Based on the premise that there is not only safety in numbers, but power as well, the newly formed, 100-member-strong Australian Association of Microsoft Solutions Providers (AAMSP) is seeking to raise the profile of solutions providers and systems integrators throughout Australia.
AAMSP president Brian Walshe, of Melbourne-based systems integrator Praxa, says the goals of the association are twofold: (1) to establish Microsoft Solutions Providers (MSPs) as the way to implement complex or large-scale Microsoft technical projects, and (2) to facilitate networking, communications and partnerships between MSPs.
Walshe says the formation of the association stems largely from Microsoft's success. "When a product is growing like NT, everyone wants a piece of the action," he said. "And it becomes very important to maintain standards. What can happen is that you'll get certain companies who may talk their way into projects they're not really qualified for; the implementation doesn't go well, and, all of a sudden, the product starts to get a bad name. What the association does is establish a standard level of qualification."
Beyond protecting a product's branded image, Walshe says MSP status (and AAMSP membership) helps customers define which companies specialise in Microsoft installations. "I'd be horrified to see Andersen do a big NT implementation, because it's not their speciality. We'd want to see an MSP in that role," he said. "Having said that, Andersen probably doesn't want to be a member of the association because they want to be perceived as 'independent' and not affiliated with any particular manufacturers. What we're saying is that MSP status does not signify an 'alignment' with Microsoft, it's a qualification that says you're an expert in Microsoft systems."
Making the cut
From Microsoft's perspective the AAMSP equates to a fairly formidable bloc. "The association gives MSPs a united voice in its communications with Microsoft," said Microsoft channel development manager Kevin Burke. "We try to be responsive to all of our customers and partners, but obviously an organisation that represents more than 100 different companies is going to carry a lot of weight."
Once having qualified for MSP status, there are no barriers to AAMSP membership. To become an MSP, a company must have two members of staff pass two Microsoft exams each. In addition, Microsoft conducts a full technical audit on applicants, surveying a company's help-desk capabilities, Burke said. "They also have to produce an activity/marketing plan, and use NT internally." There is also a $5,000 per location, per year fee.
Casting the net
Many association members say the key benefit on offer from the AAMSP is the networking opportunities it affords. "Not every solutions provider is going to develop the skills to do every job," said John Donovan, AAMSP vice president and managing director of Canberra-based ImageWord. "However, by networking, MSPs can form strategic alliances whereby smaller companies can partner one with another to take on bigger projects than they might otherwise."
Walshe agrees. "I think the networking opportunities are especially good for some of the Australian companies that aren't multinationals. These companies tend to specialise in one or two particular areas. By networking with other MSPs they can forge some very key partnerships," he said.
Brian Walshe - Praxa
Tel: (03) 9690 3811