The revamped program, which was announced along with initiatives to help partners get into the cloud computing space, is designed to better equip partners with training, resources and support to be able succeed in the evolving business IT environment. Microsoft has been offering up various details of the program for the past few months, and at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July actually previewed elements of the new program.
“The changes to the program are based on partner feedback and customer demand for specialized service experts," said Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group. “Through the Microsoft Partner Network, Microsoft partners can extend their market reach for greater opportunities and profitability, and deliver innovative solutions to help customers achieve their goals."
Under the new program, partners can go as deep as they want to. Joining a community is the first level, offering partners a way to access information and learn about the latest technology trends by participating in conversations. Partners in communities also have a conduit to ask questions directly to Microsoft employees. Communities are located on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the Microsoft Partner Network Community, and any partner can participate.
Partners that sign up with the Partner Network can also join the Small Business Specialist Community, BizSpark or WebsiteSpark – communities offering technical and business development resources depending on the area of focus. SBCS is aimed at partners providing SMB solutions, while and BizSpark and WebsiteSpark are focused on entrepreneurs and business startups.
The new program also offers 29 areas of competency, giving partners the chance to earn silver and gold compentencies in just about everything from application integration to unified communications. Partner Network members also can purchase Action Pack Subscriptions, which provide access to software, development tools, training and market visibility. Action Packs are available in Solution Provider and Development and Design flavors, and are available to partners who do not hold any silver or gold competencies.
“The new membership opportunities help to promote relevant partner relationships and increase overall customer satisfaction," Roskill said. “These improvements are in keeping with the Microsoft Partner Network’s goal to help partners better monetize their innovations, save customers money and help partners evolve their business and adopt new revenue streams."
Microsoft also rolled out cloud computing resources to enable partners to extend their business to the cloud. The Microsoft Cloud Essentials Pack includes 250 seats of Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite seats for internal use; 250 seats of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online for internal use; Windows Intune to manage 10 devices for internal use; Windows Azure Platform to support development on Microsoft’s cloud platform; and business, technical, and support guidance and resources. Partners early to the cloud-computing realm can qualify for the Cloud Accelerate badge, additional internal use rights and other benefits, according to the company.
“Microsoft is offering partners more options so they can choose what is right for their business. Partners are able to extend their business to the cloud and they can also provide on-premise solutions," Roskill said. “Further, people have always said that technical advancement will put some partners out of business, but we always end up with better products that make them more money. That’s technological evolution and it brings better products and solutions to market. And though sometimes change is hard, opportunities [partners] hadn’t thought of come about.
“For example, with Windows 3.1 when we released NT, our partners were saying that it was going to destroy their business," he continued, “but it actually opened up additional opportunities and revenue streams."