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At today's kickoff of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2015, company leaders unveiled new channel partner-related investments and initiatives that build on CEO Satya Nadella's recently outlined "bold ambitions" for Microsoft -- namely, to reinvent productivity and business processes, build the intelligent cloud platform and create more personal computing.
The theme of this year's Microsoft partner conference, "Achieving More," is Microsoft's mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, according to Gavriella Schuster, general manager with the Worldwide Partner Group at Microsoft.
New investments around its partner-focused cloud-first, mobile-first strategy are designed to help the vendor's worldwide ecosystem of partners -- i.e., resellers; system integrators and project service providers; application builders and independent software vendors (ISVs); and managed service providers (MSPs) and hosters -- transition to cloud and mobile.
According to Schuster, these efforts are in line with her organization's continued work to improve three things for the Microsoft partner ecosystem: increase the value that l6partners bring to customers; increase partner profitability; and make it easier for partners to do business with Microsoft, as it moves to a cloud-first, mobile-first world.
Approximately 10,000 Microsoft partners are attending WPC 2015, representing 130 countries.
Last year, Microsoft introduced the Cloud Solution Provider Program (CSP), which lets partners own and control their own billing, as well as add their unique offerings on top of and integrated with Microsoft cloud services. To date, those services were primarily around Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). This year, Azure and CRM Online will join Office 365, EMS and Windows Intune as available services in the CSP program "to help partners continue to build and grow profitable cloud services business on Microsoft Cloud Services," according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.
Schuster said partners can integrate those services and "add their own [intellectual property] or third-party tools and products, and sell that holistic solution themselves, while servicing the customer directly."
Additionally, Microsoft expanded the number of countries that the CSP program operates in from 40 to 131 and announced that partners can now enter the CSP program through one or two tiers. Microsoft stated it has built a Tier II program that allows partners to work through distributors, in addition to the Tier I option that's been in place. Tier I channel partners work directly with Microsoft and have the capability to do full customer support -- i.e., provisioning, billing, management and support. In the new Tier II model, partners work through a distributor, which provides the reseller with provisioning and customer support.
CSP distributors in the U.S. include Ingram Micro, Tech Data Corp., Synnex Corp., Intermedia, Inc. and AppRiver. In Canada, CSP distributors include Ingram Micro, Tech Data Corp., Synnex Corp., Ceryx and SherWeb.
The Tier II option still provides the partner with the opportunity to add their own intellectual property and own the products they deliver to customers.
Microsoft also tweaked the Tier I program. For the past year, partners in the Tier I program needed to utilize Microsoft's back-end billing and provisioning system. Now, the vendor created application programming interface (API) integration that allows a partner to enter customer information into their own CRM system, and through the API, the Microsoft systems will trigger an invoice directly to the partner, according to the company.
Microsoft partner conference: Surface Pro and ISV news
Today, Microsoft announced an expanded Surface Pro channel strategy, enabling more partners to sell the company devices through standard distribution partners.
This initiative increases the number of resellers that offer the Surface Pro from a few hundred to a few thousand globally, and Microsoft's objective is to continue to grow that number, according to the company.
"We've been overwhelmed by the amount of partner interest in selling the Surface over the past two years, and it's taken us a while to put all the processes in place," said Schuster.
Partners can go to the Microsoft partner portal to find authorized device distributors and sign up to sell the Surface Pro.
Gavriella Schustergeneral manager with the Worldwide Partner Group at Microsoft
There was additional mobile and cloud news, as well.
On the mobility front, the vendor introduced two new competencies: the EMS competency, coming out in the fall timeframe; and a Windows 10 competency, which is a work in progress and will follow the release of Windows 10, according to Schuster.
Also regarding the work that Microsoft is doing around Azure and Windows 10 is the creation of an ISV hub, which centralizes resources that the company provides to ISVs and app builder partners.
Residing on the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) portal, the ISV hub provides resources to help ISVs build apps, as well as provide go-to-market resources for their applications, which the company said it will continue to invest in over time. This makes the resources more robust for partners as Microsoft invests in the Azure and Windows marketplace, Schuster noted.
Microsoft also changed the way it treats ISV certification. Going forward, an ISV's application certification will serve as entry to ISV competencies. This is part of the company's move to focus on performance and outcomes.
Also of interest to ISVs is a new Microsoft version of Visual Studio -- Visual Studio 2015, scheduled for release this month -- and an upgrade of their internal-use rights to include the more robust Visual Studio Enterprise to support application development.
On the cloud front, Microsoft has significantly increased the internal-use rights credits -- or compute units -- for Azure to $6,000 for Silver partners and $12,000 for Gold partners. That's up from $500 and $1,000 of compute unit credits offered the previous year for Silver and Gold partners, respectively. This boost in credits was driven by partner demand, according to the company.
On August 1, Microsoft will also begin to offer Azure incentives. Additional information is forthcoming.
The vendor also announced a change to the way it measures users of Office 365, CRM Online and EMS from active seats to active users to meet competency requirements.
"By moving to active users, we're trying to incentivize and motivate our partners to activate every cloud service within a suite like Office 365, and we're giving them a dashboard on the MPN portal where, if they're the partner of record, they can see all of the active users at a customer site and they can go and take action," Schuster said.
The top opportunity for partners this year is to start building their own unique differentiation on top of the cloud services that Microsoft delivers, which harks back to why Microsoft is expanding the CSP program.
"There's a lot of value to a customer to have Office 365, CRM Online and EMS for the Active Directory Federation Services and identity work together. All three of those services together with Azure on the back end … make that a full productivity suite for them. Partners need to stitch together a full solution offering rather than building blocks," she said.
Also at the Microsoft partner conference, the company rolled out about 50 new partner profit scenarios to help partners realize profit with cloud services and value-adds. Those profit scenarios are available on the MPN portal.
For example, Microsoft borrowed from a current customer campaign using the theme, "Modern Business," that focuses on four scenarios for the customer. One partner opportunity is around "business anywhere," which is productivity based. Microsoft has a series of partner profit scenarios to support business anywhere around Office 365, Windows 10, Azure remote applications and how partners can deliver that as a service.
The vendor also has partner profit scenarios around the pillar of "safeguard your business," which is about protecting and controlling customer data. Another pillar is "connecting with the customer" and addresses how partners may take CRM Online, PowerBI, Office 365 and SQL, and create a robust customer manager system for their customer.
In addition to the partner profit scenarios, Microsoft offers practice accelerators to help partners understand how they can develop a practice to reap profit.
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