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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


How Office 365 Changes the Focus of Technology Service Delivery

For technology providers, the cloud is changing the nature of service delivery. Office 365 removes the application and infrastructure limitations, allowing customers and partners to focus on business outcomes instead of technology features.

To deliver services in the cloud era, partners are taking a user-centered approach to business analysis supported by a commitment to continuous learning. 

"A fundamental change that I have seen with Office 365 is that the user moves to the center of the conversation," said Erica Toelle, West Coast strategic account developer for Protiviti. "Instead of talking about a feature of SharePoint, for example, you focus on how all of the parts of Office 365, from Dynamics CRM to Power BI, can come together to improve the user's daily work experience."

Since the real impact of productivity improvement comes at the user level, the design and solution development process should start with making each worker's experience easier. Technology features move to the background and conversations focus on specific business outcomes.

"We're moving away from the era where the products were competing with each other. In the Satya [Nadella] era, it's more about having solutions that complement one other," added Toelle, a regular presenter at SharePoint and Office 365 events around the world. "The boundaries of the solutions are not important, it's how they work together to make the best user experience for each unique situation."

"As a foundation, you want to make the user experience as seamless as possible," Toelle said. "Once a client's Office 365 system is stabilized, with Azure Active Directory set up, single sign-on working and information being exchanged with other systems, you can have the process conversations."

The common projects that Office 365 clients want to start with include automation of manual processes, simple document storage, enabling project management or setting up a lightweight extranet. "The first step is helping the company create an overall strategy and roadmap for the solutions that they want to build," Toelle said. "Those are conversations that technology providers are used to having, like the roadmap and project prioritization."

Workflows are a place to quickly build and ROI for clients. It's easy for the customer to make a business case for replacing manual processes with automation. "I think that's why companies tend to go with workflows first," Toelle said.

As most IT service providers are finding, business analysts have become an essential part of the delivery team. "You need a strong business analyst or business process engineer to support workflow design," Toelle said. "It's not difficult to build the logic behind the process, like the approvals. It's the exceptions that are important. Things like, 'What happens when this person is on vacation or doesn't respond?' Asking the right questions to uncover all those little exceptions is what makes the business analyst role so important."

As customers look to cloud service providers for process improvement, partners need to be building depth in business consulting skills just as much as technology skills. Traditional technology consultants and project managers generally don't have the skill sets to define user-based experience activities. That means hiring people that have business skill sets, which is new territory for most partners.

Another fundamental change that Office 365 partners face is a learning curve that never ends. "The continuous release model of cloud solutions, requires continuous learning," explained Toelle. "Quarterly meetings just don't hack it any more. Partners need to have a way to disseminate information across the consulting team quickly, so consultants can share lessons learned as they happen."  

Fortunately, the continuous learning model matches up well with the preferences of the gen-Xers and millennials who make up a growing percentage of consulting teams. Partners will find willing participants to use the social sharing tools that older consultants were reticent to adopt. "Using Yammer or something similar is key to setting your workforce up for success today," Toelle said.

Helping customers overcome the silos of information and cumbersome processes caused by separate applications provided years of revenue generation for technology service providers. With Office 365, the barriers are coming down but opening a new set of opportunities for partners. To support that unified platform, partner service models are changing to deliver user-centered business analysis and a commitment to continuous learning.

How are your services changing to meet cloud customer expectations? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 27, 2015 at 8:25 AM0 comments


Microsoft Floods Partners with Real Data on Cloud Business Models

Taking an important step beyond anecdotal evidence, Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group (WPG) has created several cloud profitability tools based on substantive partner research. An overdue investment in empirical research, the Microsoft Cloud Profitability Scenarios and Financial Models provide insight into the real world of partner experiences with cloud business models.

The Microsoft Cloud Profitability Scenarios project is an outgrowth of partner interest in the Microsoft-sponsored IDC research released last year in the "Successful Cloud Partners 2.0" e-book. Jen Sieger, senior business strategy analyst for WPG, said, "Last year's IDC e-book had a lot of good insights on the business models but partners wanted to know how they could pursue those models with Microsoft."

The research supporting the Microsoft Cloud Profitability Scenarios was conducted in two parts. "We surveyed 1,260 partners worldwide, speaking to them about the scenarios and the service revenue they were attaining with those scenarios," Sieger explained. "We augmented the survey by conducting 66 in-depth interviews with our top cloud partners."

The results of the research are presented in two decks, the "Microsoft Cloud Profitability Scenarios Research Summary" and the "Microsoft Cloud Profitability Scenarios." The Research Summary provides key findings and presents tabulations of the results. The Scenarios deck takes the research a step further, looking at the partner opportunity for 20 different service offerings, ranging from Datacenter with Microsoft Azure to Business Intelligence.

For each scenario, the 77-page deck includes descriptions of the types of project services, managed services and packaged intellectual property (IP) partners are currently offering based on the data gathered through the survey and the in-depth conversations. Average revenue and margins realized by partners for each level of service are also included.

One standout finding from the survey is that 48 percent of partners say they are already combining project services, managed services and IP through "packaged service" offerings. "I know that our partner ecosystem is evolving quickly, but that level of transformation was surprising and encouraging," Sieger said. "The idea that partners are adding their own IP to the mix is really good."

Packaging IP to add to cloud-based services, which has been a consistent theme from Microsoft, appears to be validated through the survey. "According to our survey, partners applying that model are achieving 65 percent gross margin on services," Sieger added. "There is a healthy ecosystem of partners who are successfully transforming their business models."

Financial Models
In addition to the scenario research decks, Sieger's team developed Excel-based Financial Models that partners can use to evaluate service options for their own practices. There are four models available:

"We have received a lot of good feedback on the financial models," Sieger said. "They help partners see how a new practice with Microsoft would impact their business."

Quantifying cloud business models is particularly important in the current channel environment, according to Sieger. "There is a lot of merger and acquisition activity in the channel right now," Sieger said. "The impact of recurring revenue on the valuation of a partner's business is significant. The financial models will help them build out a business case."

Sieger said that this year's findings and tools are just the starting point. During fiscal year 2016, Microsoft will be building out a broader set of scenarios to reflect the variety of ways partners are building on Microsoft online services.

"Our hope is that these resources will provide partners with more insight into the opportunities across the Microsoft online stack," Sieger added. "In the cloud, it's all about customers for life -- all the ways that partners can serve their customers and increase profitability. These resources allow partners to learn from one another." For more on Sieger's perspective, see her blog post on the profitability modeling models.

How are you building profitability with new business models? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story. 

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 30, 2015 at 10:42 AM0 comments


Cloud Opens ISV Expansion Opportunities: Plan for Success

The cloud is removing barriers and allowing ISVs across the globe to enter new markets. But success in unfamiliar markets requires much more than just access. Careful planning from the beginning and consistent execution can save you from cultural missteps and costly mistakes.

With the cloud as an international platform, ISVs should consider internationalization from the start, recommends Bart van der Horst, partner and managing director for iChannel, a strategy consulting firm that helps technology companies expand into new markets.

"Most ISVs today develop for the cloud and the cloud doesn't stop at borders. If you want to be a market leader, you have to think internationally," said van der Horst. "Make sure you take data security and international regulations into account."  

Language considerations can be more complex than expected, like making allowances for the number of characters in descriptions and field entries. While there are machine translations, including one offered by Microsoft, language is a tricky business that needs to be tested by humans. Working with a professional translation firm, especially one with expertise in the industry that you serve, will save you time and money in the end.

Planning for Expansion
"When you are evaluating new markets, it's imperative to do a competitive analysis," explained van der Horst. "Many U.S. partners just think about the U.K., which can be a fine place to start, but they should think about how they will follow into continental Europe, the Middle East and Africa."

Thorough competitive analysis by country should include research on industry events, professional associations, Microsoft's focus and current partner engagement. Speaking to Microsoft reps, local partners and associations will help develop your insights into the market.

"You should build a three-year plan, which may seem long for our industry, but it's an iterative process that will change over time," van der Horst said. "When you are investing in international expansion, consider not only the potential profits but the value you build in the product and your organization." Features and functionality that are built for foreign markets may be attractive to your current user base. Alliances that you forge can benefit your customers and partners across markets.

Other considerations that van der Horst suggests you include in the planning process are:

  • Localized marketing messages, along with a Web site content management system that will help you manage your content across markets.
  • Pricing designed to meet local standards and currencies.
  • Understanding of how to compensate partners in line with local norms.
  • Executive sponsorship and communication with employees about your progress.

When you are ready to execute on the plan, van der Horst suggests not trying to go it alone. "Hire local people, a business exec or project leader, as an interim manager or employee to help you enter a new market," he advised. "Trying to set up with your own folks as expats in a new country usually doesn't work out." You'll also need a local tech resource to support your partners and a marketing agency familiar with the region.

Since most ISVs have limited resources, the most realistic way to enter a new geographic market is through a channel strategy. Finding partners in your market is a significant challenge, but focus on quality instead of quantity. "Build a partner P&L that lists out your value to their organization," van der Horst said. "Clearly define how you are going to help your partners make money. Plan to deliver more sales help in the beginning until they become proficient."

To maximize the value you can receive from your Microsoft partnership, choose your market niche carefully. "It's easier for Microsoft to work with you when you focus on a vertical. You don't have to have the best solution to be the market leader," van der Horst added. "Together with Microsoft and your channel partners, you can make a real impact on your specific market."

The cloud puts international expansion within the reach of every ISV. Play to your strengths in choosing a vertical focus and plan ahead to take advantage of the boundary-free opportunity. How have you built a presence in new markets? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 08, 2015 at 1:35 PM0 comments