The cloud and the Microsoft Canada/VTN connection

CloudsDoron Kaminski has seen a clear shift in the way his peers in the VentureTech Network are thinking about the cloud.

For the last three VTN Invitationals, Kaminski, vice president of operations at Markham, Ont.-based Insite Computer Group, along with Rob Bracey, president of Toronto’s Quarter Service, have hosted group discussions on the cloud.

The first few were – well, frankly, not too much fun.

“It was animosity and pandemonium,” Kaminski says looking back at those early days.

Partners were clearly concerned with Microsoft’s insistence in owning the billing relationship with customers, long a sticking point in with BPOS and now Office 365 in the channel. But Kaminski said that over the last year, a funny thing has happened – while more VTN members than ever attended the cloud discussion (up to between 60 or 70 at this spring’s gathering in Chicago), Kaminski reports that the discussion has shifted. It’s gone from “everybody panic” to “everybody profit.”

“It’s still confusing, but it’s interesting the way the roundtables are now talking about it,” Kaminski said. “Today, the issues are how are we really making money doing this.”

A big part of the shift is that partners are finding Microsoft more open. Yes, the company still insists on billing customers itself. No, that’s not likely to change barring a major reversal of direction at this week’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles. But the company has replaced the hype for partners around the launch of Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS, Office 365’s unfortunately-named forebear) with more facts and data about how partners are succeeding with the company’s cloud-based wares.

“This is not the same company that was shoving this thing down our throats six months ago – this is a different company that’s talking to us now,” Bracey said.

Kaminski, Bracey and others have placed the credit for much of that transformation on the shoulders of Microsoft Canada SMS&P boss Neil Tanner, who first got involved with the VTN community at the San Francisco Invitational last fall and now refers to VentueTech as a “mobile channel think tank.”

“I first met Neil about a year ago, and the conversation was just short of adversarial,” recalled Kaminski with a chuckle. “Our needs were just so different. Since then, we’ve met every couple of months and both sides have softened. They’ve listened to what we’ve had to say and we’re coming to a head where this thing is really workable for both of us.”

At the recent VTN Canadian Super-Regional in Toronto, Tanner admitted a “a lot of people were skeptical” about what Microsoft would do with the feedback it garnered from partners, but said he was “passionate about changing the face of our organization, both to our customers and to our partners.”

So what’s next from the Microsoft/VTN connection when it comes to the cloud? Well… for one there’s a dinner at this week’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles to further develop the dialogue and plot next steps. More directly on the business side, the software company and Ingram are working together to develop a mobile version of Microsoft’s Customer Immersion Experience, a demo-centric way of showing off Microsoft’s cloud-based offerings that Ingram Micro Canada GM described as “the future of demoing.” The only problem is that Microsoft’s Customer Immersion Experience is firmly located at the company’s Mississauga, Ont. headquarters.

“And we discovered, much to our dismay, that not everyone lives in Mississauga,” quipped Ingram Canada vendor management chief Tim Billing.

Ingram expects to announce details about the CIE-to-go program in the next few weeks.

At the recent VTN Canada Super-Regional, Tanner also posted the idea of having not only a dedicated support line for Microsoft partners trying to do Microsoft cloud technology implementations, but a special connection within that service for VTN members. That’s not firmed up and launched yet by any stretch of the imagination, but judging by the enthusiastic response of Microsoft partners to Tanner’s out-loud brainstorming at the Super-Regional, it’s a touch that would be appreciated.

For Bracey, the discussions at VTN gatherings are about ready to go through another level of transformation. He hopes to foster ongoing communication around cloud opportunities in a more concrete fashion – putting the community’s collective knowledge together around best practices for dealing with the legal ramifications of putting customers in the cloud, sharing contracts and SLAs, and creating a forum on which members can share their cloud successes and challenges.