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Microsoft WPC 14: The bull's eye for partners is cloud

On Day 1 of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference 2014, the company announced several cloud-focused initiatives, including a new partner program for cloud resellers, to help partners fire up their cloud and hybrid practices.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As part of what Microsoft is calling its mobile-first, cloud-first strategy for the future, Phil Sorgen, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's worldwide partner program, addressed more than 16,000 attendees at the Vision Keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2014 to highlight the vital role that the cloud plays in their joint success.

Sorgen pointed to Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM as the future for Microsoft partners' success with the company, noting Office 365 is Microsoft's fastest growing product ever and 57% of Fortune 500 companies are now using Azure. Still, the company is not without serious competitors in the marketplace.

That's why Microsoft today announced a number of cloud-focused initiatives to help partners aggressively transition to the cloud.

For starters, Microsoft said it is integrating the cloud into the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). In September, Microsoft will introduce three new cloud-focused competencies that are based on a partner's ability to drive Azure consumption and active use of Office 365.

The new competencies are Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions,for partners selling Microsoft Office 365 to small and medium-sized business customers; Cloud Productivity, for partners deploying Microsoft Office 365 to enterprise customers; and Cloud Platform, for partners who opt to specialize in the delivery of infrastructure, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service solutions on Microsoft Azure.

"Primary eligibility into the Silver and Gold levels will be your success with your customers," said Gavriella Schuster in her new role as general manager for MPN.

Several existing programs, including Cloud Accelerate, Cloud Deployment and Azure Circle, will be retired, and cloud partners who have already met performance requirements of these programs will be grandfathered into the new Silver and Gold competency levels.

Speaking to partners at the Microsoft WPC 14, Schuster explained how through training, marketing and programs, Microsoft is going to help partners start building a cloud and hybrid practice.

"We heard from you that making first-year investments is difficult, requiring investment in people skills, rethinking some of your sales compensation, potentially even changing your business model and even having to create new service offerings," she said.

To make it easier for partners to invest more in their business, Schuster outlined four actions points: Microsoft is waiving the first-year fee for Silver cloud competencies; enhancing Internal Use Rights (IUR) for Office 365 and Azure and providing between 25% and 200% more IUR licenses depending on the competency level a partner achieves; offering unlimited cloud support for Azure and Office 365 through Microsoft's Signature Cloud Support; and, to help partners make investments to build their cloud business, reducing the fees for on-premises competencies by up to 10%.

Based on Microsoft-commissioned research with IDC that pinpointed the habits of successful cloud partners -- the research looked at partners selling Office 365 -- Microsoft put together the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider Program announced today. This is a cloud reseller program that allows partners to directly provision subscriptions and to provide a single monthly bill for combined Microsoft and partner services.

Partners will own 100% of the customer lifecycle and will be the sole contact for all customer needs. According to John Case, corporate vice president for Microsoft Office, the program will roll out with Office 365 and Windows Intune. During the course of the year, the program will also include Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Azure.

"Eventually, all of our commercial cloud business will be in this program," he said. The goal of the program is to help partners move customers to the cloud and help partners engage at every point in the customer lifecycle.

Referring to the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider Program as part of an evolution in the IT industry and the channel, Darren Bibby, vice president for channels and alliances at IDC, noted this program will allow the partner to own the deal and be that one go-to person for their customers.

"A lot of partners feel that the billing relationship is the customer relationship," he said, adding if partners don't have that, they don't feel like they're in control. "I think this program will make a big difference for cloud partners," he said.

Sales, onboarding, enhancements, management and renewal are the key stages in the lifecycle journey that Microsoft will invest in to help partners.

The rollout of the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider Program itself addresses the sales stage by allowing customers to own 100% of the customer lifecycle.  Regarding onboarding, Case said the faster customers get to usage of their cloud solutions and engaged with a partner, the more likely they are to renew and have higher customer satisfaction. Also, partners will be able to add more high value services and receive more qualified leads for expansion.

"Faster time to value, faster time to usage results in much faster partner opportunities," he said. So Microsoft is going to automate onboarding within Microsoft Office 365, for example.

"Our intent is that for every new customer that comes into Office 365, Azure or Dynamics CRM, we're going to attach a partner to every customer," said Case.

Enhancing the opportunity once partners are onboard may include a number of things, such as migrating existing applications -- which he described as a $6 billion-plus opportunity -- integration or connecting one cloud service to another.

Today at Microsoft WPC, the company also announced its Signature Cloud Support to help partners with the end-to-end management of the customer lifecycle. For the renewal stage, Microsoft will provide partners with any data necessary to help with customer renewals in addition to the proactive communication and tools the company already provides.

The new Microsoft Cloud Service Provider Program is of interest to Gabriel Loshbaugh, director for education services with Microsoft partner Cloudbearing.

 "Any time a partner can have recurring revenue versus a 'one and done'-type scenario with the customer base, it's a benefit," he said. "What Microsoft has been alluding to over the last 24 hours -- I was at [an education day prior to the official Microsoft WPC events] yesterday -- is taking that lifecycle with the customer and expanding it out to a monthly service agreement or some type of longer SLA [service-level agreement] where there's recurring revenue generated from that customer base."

Cloudbearing is a Microsoft system integration partner with a managed services background. The company sits on the Microsoft 365 partner advisory board.

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Is Microsoft doing enough to help its partners build cloud and hybrid practices?