Tommy Wennerstierna, Product Manager, Solutions Architect and Presale
Being a real Microsoft Enterprise Partner
I once met a Product Manager on Microsoft when working with all aspects of turning around an IT consultancy company that went from 45+ employees to 5 in a week and jumping on the Microsoft Biztalk Server train when that left the station, and that Product Manager said something that got stuck in my mind; ‘It’s not easy to be a Microsoft Partner’. He was absolutely right, and I have had some moral support from that statement later when navigating Microsoft’s partner portal for other companies when registering competencies, technical contacts or entering and connecting certified Microsoft consultants. I have also been exposed more than one time to companies with great ideas, good people and a fair amount of unrealistic assessments about the time effort and cost included in becoming a ‘real’ partner to Microsoft. I also come across unrealistic job specs almost every month that tells me where the market is. So – here is my take on what I think is really important to understand about being a partner and how to build that.
First of all; let’s get the proportions right. Microsoft is a company with some 100.000 employees. Add a couple of 10’s of thousands on companies that have employees embedded in Microsoft’s teams – and bear in mind that a team on Microsoft can do very different things, like marketing, sales, licensing, internal IT, partner services, management, operations and actually also some systems development with all the roles that comes with that.
Add some 2 million+ people globally who does the same thing but in the Microsoft partner community. And they’re doing that in 25+ different competency areas that have very different users and markets – including CRM, databases, developer tools, cloud solutions, ERP, communications and collaboration solutions, devices and much more. Oh, add operating systems to that, it’s easy to forget that and all the other stuff that we use daily, without actually noticing it, unless it gives us problems.
Add 1-2 billion global users that is using Microsoft’s solutions every day, and the stage is set.
The consultancies I’ve met during my career have mostly been relying very much on heroes. They bring in one or more people that are competent and skilled and let them do their thing. They build one or more teams and things work’s pretty well until the team becomes 30+ or more. Then things start to fall apart. And the reason for that is that it’s hard to keep the loyalty alive in large groups and that heroes can get a good salary somewhere else, or start their own business – because they know that they can deliver and that they don’t have to give some of the money away to someone else.
One approach to sort this problem out is to leverage the Microsoft partner model, and take it all the way. That has been done in, as far as I know, in three large consultancies in Sweden. And as far as I know, some 30-40 competitors have failed, or has not reached very far yet. The reason is underinvestment in the setup of this. And that is ultimately a management shortcoming, and a lack of understanding in how to work as a partner to Microsoft.
The solution is to build teams that deliver solutions according to the prerequisites defined by Microsoft on their partner web. There are extremely detailed definitions on what courses and certifications employees should have, what mix the teams should have in terms of developer skills, architecture knowledge and courses for sales guys and the presales people. Not to mention the skill set and certifications for the licensing people. Because if you want to build a real and sustainable Microsoft partner business, you can do that with one or more heroes, but that will most likely be less sustainable than bringing in people that a specialized in parts of the processes and add value to each other.
One example I can provide goes like this: you have some Sharepoint developers employed in a large consultancy. They are some 10-20 people, and most of them are independent developers that also takes the roles as architect’s, presales, support, migration experts, OS expert, client expert, devices expert, managements advisors and technicians on-site on on-prem solution sites. And they are also ‘cloud experts’ because Office365 and Azure is a thing at early adopter’s sites. And when they work with Office365 they are seen as expert on Skype for Business, Exchange, Outlook, Sharepoint online, Project Online, Power BI, Sway and Office365 for Android and IOS. And they are experts on all previous versions of all OS’s and all other solutions and products, of course.
And in reality, that’s a too big chunk to swallow for most people. At least if you want them to be experts on everything they do on a daily basis.
That’s when you have to delve deep into the Microsoft Partner model. There is some 25+ competencies that are very well defined, that changes when the solutions and the market changes and that is usable as a blueprint for how a management team or a manager should build their teams in order to be able to grow their business beyond the model with heroes I mentioned earlier.
A Sharepoint team that is a part of a company that wants to deliver consistent results in a large setting should be a number of developers, one dedicated architect, one dedicated Admin-kind-of-person, one Team Leader or Manager and a dedicated presale. All of them should be certified according to Microsoft’s partner model, and the sales people and presales people should take the courses on an ongoing basis o Microsoft or on-line. And they should also be certified after taking the courses. And then you should build teams in all competencies that are relevant. One of those that always is is licensing. Another is AD, or Authorization and Authentication. These are almost always important to have in the loop when acquiring new customers or maintaining current customer’s solutions. This goes for most competencies since they all have elements from the others in them. And if you want real experts conducting the work, then you will have to set them off on the specialist track, curbing the heroism business model.
A serious Microsoft partner that wants to be a leader in the field needs to invest some serious effort and also some money into the Microsoft partnership. Trying to grow organically in this area has probably been done, but if the ambition is to be a leader in a foreseeable future, then investing is necessary. Having a dedicated team to do this is also important. Setting up reference cases, making certifications happen, get a perfect and rich profile on Microsoft Pinpoint, communicate ‘all’ the changes and progress Microsoft’s developer team’s ships, understanding mega trends like the cloud, map this to the multitude of customer challenges that comes up with what that means for the sales pipe and how to push that thru marketing – all of those require dedicated persons putting in all their energy into the activities required.
Those activities need to be constantly updated, assessed, recurring and in sync with Microsoft’s releases and your organisation, and your end customer’s needs.
So, don’t be that partner that go for a Gold Partner status just because you have to, register the stuff on the partner portal you have to enter, and then leave it where it is. Go for being a Real Partner.
Where to start? The answer is cloud and devices. That’s where the potential is now. Migrating to the cloud will be the cash cow the coming years, and Office365 and Azure is the platforms most companies will aim for. And the partners that are the first movers will surely be the ones that own’s that market in the future. If it’s disruptive and destroys other businesses, then you want to be there. And so do your employees.
Never forget Nokia or Blackberry and all the other giants that have left the scene. They did what they were expected every day on the job, no matter if they were management or engineers. Then they didn’t, because they were on the wrong train, the train that wasn’t disruptive.
Tommy Wennerstierna has spent more than 30 years in the IT industry in different roles. The past 15 years on and off ‘doing Microsoft stuff’ on various levels and in many organisations.