Microsoft Cleans Up the Channels

Microsoft Tuesday said it would begin a yearlong
process designed to get its Business Solutions (MBS) channel partners into its Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) global framework.

The process pads its Microsoft Business Solutions Competency certification to its roster of eight other competency programs.

The Business Solutions division, formerly Great Plains Business Solutions, provides enterprise software applications and suites for small to mid-sized businesses. Moving MBS partners to the “classic” MSPP will make it easier for these partners to operate and compete, said Jerry Pyle, Microsoft group manager for segment planning.

“When Microsoft acquired Great Plains and Navision, each partner selling each of the main ERP solutions had different program terms and discount schedules,” Pyle said. “There had been consolidation of those so partners were on a more even footing, and this is partly a completion of that, so that partners country by country get roughly same terms and conditions.”

Beginning July 1, MBS partners will have a year to transfer their certifications and credentials to MSPP; they’ll also need to begin working under a revised Solution Provider Agreement. Pyle said Microsoft has extended the term of this agreement to two years from the typical three months to a year. Pyle said the move was in part to reassure partners that Microsoft would retain the channel model for this software segment.

Bringing these partners into the fold introduces them to the classic Microsoft partner model, said Dan Duffy, CEO of ePartners, a Dallas, Tex.-based IT consultancy and a global Microsoft Business Solutions partner.

Duffy said the move standardizes the partner requirements across product divisions, making it easier for customers to compare vendors, while raising the bar for partners. “It guides the channel in what they specifically need to do in order to be a certified partner,” Duffy said. “It provides maturity to the channel.”

Pyle said the increased standardization of partner programs would make it easier for customers to find and compare potential vendors. It could also increase synergy among partners that might need to team up to handle engagements.

Starting July 1, Microsoft will begin using a new Solution Provider Agreement reflecting the change. Benefits of joining the MSPP include technical support, access to code, tutorials on service plans and a Consultant Resource Center.

All those resources come at a cost, with varying levels of investment required for different levels of support. Duffy said ePartners spends between $3 and $4 million a year on training and certification of its staff.

“The next time I go into an opportunity, and there’s some local or regional player that is not making those investments, there is a very quick way for the client to ask, ‘Why aren’t you certified?'” he said. “It’s good for the channel to have this kind of pressure put on it.”

And pressure, there is. In the recent Microsoft quarterly earnings call, Microsoft CFO John Connors admitted that the Business Solutions division was lagging, with its quarterly revenue of $153 million down $25 million from Microsoft’s “implied guidance.”

“We aren’t having good U.S. execution, and the majority of it is a function of us having a lot of new people in district positions over the course of the year,” Connors told analysts. “And… we’re being less effective with the traditional MBS partners than the MBS group was a year ago.”

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