Microsoft expands partner-owned billing options for cloud

Microsoft offers up new options for partners to control billing for customers using Microsoft cloud products, and introduces new cloud programs and support.

Gavriella Schuster, general manager, worldwide partner programs at Microsoft

Gavriella Schuster, general manager, worldwide partner programs at Microsoft

WASHINGTON, DC – For the first time, Microsoft partners will be able to easily combine their products and services together with Microsoft cloud services on a single bill to a customer under a new program introduced at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference here this week.

Microsoft unveiled the Cloud Solution Provider program, set to roll out with “select” partners in 48 countries over the next year. The program will start with Office 365 and Intune, and the company said it will add Azure and CRM Online into the program over the course of the year-long rollout. Gavriella Schuster, general manager of worldwide partner programs at Microsoft, said the company would start with large partners around the world, using those few high-volume partners to help debug and streamline the program and related processes before going to a broader channel audience over the course of the year.

“The Cloud Solution Provider program enables us to give partners something that’s wholly partner-owned and wholly partner-facing,” Schuster said. “In the past, we were focused on how Microsoft gets this thing out. Now, we’re taking ourselves out of the middle of the equation. We want to be able to scale in ways our previous partner programs couldn’t scale. We’ll put it in the hands of the partners and let them run with it.”

The new program required the company to open up its own Commerce Platform, the common customer management, provisioning, and billing structure that underpins all of the company’s major online services, to partners in a way it was not previously able to do, Schuster said. While a select few partners have built their own systems to get this kind of a “single bill” experience for customers with Microsoft’s online services, having it come from Microsoft will make it much more accessible to a broader swath of the company’s huge partner base, part of a bid by Schuster and her team that runs the Microsoft Partner Network globally to help partners accelerate their own cloud transition.

“I want to move you to the cloud as quickly as possible,” she told attendees in a Monday keynote address.

A big part of that will be new support, tools, and options for partners who are early in their move towards the cloud.

Under a trio of new cloud competencies debuting within MPN on September 29, the company will move towards more closely measuring the level of deployment and consumption partners achieve with their customers. Partners who drive greater utilization of sold seats, and consumption of capacity in the Azure model, will advance through the program. Under the new program, cloud competencies will be put into the broader categories than under previous programs – small and midmarket solutions, cloud productivity, and cloud platform solutions. The company intends to use those three groups as its broadest categorization as it expands the number of online services available for sale through partners. Doing competencies product-by-product, Schuster suggested, doesn’t work in a cloud world where a company may primarily focus on a product like SQL Server, for example, but may interact with Azure to provide customers backup capabilities.

To help new-to-the-cloud partners get involved, Schuster announced the company will waive the first-year fee for silver cloud competencies.

The company announced a new Signature Cloud Support structure for partners, a “unique tier of support” that was offered to select partners on a pilot basis, but has now become generally available. That support will cover partners selling Azure, Intune, and Office 365, with Dynamics CRM Online soon to join the program.

Microsoft is also extending the amount of internal usage rights partners get. Partner will get between 25 and 200 per cent more internal use seats for the company’s online services than they did under the previous program, Schuster said, depending on the company’s competency and engagement levels in the company’s cloud programs.