners will enjoy a rich set of benefits designed to help them grow their businesses. Program requirements will include technical certifications, customer references, and sales," Holloway's announcement stated.

Resources To Make the Transition
This is clearly a big bet for Microsoft and, despite its alliance with Salesforce.com, it wants to convince partners to join the crusade. Current and new Office 365 customers who use Dynamics CRM are more deeply embedded, offering some protection from Google's coming offensive. 

To help those partners making the leap, Microsoft is rolling out the red carpet with training, marketing campaigns and partner promotion. The Small and Midsize Business Microsoft Dynamics CRM site includes a video explaining partners to visitors and links to the Pinpoint directory. That's a small but very important ingredient for small business owners who may not be familiar with the partner concept.    

There is also a recently updated Dynamics CRM Online marketing campaign on the Ready-to-Go marketing site. Included in the resources is a partner learning path guide in addition to sales and marketing support materials. Expect to see more campaign materials in coming months.  

For those partners who want to test the waters, working with an established Dynamics CRM partner is a pragmatic way to start. Define how you will work together up front, and what's in it for each business. For example, your team learns from the Dynamics CRM partner's expertise and you engage the partner for all custom development.

Last year, we listed additional recommendations and resources for making a transition to Dynamics CRM that you can check out here.

With the positive press and Microsoft's commitment to Dynamics CRM, this is an opportune time to expand your in-the-cloud strategy. As a service-focused business, you have an innate understanding of customer relationships. Build on your own experience and your knowledge of the cloud to help your customers catch the CRM wave.

How are you going to incorporate Dynamics CRM into your service line? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 11, 2015 at 1:02 PM0 comments


Is DevOps the Microsoft Dynamics Differentiator?

DevOps, the emerging field that aims to build collaboration between development and operational teams in a world of ever-changing software requirements, is making its way into Microsoft Dynamics partner methodologies.

In response to the DevOps movement, platforms like Microsoft Azure and DevOps-specific software are providing the tools that support accelerated methodologies for technology implementers. Could these practices and tools provide the differentiator to boost Dynamics ERP adoption in the enterprise space?

The term DevOps is used to describe methodologies that support continuous improvement during software development, integration, testing and live rollout. Coined in response to the traditional adversity between development and operations teams, DevOps helps organizations implement and update business management systems at the pace of change today.      

While Microsoft has been on the DevOps bandwagon for a while, Azure clearly gives the company more motivation to promote the approach. Microsoft recently sponsored a research paper, "Why DevOps Matters: Practical Insights on Managing Complex & Continuous Change," that looks at the challenges companies are facing in getting real traction with the collaborative implementation approach.

Peter Joeckel, president and founder of TurnOnDynamics, sees a growing need and interest in a DevOps approach to implementations, especially in Dynamics AX engagements.

"DevOps has grown up in the SAP and Oracle enterprise worlds," Joeckel said. "As Dynamics AX moves up into that space, partners can start to take advantage of the concepts as a differentiator."      

Experienced with Dynamics AX manufacturing implementations, Joeckel sees the challenges organizations deal with first-hand.

"There is a tremendous amount of pressure on the operations folks today to respond to change quickly. Those can be driven by social media or online requirements. Most of those changes require programmers," Joeckel said. "Any kind of processes, skills and toolsets that keep the development cycle going more efficiently is an advantage to these businesses."

As an example of how DevOps tools are changing the way ERP implementations are done, Joeckel cites the complexity of testing ERP-related customizations in the networked environment that can encompass the entire organization.

"Think about the typical network. It's big and messy. That is the reality," Joeckel explained. "If you develop and test in a pristine environment like VMware or Azure, you'll often find that you have missed something and everything blows up." 

As an alternative, Joeckel has been using the Kubisys on-demand test environment tool specifically designed for DevOps testing and staging. "With Kubisys, you make an exact replica of the production environment for all of your development, testing and training," Joeckel said. "It's incredibly difficult to do that in the real world. Being able to do it with the push of a button is nothing short of amazing."

According to Joeckel, Kubisys is being used for some of the largest Dynamics AX implementations. "As the number of large Dynamics AX projects increases," Joeckel said, "there is a need to bring these processes and tools onboard."

Joeckel sees the growing number and availability of DevOps tools as a real differentiator for Dynamics partners. With every Dynamics partner claiming to have more experience than the rest, potential customers ignore that trite message and focus on price.

"ERP implementation has become a commodity," Joeckel said. "But with DevOps tools, an ISV, hosting partner or VAR can add actual value by implementing faster, better, cheaper and taking a huge amount of risk out of the process. That is a real differentiator."

Joeckel sees this approach, and the Kubisys tool, as beneficial across the Dynamics space. "While the tool is currently being used in the larger projects, it offers the potential to improve life in any project with a lot of development work, including CRM projects," he said. "It's an exciting time in the Dynamics world. There is great opportunity."

As Dynamics ERP and CRM partners take on larger and more complicated engagements, the processes and tools that they use to manage implementations becomes more important. Competing with the big consulting firms requires knowledge and mastery of the current best practices. For those partners who want to set themselves apart, incorporating implementation practices and tools that support the concepts of DevOps is a good place to start.

How are you using the concepts of DevOps to improve implementations? Add a comment below, or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 29, 2015 at 9:02 AM0 comments


Microsoft Partner Reinvents Business with Power BI

Partners are choosing many paths to reinvention, responding to the changing world of tech. A common theme is using the latest Microsoft tools as a platform for services that deliver business value to customers.

For one partner, Power BI for Office 365 is leading the transformation and changing conversations from technology to business outcomes.

"We got started by leveraging Power BI internally as we set up an office in a new location," said Sean Ferrel, president and CEO of Managed Solution. "We pulled data to profile our potential customers in that new territory and used Power BI to analyze the market. Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM and InsideView, we created a lead list of potential customers."

Based on the profiles, Managed Solution hired consultative sales managers with experience working in the target sectors. Sales efforts are supported by marketing campaigns managed through Dynamics CRM. 

Building on its experience, Managed Solution now delivers sales and marketing analysis services to customers. Common projects involve helping retailers identify potential storefront locations. With a knowledge of sources for demographic and business data, Managed Solution consultants pull the data into Power BI for their customers.

"We also explain that Dynamics CRM is a tool that will allow them to automate the processes that put the data to work supporting sales and marketing efforts," Ferrel said.

In another recent Power BI project, Managed Solution helped a solar energy startup justify estimates for potential financial backers. Using Power BI, the company surfaced residential rooftop square footage, solar panel capacity and potential power production to identify target markets and provide well-founded revenue estimates.

The Trifecta for Extending Services
"I think that the infrastructure conversation is going to die out quickly as we make our transition to the cloud," Ferrel said. "We really don't talk IT anymore. We talk business outcomes...what are you trying to achieve? Customers want to drive more revenue, they want a better relationship with their customers and they want to have better mediums for communications."

To support those business outcomes, the 60-person Managed Solution team includes engineers with SharePoint, Power BI and Dynamics CRM expertise. SharePoint is the "single pane of glass" to deliver content and support collaboration. Dynamics CRM provides the sales and marketing automation platform. Power BI translates the data into information through dashboards and charts that users can put to work.

"We have engineers that understand those three workloads and how they work together," Ferrel added. "But, again, we are getting away from product-based discussions and talk about business-based outcomes using those tools."

Ferrel sees a challenge in making sure that everyone in the organization understands it's not about one product anymore; it's understanding the ecosystem of tools that create these outcomes. To support the new approach, the Managed Solution sales team is trained on a matrix of business priorities that includes scalability, revenue, collaboration, communication and culture.

"We have to reinvent our businesses, taking those platforms that have been built to create business process outcomes," Ferrel said. "We need to think about managing the application layer, building dashboards with Power BI, customer workflows in SharePoint and performance reports in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. We will provide the business analysts who customize the applications for clients, paid for as a service in the cloud."

For more examples of Power BI projects that Managed Solution has delivered, check out 5 Great Power BI for Office 365 Case Studies.

Those partners who stay ahead of the conversations and are ready to talk to customers about business problems instead of just the technology are poised to excel in an increasingly positive market. There are many paths to choose from; it's just a matter of finding the platform and set of services that capitalize on your strengths.

How is your firm starting business outcome conversations? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 15, 2015 at 7:34 AM0 comments


So Much More than Coding: Women in the Wider World of Tech Jobs

As you read the stories of the women in the e-book "12 Amazing Tech Jobs and the Women Who Rock Them: Imagine What You Can Do," one commonality stands out. Most of the women didn't think of themselves as "techy," let alone imagine that they would one day fill a key role in a technology company.

There are young women across the world and in your community thinking about their careers. You can make a difference in their future and help your business at the same time. 

As we all know in the channel, there is much more involved in the delivery of tech services than coding. From salespeople to solution architects to project managers, a technology services provider builds on the skills of a combination of people. But most people still only think of coding when they think of tech jobs.

The challenge is that our industry generally works behind the scenes, fueling the businesses that get the headlines. Unless you have direct ties to the technology services sector, partners and channels are foreign concepts. Most educators who influence the career choices of young people don't know what we do. Which is how "12 Amazing Tech Jobs and the Women Who Rock Them" can help you make a difference.

Inspire Young Women (and Men) To Imagine Themselves in Tech
The e-book, along with e-mails, an infographic and blog posts, are available for download from the Microsoft Ready-to-Go site. By simply sending an e-mail to your community college, you may change the course of someone's life. You might also find your next great employee.  

In the e-book's Resource Kit, the partner promotion recommendations document offers suggestions to position your company as a leader in encouraging young women to consider tech careers. Some of the ideas include:

  • Post the e-book and infographic to your Web site (Web banners are included in the kit).
  • Use the blog post as a foundation, adding your own perspective.
  • Send the press release to local papers and your Chamber of Commerce.
  • Send the e-mail to your local community college and regional university.

The e-book is designed to appeal to young people, with short narratives from the women describing their roles, how they got to their current positions and what they love about the jobs. Spread throughout the book is an overview of the Microsoft partner ecosystem. Non-technical terms explain the different types of Microsoft partners and how the channel works. Glossaries on each page are aimed at helping young readers understand common business terms. 

Join the Women in Tech Conversation
In most communities, Women in Tech (WIT) groups are gaining momentum. Even if there aren't women on your team yet, "12 Amazing Tech Jobs and the Women Who Rock Them" is an opportunity for you to contribute to the conversation. Find your local group's organizer and send them the e-book. Offer to speak at the next meeting. Many of the WIT groups include young women hoping to break into technology -- another source for your next great employee.

The stories in "12 Amazing Tech Jobs and the Women Who Rock Them" are fun to read and inspiring. Putting the e-book into the hands of a young person who doesn't think she is techy could change the direction of her life. Download the e-book today and share. You can make a difference. What a great way to start the new year.

How are you encouraging women to consider the field of technology? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 17, 2014 at 12:21 PM0 comments


Azure ML Leading Microsoft Partners, Customers into the Future

With the Microsoft Azure Machine Learning (Azure ML) preview now available, Microsoft partners are beginning to explore how predictive analytics can help their clients.

Supporting tactics used by retailers like Amazon.com and Target, the predictive analytics made possible through Azure ML allows partners to change the game for businesses of every size. An emerging opportunity, Azure ML can enable partners to help even the smallest clients mine data to uncover patterns and build competitive edge.

The definition of predictive analytics, according to Belinda Allen, a Microsoft MVP and business intelligence (BI) evangelist, is the use of a BI technology to produce a score for each customer, prospect or product that will help you decide what will happen with more accuracy than guessing.

Allen uses the example of Amazon.com to illustrate the practical implications of predictive analytics. As every Amazon.com shopper has experienced, suggestions for items related to the products that you have previously viewed or purchased are offered when you visit the site. Those suggestions are based on historical data and the predictive-analytic algorithms that Amazon.com has built over time.

"One of the reasons that predictive analytics are so important is that people are buying things so differently than they used to. They want products targeted directly to them," Allen explained. "Predictive analytics allows us to learn from our data, learn specifically about our customers, and how to treat each customer individually -- which gives you competitive advantage."

Most of the clients that Allen, who is also principal of Smith & Allen Consulting Inc., talks to about predictive analytics are in retail or sell physical products. In those situations, the clients are moving from making decisions based on purely historical reports to a more predictive approach. Retailers are leading the way, understanding that it costs far less to sell to a current customer than to acquire a new one.

At reImagine 2014, the Dynamics conference held recently in Fargo, N.D., Allen introduced the concepts of predictive analytics to customers and partners. Allen explained how predictive analytics can solve business problems and, even more importantly, how it develops over time.

"I wanted to show them that these are not projects with a start and finish. It's an ongoing process that builds," Allen explained. "The more data that you have, the more you can do with it."

Allen cites three fundamental requirements to support a predictive analytics project:

  • A clear definition of the kind of information that you want to predict
  • An understanding of how you will use the predictive scores that you gather from the data
  • Good, clean data

During her presentations on predictive analytics, Allen walks through a simple example on the Azure ML site using sample data available through Azure data services. A recording of one of her presentations is posted here (while the entire presentation is valuable, the Azure ML demo starts at 30:20).

As Azure ML gains visibility, Allen sees growing enthusiasm in the partner community. "They are super excited about what predictive analytics can bring," she said. "For example, there is a new feature in Microsoft Dynamics GP sales order processing that supports pop-up suggestions to encourage add-on sales. It would be ideal for an API from Azure Machine Learning -- an ever-evolving data set -- to populate that field."

The Azure ML preview provides an easy way for partners to get a head start on the emerging opportunity in helping every-size company put their data to work. Whether you work with small companies or enterprises, you will add value and cement your relationships with clients by helping them tap data to predict behaviors and compete more effectively.

How are you helping clients tap the potential of their data? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 04, 2014 at 9:34 AM0 comments