Microsoft completes transfer to Microsoft Partner Network

Microsoft Partner NetworkFifteen months after it announced its intention to retire its old Microsoft Partner Program brand in favour of the Microsoft Partner Network, the software titan has completed the change.

The Microsoft Partner Network went live on Monday, and with it comes a new focus for its Gold and Silver partner levels. Rather than being a catch-all, the company now offers partners the ability to achieve Gold or Silver levels across any or all of the 29 technology focuses across which it has offerings.

“The old membership levels of Gold, Certified and Registered are gone and we’re moving with partners to the Microsoft Partner Network,” said Corinne Sharp, national director of the partner channel at Microsoft Canada.

The new structure allows partners to have multiple Silver or Gold categories – originally introduced as Competency and Advanced Competency at Worldwide Partner Conference 2009, but changed at this year’s show to the more familiar metallic names.

The company has raised its requirements for making Gold level, though. In order to make the Gold level for any technology area, a solution provider has to have (or contract with) four certified technical resources in that field, and has to have four customer references around that solution. Silver partners have to have two resources and two references.

Peter McKenzie, vice president of sales and marketing at Mississauga, Ont.-based Envision IT, said the focus on specialty skills and references will help Gold partnership status regain “some of the cachet” it had lost over recent years.

“I like the number of references you have to have to reach Gold certifications,” he said. “If your clients say you can do it, chances are you can.”

Although the company has been working with its partners since July of 2009 on the rebrand and expectations for new levels, Sharp said it’s too early to tell exactly what effect the MPN switchover will have on the number of partners in any given category. Part of that is because of the fact that partners may fit at multiple levels – McKenzie estimates Envision IT will ultimately land at a mix of Gold and Silver across seven different competencies. And part of that is because partners still have time to get their education and training levels up to the new categories until the end of Microsoft’s fiscal year next June.

“Our partners have had strong awareness of the direction of our change, we’ve done that on purpose instead of just launching this and surprising them,” Sharp said. “It’s been through their feedback the Network has been formed and now they’re working through this, building their roadmaps and making choices. It’s an opportunity for them to focus.”

For partners not making the investment in a given technology area, its base of Registered partners, the company has added additional “Communities” that helps provide marketing and technical support free of charge. Communities include its Small Business Specialist, BizSpark and WebsiteSpark programs. Partners will also have access to Microsoft Action Packs, a subscription service for different types of partners (solution provider, designer and developer) that offers packages of training, development tools, market insights and others resources.

For McKenzie, one of the unsung heroes of the new MPN is the newly-launched PinPoint tool, an evolution of its partner locator that offers would-be customers a better look at the kinds of specialties and focuses a given solution provider features.

“It’s bringing us great leads simply as the result of us profiling ourselves properly,” McKenzie said, calling the quality of leads “hugely improved” over previous locators.

The new network naturally focuses on Microsoft’s number-one priority – repositioning the company for leadership in the growing cloud opportunity. With the Network launch comes availability of two cloud-centric programs for partners announced at this year’s WPC in Washington, DC.

  • Microsoft Cloud Essentials Pack provides free access to software for internal use and other tools to support the move towards the cloud, including marketing materials and a roadmap for various types of solution providers: Reseller, ISVs an systems integrators
  • Microsoft Cloud Accelerate is a badge for partners who have invested in cloud technologies, described by Sharp as the equivalent of its Gold competency for the cloud. Accordingly, members can include the badge on their Web site and marketing materials.
  • The company has also launched its Web site for cloud-centric partners.

The VAR Guy first broke the news last week that MPN general manager Julie Bennani has been reaching out to the company’s smaller partners to reassure them of their importance in the company’s cloud-related efforts. Sharp said such an outreach is also ongoing towards smaller partners across Canada, relying heavily on the help of its distribution partners.

“Some of our distributors have dedicated resources to Microsoft cloud solutions, doing training and enablement and being that outreach,” she said. “They’ve been critical for us.”