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Digital consulting firms join Microsoft in digital transformation push

At Microsoft, digital transformation is getting an assist from five consulting firms in its newly launched Microsoft Customer Engagement Alliance program; more news from the week.

Microsoft has commissioned a group of five digital consulting firms to serve as the company's sounding board for digital transformation initiatives.

The Microsoft Customer Engagement Alliance consists of SapientRazorfish, Perficient, Rightpoint, Infusion and Quisitive. According to Microsoft, the alliance will collaborate on best practices for addressing the technology challenges of CMOs, which wield increasing influence over IT decisions and digital transformation projects.

Eric Loper, director of partner sales for national solution providers at Microsoft, said the group has been developing over the past year. For Microsoft, digital transformation revolves around transforming products, optimizing operations, empowering employees and engaging customers. He said the digital consulting firms in the alliance can serve customers across all four of those transformational pillars, but are particularly qualified to help clients engage with their  customers.

"We saw five partners from different places skating to the same puck," Loper said. "We wanted to make sure we got behind this group of partners and take the time to learn from them as we go through our own transformation."

The alliance will act as an advisory council to Microsoft, meeting periodically with company executives and senior leadership. In that capacity, the group will advise Microsoft on its own digital transformation efforts and how it can help customers with their digital business efforts. Loper said the alliance will also help drive industry awareness. He said the five companies are among the best equipped in the industry to tell "Microsoft's story … to someone like a CMO."

Quisitive, a digital transformation technology consultancy with offices in Dallas and Denver, announced June 29 it has joined the alliance. Will Clevenger, chief strategy officer at Quisitive, said the company had to transform itself in order to help clients pursue their digital transformation initiatives. The company has rebuilt how it is organized, how it sells and how it works with customers, he noted.

Clevenger said his company's participation in the group will help further its ongoing digital shift. He noted other members of the group are working on digital transformation from different angles, such as taking a vertical market approach. He believes conversations with Microsoft and other alliance members will help him learn what techniques are working in the digital transformation field and how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are manifesting themselves.

"The biggest thing is to get to sit with Microsoft's leadership and my peers at these firms and have that type of dialog and bring that back to our organization," Clevenger said.

Tami Anders, director of marketing at Quisitive said the alliance can also challenge the view that marketing and IT are siloed departments and don't work well together. She said the alliance members can start to show how digital transformation can impact a company's entire strategy and help close the gaps between departments.

The first official meeting for the alliance's digital consulting firms is scheduled for the Microsoft Inspire conference, which will run July 9 to 13 in Washington, D.C.

Microsoft launches security practice guide

In other Microsoft channel news, the company unveiled a guidance document that aims to help partners add cybersecurity to their service portfolios. Some channel partners have struggled to offer comprehensive security services, due to the difficulty of finding security personnel and building infrastructure.

Microsoft's Security Practice Development Playbook offers information on how to "develop or grow a security focused business practice" across Office 365, Windows, Enterprise Mobility + Security and Azure, according to a company blog post. The playbook provides a partner practice development framework that describes five steps for taking a practice from the initial concept to growth and optimization.

The "hire and train" portion of the playbook includes job descriptions for a practice's technical team. Another section discusses how to market to security buyers and includes information on marketing tactics and digital marketing.

Ransomware revisited

Microsoft's security practice playbook emerged the same week the latest global ransomware outbreak made headlines. The so-called Petya attack hit companies June 27 in Europe and the U.S. In May, the WannaCry ransomware outbreak affected more than 200,000 computers worldwide and prompted channel executives to predict additional ransomware events along similar lines.

Fielder Hiss, vice president of product at Continuum, a Boston company that provides an IT service delivery platform for managed service providers (MSPs), suggested MSPs should make sure backup and disaster recovery is central to their strategies in light of the recent ransomware outbreaks. Continuum offers a backup and disaster recovery product for MSPs.

"If there's one thing MSPs should take from these global ransomware attacks, it's that prevention, though critical, is not enough," he noted in a statement. "These attacks are getting smarter, and they're hitting harder, so … MSPs must be able to not only detect and respond to incidents, but ultimately, to recover from any damage."

Mike Viscuso, co-founder and CTO at Carbon Black Inc., an endpoint security vendor based in Waltham, Mass., said the Petya attack points to the limitations of signature-based security technology. Carbon Black works with channel partners such as value-added resellers and managed security services providers.

 "This attack leverages the same exploit as WannaCry with a different payload," Viscuso said in a statement. "This is the problem with signatures. An attacker can make a very simple change and the attack is just as effective as it was the first time."

BackupAssist launches North American MSP program

BackupAssist, a provider of automated Windows server backup and recovery software, has expanded its channel to include MSPs.

Until now, BackupAssist has targeted small and medium enterprise customers through its global Perpetual Reseller Program that it launched in 2008. But with the growing popularity of subscription billing, the company decided to introduce an MSP program in North America.

"We noticed a move in the market recently to subscription billing, so we launched an MSP program to take advantage of this market move," said Troy Vertigan, vice president of channel sales at BackupAssist, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Through the MSP program, channel companies can purchase and resell subscription licenses of BackupAssist's technology starting at $15 per month. The program offers modular add-ons, including a Cloud Backup offering, advanced Hyper-V recovery, granular restore of Exchange server, continuous SQL database backups and tape drive backup. Cloud Backup can be offered as a standalone product starting at $10 per month. BackupAssist said it will help channel companies by providing pre- and post-sales support, a dedicated technician, training and marketing materials, among other resources.

Early partners in the MSP program include DeltaCon, Extreme Technologies and iSpeed Solutions. While a handful of Australian resellers have joined the BackupAssist MSP program, Vertigan said the company hasn't actively promoted the program outside North America. He noted that the company will look at launching the MSP program in the Asia-Pacific market in addition to North America.

Other news

  • Ensono, a hybrid IT services provider based in Downers Grove, Ill., purchased Inframon, a cloud service provider based in the United Kingdom. Inframon specializes in transitioning Microsoft-centric organizations to cloud technologies and has customers in vertical markets such as education, healthcare, finance and business services, according to Ensono. The acquisition strengthens Ensono's Microsoft Azure service offering and enables the company to extend its global reach, the company said.
  • Corsa Technology, a vendor of software-defined network switching and network security enforcement, launched a channel program for resellers and systems integrators. The Corsa Partner Program consists of Gold and Silver tiers, with the levels dictated by a partner's annual sales commitment and ability to provide trained sales engineers, according to the Ottawa, Canada, company. The program offers sales training, preferred pricing, deal registration, a partner portal and access to co-marketing and lead-generation programs. The program focuses on the vendor's Corsa DP2000 and Red Armor NSE7000 series offerings.
  • Security vendor SonicWall revealed it has registered more than 15,000 channel firms globally in its SecureFirst Partner Program since launching as an independent company in November 2016. Additionally, SonicWall said partner deal registration has grown 50%.
  • GlobalSCAPE Inc. plans to fortify existing partners and recruit new ones as the San Antonio, Texas, company rolls out its integration platform as a service (iPaaS) offering. GlobalSCAPE describes its Kenetix iPaaS offering as focusing on digital transformation, providing connection to cloud-based applications and internet of things devices, for example. Gary Mullen, vice president of marketing at GlobalSCAPE, said the company's two-prong channel strategy is to "launch Kenetix into our current channel ecosystem with enablement tools" and "recruit data integration and systems integrators that focus more heavily on the cloud/application space."
  • Distributors have been pursuing services -- in addition to their pick-pack-and-ship origins -- for quite some time. But a new report on European distributors from the Global Technology Distribution Council shows the range of services that distributors use to differentiate their businesses. The council, in conjunction with the report, published a list of services spanning such offerings as e-business integration, network assessments, software services consulting and project management. 
  • Corporate IT Solutions (CIS), an MSP for multi-site organizations, is partnering with Accelerated Concepts, a provider of cellular LTE networking equipment. CIS, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., will combine its customer solutions engineering, project management and support services with Accelerated Concept's cellular platforms with the goal of delivering highly available data and voice services.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

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Read how Microsoft made digital transformation one of its FY 2017 priorities

Find out how a dearth of talent has hindered digital transformation projects

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