Pumping the Partner Channel

Microsoft business executives told partners that a new customer-centric approach on Redmond’s part will help Microsoft and its partners serve them better.

The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, held in Toronto July 11 through 13, drew an estimated 5,500 attendees. The theme is “integrated innovation,” meaning that Microsoft wants its partners to deliver solutions that include infrastructure, desktop and business applications.

The event kicked off with a keynote speech by Orlando Ayala, Microsoft’s senior vice president of the Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group. He said that a customer-centric attitude has grown in Redmond over the past few years, and it’s paying off by helping the company understand what customers want. (Ayala recently was named COO of the Microsoft Business Solutions division as part of a reorganization designed to streamline channels and bring all partners into one program.)

Ayala talked up the benefits of partnering with other ISVs and told attendees that there’s plenty of business in small business. The number of employees isn’t an accurate indication of the opportunity, he said, offering the example of a 40-person firm that ran nine servers. He urged partners to look beyond arbitrary segmentation to figure out the real value of potential accounts.

“We do dream to provide the solutions to 40 million enterprises, not just a few,” he said. Microsoft is “not just IBM or Oracle or any of these people that want to sell very expensive boxes and services to a few customers. We’re in a different business. We want to sell to 40 million of them.”

Microsoft said it would increase its investment in the partner channel from $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion for its fiscal year 2005. The company will increase the number of partner technical specialists, improve technical resources and offer more sales and marketing training and support. Microsoft’s international subsidiaries will set aside 35 percent of their global marketing funds for co-op marketing with partners.

Jeff Raikes, group vice president of the Information Worker Business, announced the Information Worker Productivity Solutions Competency for partners developing Microsoft Office System applications and services.

Will Poole, senor vice president of the Windows Client Business, announced Windows Marketplace, due this fall. The Marketplace will let customers browse and download partners’ applications. He said system builders will be able to join OEMs in shipping Windows XP Media Center Edition-enabled PCs to 13 geographic areas. The readiness program for this channel launched on July 11.

Executives announced seven enhancements to the ISV Partner program.

Rick Devenuti, corporate vice president of Microsoft Services and IT, announced the launch of Microsoft Services Partner Advantage. The program provides three levels of support plans. The Standard plan offers telephone tech and problem resolution support. The Plus plan can be customized to include workshops, service delivery planning and online resources, with a designated account manager. The Business Solutions plan is a fixed-price, prepackaged service for partners in the U.S. and Canada that includes an account manager a guaranteed response time.

In an unrelated announcement, Microsoft and BT announced a global strategic alliance to deliver a live collaboration and conferencing service. Immediately available in the U.S. and the UK, the service combines BT’s audio conferencing and Microsoft Office Live Meeting. The launch follows an internal pilot of the service by BT employees.

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