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Microsoft Cloud Partner Program resets channel focus

Partner executives called the makeover, which creates new tiers and revises qualification criteria, the first major program update in more than 15 years; other IT channel news.

Microsoft this week unveiled a new partner program, which company executives said reflects changes in customer buying patterns and offers channel companies an opportunity to accelerate growth.

Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), the company's current umbrella partner initiative, will be renamed the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program. The revised program eliminates the familiar Silver and Gold partner tiers, replacing them with a solutions partner level and a specialized and expert category. The program kicks off Oct. 3, but partners can extend their MPN memberships beyond that date.

Rodney ClarkRodney Clark

"This is the first material change to our program in more than 15 years," said Rodney Clark, corporate vice president of global channel sales and channel chief at Microsoft. He said the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program spans partners that sell services, develop software offerings or focus on devices.

"This is a program for all partners -- no matter what type of business model you have," added Nick Parker, corporate vice president of global partner solutions at Microsoft. "There is something in there for every partner to differentiate their offerings to their customers."

Nick ParkerNick Parker

Those customers are shifting business operations to the cloud, a trend that influenced the new program's direction. Microsoft Cloud Partner Program will be organized around six "solutions areas" that the company said line up with Microsoft Cloud, which includes Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365. The six areas are Data and AI, Infrastructure, Digital and App Innovation, Business Applications, Modern Work and Security.

"This is how our customers are buying today, across these solution areas," Clark said.

While the retooled program aims to help partners meet customers' needs, it's also designed to put channel companies on a faster growth track. A review of Microsoft's partner ecosystem uncovered striking differences in how fast partners are growing. Clark said the review shows one group of partners growing at 32%. A second group of partners, however, is growing twice that rate. Those partners invest in Microsoft's advanced specializations, which let channel companies differentiate across a range of technical fields. Beyond those partners, however, the fastest-growing partner segment is expanding at 140%, according to Clark. That group, in addition to pursuing specializations, invests in digital sales via cloud marketplaces, emphasizes partner-to-partner engagement and participates in Microsoft's co-selling programs.

With its new channel program, Microsoft seeks to "get all the partners to participate in that 140% growth," Clark said.

That growth track begins with a base membership. From there, a partner can qualify for the higher program tiers based on its partner capability score, which takes into account a partner's performance, customer success and technical skills.  A partner will need a score of 70 points, out of a possible 100, to reach the solutions partner level. The specialized and expert tier requires additional technical capability and additional customer success in specific technology scenarios.

Michelle AccardiMichelle Accardi

"These new updates to the traditional Microsoft Partner Network are a well needed change," said Michelle Accardi, CEO at Logically, an MSP and Microsoft Gold Partner based in Portland, Maine. "Making a change from competencies to solutions partners designations makes the whole program much easier to understand, so we can focus on skilling up and scaling out."

In the MPN program, a partner first earns a competency to demonstrate broad technical skills and then can move on to a specialization to show more in-depth capabilities.

Accardi, meanwhile, cited the partner capability score as "a great solution" for helping partners demonstrate knowledge, skills and experience within the new program.

This is a very intentional approach to ensuring that every single partner in our ecosystem has an opportunity to grow and develop with us.
Rodney ClarkCorporate vice president of global channel sales and channel chief, Microsoft

Partners can access their scores through a newly activated dashboard. Microsoft said it will help partners improve their standing through skills training and other forms of support. Microsoft will work with partners during the six-month run-up to the Oct. 3 program launch, helping them understand where to invest to meet the new requirements, Clark said.

"This is a very intentional approach to ensuring that every single partner in our ecosystem has an opportunity to grow and develop with us," Clark said. More than 400,000 organizations worldwide participate in MPN.

Partners who aren't ready to join the new program in October can opt to renew their MPN memberships for one year. They must make that decision by Sept. 30. The additional year gives partners a total of 18 months to transition to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program.

SAP readies customer engagement skilling for partners

SAP in April will launch an academy to improve channel companies' customer lifecycle skills.

The Customer Engagement Partner Academy is geared to SAP's PartnerEdge resellers. SAP requires such partners to have customer engagement executives on staff. The academy will walk executives through their role in SAP's "land, adopt, consume and expand" (LACE) go-to-market strategy.

"It's all part of the transition our partners have to make from on-prem to the cloud," said John Scola, global vice president of SAP global channels cloud and strategy. LACE boosts customer success, which drives renewals and upsell opportunities, he added.

SAP will validate partners that go through the academy and provide a digital stamp, which they can use to promote their customer engagement capability.

Scola also provided an update on its SAP PartnerEdge Cloud Choice flex model, a revenue-sharing approach that debuted in 2021. When partners close a cloud contract, the flex model provides an upfront payment based on a percentage of total contract value (TCV). Partners also receive a percentage of the annual revenue they generate with a customer and get a slice of the TCV upon contract renewal.

Cloud Choice flex, which rolled out in the second half of last year, is an evolution of the SAP's earlier Cloud Choice profit initiative. The two models operated in parallel last year to give partners time to transition to the new program. That said, Cloud Choice flex still represented 48% of Cloud Choice's 2021 revenue, Scola noted.

The number of partners using Cloud Choice, overall, grew 28% from 2020 to 2021. Cloud Choice's revenue contribution to SAP during that time grew 95%, according to Scola.

Reports point to MSP growth

A CompTIA survey of 400 U.S. companies found that eight out of 10 MSPs made changes in the past two years that have left many feeling optimistic and set up for growth.

These changes include adopting new business approaches in areas such as improved customer experiences and cybersecurity and adding new premium services, such as data analytics, cloud-based services and applications as a service. However, 37% of MSPs identified difficulty hiring professionals with the right skill sets, which could limit their progress.

In another positive sign, 95% of the MSPs responding to a Wingman Marketing survey said their revenue remained stable or grew in 2021, despite the lingering effects of the pandemic. Half of the respondents reported expanding their 2021 revenue primarily through net-new businesses, while the other half cited existing clients as their source of growth. But 62% of MSPs said they expect 2022 revenue growth to come mainly through net-new business.

Wingman, based in Essex, United Kingdom, polled more than 125 MSPs. Zomentum, a revenue platform provider in San Francisco, sponsored the survey.

Partner roster updates

  • Databricks, a data lakehouse company in San Francisco, is co-developing data and AI offerings with several consulting firms. The company is partnering with companies including Avanade, Deloitte, Infosys, Lovelytics and Tredence as part of its Brickbuilder Solutions initiative. Partners are experiencing business growth around cloud data platforms.
  • Integrated energy company Ecopetrol, Accenture and AWS Work collaborated to create a cloud-based water neutrality offering on an open platform aimed at reducing companies' water footprints and meeting sustainability goals. The platform manages data on the volume and quality of water to help businesses optimize costs, reduce water use and reuse water within and between industries.
  • NTT Ltd., a technology services company based in London, is working with Schneider Electric to provide Private 5G, an on-premises private network offering for the manufacturing sector. NTT last month partnered with ServiceNow in the private 5G market.
  • Blueshift Cybersecurity is collaborating with Service Provider Partners to offer security services to MSPs. The alliance will provide Service Provider Partners' MSP clients with detection and response, security incident and event management and vulnerability detection, among other services.

Other news

  • Resultant, a Google Premier Partner in Indianapolis, deployed a learning management system for the State of Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The project, a partnership between Resultant, Google and MDOC, offers prisoners access to virtual instruction, certification programs and an electronic law library, among other resources. MDOC provides educational services to about 7,500 prisoners at 30 facilities statewide.
  • Upstack, a web platform that sells cloud services through cloud sales agents, has acquired United Technology LLC, a technology consulting firm based in New York. The deal adds to Upstack's recent string of acquisitions. Last month, the company purchased DVP Technologies, a communications solutions provider and consulting firm in Connecticut; and Subsidium Technologies Inc., a telecommunications agency focusing on network connectivity, cloud and collaboration.
  • Alteryx Inc., an analytics automation company based in Irvine, Calif., updated its partner program with a revised partner tiering system and role-based training and certifications. The program now offers levels for Registered, Select and Premium partners. Alteryx works with solution providers, including VARs and distributors; global systems integrators; technology partners; and OEMs.
  • DoiT International, an MSP and multi-cloud software provider based in Santa Clara, Calif., has obtained System and Organization Control (SOC) 2 Type II certification.
  • Brillio, a digital transformation firm based in Edison, N.J., said it has obtained Salesforce Summit Partner status. That level, formerly called Platinum, represents the top tier of the Salesforce partner ecosystem.
  • D&H Distributing has opened a 745,000 square-foot distribution center in central Pennsylvania, replacing its former Harrisburg, Pa., warehouse. The facility has nearly triple the capacity of the previous warehouse, according to the company.

Additional reporting by Kristen Gloss.

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