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WPC 2016: Microsoft enlists channel partners for FY 2017 priorities

Microsoft plans to engage channel partners on a number of shared priorities, including accelerated cloud adoption, digital transformation and Windows 10 Enterprise deployment.

Microsoft wants partners along for the ride as it gears up for greater cloud adoption, digital transformation of customers, and expanded deployment of Windows 10 Enterprise and SQL Server 2016.

Judson Althoff, executive vice president of worldwide commercial business at Microsoft, discussed the company's fiscal year 2017 to-do list at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). At WPC 2016, he described the list as a set of shared priorities for Microsoft and its partner ecosystem.

Althoff is one of five Microsoft executives who will split the former duties of Kevin Turner, who recently left his position as COO to join Citadel Securities LLC as CEO.

WPC 2016 wraps up July 14, ending a four-day run that Tourism Toronto said attracted more than 16,000 attendees and generated more than $70 million in visitor spending.

Microsoft ecosystem to accelerate cloud adoption

Accelerating cloud adoption will be one of Microsoft's priorities in fiscal year 2017, and the channel will play a role. Microsoft's new fiscal year began July 1.

"We will work together as an ecosystem to drive this forward," Althoff said.

Throughout WPC 2016, Microsoft pointed to the cloud as a $500 billion-plus opportunity by 2020 and positioned its Azure cloud as a hyperscale platform for creating hybrid clouds spanning Microsoft data centers, as well as service provider and end-customer facilities. Althoff also emphasized Azure is "no longer about Microsoft-centric" applications, noting two-thirds of the workloads in Azure are non-Microsoft apps, including open source offerings.

This importance of greater openness wasn't lost on partners.

The single stack is dead.
Seth BostockCEO of IndependenceIT

"The single stack is dead," said Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT Inc., a cloud management platform provider based in Allentown, Pa., that partners with service providers and ISVs. The company's technology supports multiple public cloud platforms, including Azure, as well as private clouds.

"Almost all of our partners have cross-platform deployments" that handle different application workloads, he said. "That is the new world."

And as end customers engage in complex technology, such as the internet of things (IoT), where no single vendor dominates, the need for openness and collaboration only increases.

"You can't box people in," said Stephen Simmons, president and CEO of TNG Networks Inc., suggesting IoT deployments will be impossible with a single-stack approach. TNG Networks, a cloud services provider based in Toronto, partners with Microsoft and IndependenceIT.

Driving digital transformation, tech deployment

Althoff is also enlisting partners for Microsoft's mission of driving digital transformation with customers. He said digital is top of mind among CEOs, but he noted the partner ecosystem must align digital transformation with customers' business outcomes.

"One has to speak in the vernacular of business outcomes," he advised.

In addition to the push for digital transformation, partners in fiscal year 2017 can also expect to be called upon to help propel Windows 10 Enterprise deployment. Althoff said there are 350 million Windows 10 users, which he cited as a partner opportunity. SQL Server 2016 growth will be another shared priority, with Althoff noting Microsoft aims to help customers build a "data estate" from their data centers to the cloud.

But amid the focus on cloud and software, Microsoft doesn't want partners to neglect hardware. Althoff called hardware the last mile of customer experience, pointing to the task of making customer experiences "come to life through hardware solutions" as another Microsoft ecosystem agenda item for fiscal year 2017.

Working with ISVs, SIs

Althoff said driving momentum among ISVs and systems integrators (SIs) is another Microsoft priority. He said those companies are more important than ever before, noting ISVs provide intellectual property (IP) to run on top of Microsoft's platforms, while SIs offer skills that "make products become solutions."

"You will see us invest very heavily in our ISV community this year," Althoff said, referring to the newly unveiled AppSource marketplace as one example.

Partners noticed Microsoft's emphasis on partners providing IP.

"Microsoft is really pushing the idea that partners aren't here ... just to help customers make the trip to Azure or Office 365, but to build their own solutions that sit on Azure and Office 365," noted Chris Woodin, director of Microsoft sales operations at Softchoice, an IT services and managed services provider based in Toronto. 

Woodin said Softchoice is beginning to cultivate IP, but he added the company isn't an ISV. In one initiative, Softchoice has created an online service Woodin said gives customers insight into Office 365 utilization trends. Customers can find out, for example, how many employees are using the platform and to what extent they are using it. The utilization data can be tracked by geography, department and job function.

Woodin said the company's IP will need to become more specialized over time, noting future efforts could have a vertical market orientation.

And while partners gear up to develop more IP, Microsoft will continue its focus on collaborative sales, partner enablement and expanding a partner's customer audience, according to Althoff. Co-selling and enablement "will only increase over time," he said.

Sales and marketing assistance

Microsoft's interest in connecting partners with customers was also a theme in WPC 2016 announcements surrounding the Microsoft Partner Network.

In one move, Microsoft said it will now couple the Microsoft logo with the branding of gold-competency partners. On Microsoft web properties, for instance, prospective customers will see the Microsoft and gold partner brands in a single view, which wasn't previously the case.

Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of the worldwide partner group at Microsoft, said the logo coupling is the second step in an effort to refine Microsoft partner competencies. The first step, executed earlier this year, was to simplify partner competencies.

The second step, co-branding, makes it "more obvious ... to our customers who the best partner is to help them," Schuster said. "Customers tell us the Microsoft endorsement is highly valuable to them when looking for a technology adviser or a technology solution."

Schuster was promoted to Microsoft's top channel job late last month, filling the slot Phil Sorgen vacated when he became corporate vice president of Microsoft's U.S. enterprise and partner group in May 2016. Schuster had been general manager of Microsoft's worldwide partner programs and was the interim channel chief before her formal appointment.

In addition, Microsoft is doubling its investment in cloud platform internal-use rights, according to Niamh Coleman, director of Microsoft Partner Network programs for the worldwide partner group. That move will help partners work with Microsoft's cloud technology and pursue activities such as building demos, she said.

The cloud platform investment comes amid the expansion of Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) category, introduced a year ago. Coleman said Microsoft has recorded 17,000 partner transactions since the launch of CSP. In May 2016, CSP transactions overtook the number of Microsoft Online Services Adviser program and Microsoft Open programs transactions for the first time, she added. CSP, adviser and open are among Microsoft's licensing models partners use to sell Microsoft's cloud services.

Microsoft is also in the process of revamping its referral engine. The company's objective is to provide a single place in which partners can upload their profiles, services and applications, and have them populated in all of Microsoft's web properties and marketplaces. Referrals generated through the new engine, and referrals from the field, will flow back to a management console.

Schuster said some elements of its referral engine improvements are ready today, and she added she expects all of the envisioned capabilities to be available by year's end. One currently available feature is the ability for partners to create their own online marketplaces for CSP services and have those marketplaces connect to Microsoft's referral engine.

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