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AWS APN program changes spark partner reaction

AWS partners said they support the new requirements established for the AWS APN program, noting the higher bar helps them rise above rivals in a competitive market.

AWS has delayed plans to introduce new requirements for its AWS Partner Network program by two months, a move the company said will help ease the transition to the new requirements for AWS partners.

AWS announced in November 2018 that it intended to overhaul the AWS APN program and implement the changes on Feb. 1, 2019. However, the company shifted gears at the last minute and, in late January, announced a new start date of Apr. 1, 2019.

"It was not lack of internal readiness, but rather a recognition that the APN partner community has grown rapidly," an AWS source close to the decision said. The source, noting the company has added more than 35,000 partners since 2016, said the delay will allow more time for AWS to reach out to partners and help them create customized plans.

Industry watchers have noted the rapid growth of so-called shadow channel companies, a category that includes public cloud consultants and independent software vendors (ISVs).

AWS, meanwhile, outlined how the new implementation date will affect AWS partners.

  • 2019 prescriptive funding benefits have already been allocated based on current tier and program attainment as of Jan. 1, 2019. This will not be impacted as a result of the delay. Prescriptive funding benefits are specific financial benefits that are earned based on an APN partner's tier and participation in AWS' differentiation programs, such as the Competency Program.
  • The Partner Central experience will remain unchanged until Apr. 1, 2019.
  • Partners have until Mar. 31, 2019, to complete an upgrade based on the previous requirements.
  • Compliance with the new requirements has been extended to Q4. Specific compliance dates announcing when each partner needs to meet their new requirements for their current APN tier will be issued soon.

Chris Resch, executive vice president of cloud solutions and sales at 2nd Watch Inc., a managed service provider (MSP) and AWS Premier Consulting Partner based in Seattle, said the delay to implement new partner requirements under the APN program is welcome news for partners.

Chris Resch, executive vice president of cloud solutions and sales, 2nd WatchChris Resch

"This is a good thing -- AWS is obviously taking feedback from the field, both internally and externally, to ensure a better experience," Resch said.

"Change is hard, and the program has remained largely unchanged since inception," he said. "The number and size of partners has grown at exponential levels since the beginning, and it is hard to get it right for your valuable partners."

The APN program category approach

AWS last modified its APN program requirements three years ago. The current round of changes to the program reflects more stringent rules for certifications, calls for streamlining the process for launching new projects and appeals for the promotion of customer success stories. Overall, AWS has organized its program requirements into three APN program categories: knowledge, experience and customer success.

In the knowledge category, APN Consulting Partners will be required to have four individuals who carry AWS Accreditations, including at least two with Business Professional and two with Technical Professional accreditations.

AWS is also introducing a net-new requirement for AWS Foundational Certifications, which includes the AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification that was launched at AWS re:Invent 2017. In a blog introducing the changes, the company said these AWS Accreditations and AWS Certifications will help give sales, marketing and other staff members a foundation of AWS knowledge that can help them implement AWS technology for customers.

Participants in the AWS MSP Partner Program are also seeing Amazon tighten its requirements. Version 4.0 of the program requires MSPs to partner staff with AWS Solution Architect certification recipients to review all project-related designs and deliverables. In addition, an MSP's public customer references must come from new clients or new projects undertaken with existing customers within the past 18 months. Partners renewing MSP Partner Program status must adhere to the revised requirements as of Apr. 1, 2019.

For ISVs and other APN Technology Partners, the company will introduce AWS technical certifications as an APN Technology Partner requirement this year.

AWS APN emphasizes 'launched opportunities'

Under the AWS APN program's experience requirement, the focus for APN Consulting Partners will be on annual "launched opportunities" with customers, AWS said.

"It's important to note that launched opportunities do not always represent individual customers/logos, but can represent multiple engagements within a single end-customer business. This allows us to create strong alignment between AWS and APN Partner sales organizations, and focus together on winning new business," according to the AWS blog post.

By focusing on meaningful delivery capabilities, companies like Foghorn can rise above an often competitive cloud consulting field.
Alex RoosakosCEO, Foghorn Consulting

Matt Ferrari, CTO at ClearData Networks Inc., a healthcare cloud security and compliance firm based in Austin, Texas, said AWS' increasing focus on launched opportunities is a key development.

"This encourages AWS partners to work with the AWS field teams rather than around them," Ferrari said.

This development can be seen as an opportunity in the healthcare cloud ecosystem, in which the "relationships with different business units within the healthcare organization are often as complex as the applications themselves," Ferrari said.

Matt Ferrari, CTO, ClearDataMatt Ferrari

And in the customer success category, AWS is focusing on customer stories, which it said lets APN partners demonstrate their successful engagements with customers over time and allows partners to turn public references into new business opportunities.

Resch, however, expressed concern about the requirement that customers must publicly share their AWS implementation stories.

"Not every customer wants their projects to be publicly known," he said. "We have many customers that are highly successful consuming AWS, but because of company policy, they are not allowed to be publicly referenced, and that can be a hindrance to the program in that that is something out of the control of the partner and of AWS."

AWS partners mostly upbeat

That said, partners are generally upbeat regarding the AWS APN program changes.

According to Alex Roosakos, CEO at Foghorn Consulting Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., cloud consulting firm and AWS Premier Consulting Partner, his company supports the new requirements, which will help highlight AWS partners that have achieved strong results for customers on the AWS platform.

"By focusing on meaningful delivery capabilities, companies like Foghorn can rise above an often competitive cloud consulting field," Roosakos said.

Ferrari said he believes changes to the AWS APN program will help weed out partners that can't deliver on advanced technologies. He added that changes to accreditations and certifications will be fairly straightforward for ClearData, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, to meet.

"While AWS accreditation and certification requirements go up, and while that may be difficult for smaller AWS partners, ClearData requires all AWS support and AWS product employees to have their first associate certification within 90 days of employment," he said. "In addition, the partner accreditation requirements are baseline requirements as part of new hire onboarding for all technical ClearData employees."

Ferrari added that maintaining Premier status for six consecutive months before applying is the most significant change in the experience category.

"Originally a quarter, now a Premier hopeful has to show consistent results, such as revenue billings to AWS, for half a year in a highly burstable cloud environment. That means Premier becomes that much more of a significant achievement for those few who have earned it," Ferrari said.

2nd Watch's Resch said it remains to be seen how the changes will affect partners, but he noted it's nice to know that the bar to become a Premier partner is still very high. 2nd Watch achieved AWS Premier Consulting Partner status in 2013.

"Ensuring that you are improving as a partner and you are staying on top of the requirements of the partnership is fundamentally a good thing," he said. "It's not just saying 'let me check the box, I'm a Premier Partner. Come back to me next year and I will check the box again,'" Resch said. "It's good to understand that there is going to be an ongoing conversation between AWS and its partners."

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