Microsoft director of SMB and partners, Paul Voges, spent several years with integration giant, Dimension Data, before relocating to Australia in 1999 and eventually jumping into vendor land. He caught up with NADIA CAMERON in the lead-up to Microsoft's local Partner Conference to talk about channel enablement and opportunities in online services.
How long have you been with Microsoft?
I've been with Microsoft Australia for six years in October. Before this role I was managing the consulting and support division. I used to work with partners quite regularly, but the focus there is more large enterprise business. My background is in consulting services and systems integration, which is one of the reasons I was interested in this part of the organisation. Having run a utilisation-based business before I know how the systems integrators think and how they might be able to grow. One of the things we're always trying to do is grow partner capacity. It's easy to say that but it's another thing when you're running a people-based organisation and have to get them skilled up and kept busy.
What's at the top of your to-do list?
The first thing was to understand how the business operates. There are 11 different ways we engage with the SMB and partner channels - depending on the scale or skill set of the partner, there are different teams to manage them. We have 14,000 partners, so getting my head around how much touch is enough touch and where the real opportunities are was the first thing to achieve. The big thing for me now is the Partner Conference in Port Douglas. We need to make sure we communicate not just product messaging, but also the business implications for partners.
What are the main themes underlying this year's partner event?
One thing we'll be talking about is green IT, or the impact of IT on the environment. What we are trying to bring into our corporate citizenship programs is the impact that IT and our partners can have on the community and environment. But we'll also be discussing the green message we take to market, what the platform value is and what impact these technologies have on customers.
Is 'green IT' something software vendors need to focus on?
The more people use software, and the more they collaborate and communicate over the Internet, the more we can cut down on travel, so we can have an impact. It's not like a pure manufacturing environment where you're trying to reduce emissions per se, but more about how people can use technology to have a smaller footprint on the environment. Even on the server management side of things we can assist with how much energy the datacentres are using and what are the ways we can improve that. Some of our hardware partners will have more direct focus, but we are part of the IT industry and have to talk to that.
The other thing for me is distribution. We have a good ecosystem right now and our relationships with Ingram Micro and Express Data are a great strength. With some of the new technologies coming in around Small Business Server and mobility, we need to make sure we're getting much deeper with them and reaching the whole market. We don't want to just focus on the upper end of town; there is a great opportunity for us in the smaller business arena.
The key announcement at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this month was around software-as-a-service. How big a push is that locally? What you would have picked up at our worldwide conference is that we see customers buying software in three ways. One is customers buying products on-premise, or the usual way of buying our software. We don't think that will ever disappear as some customers will always want their own infrastructure. Some other customers will go through the current hosting partners we have, while others will just want to have the online services available to them. The real change is customers having more choice in how they acquire software and how much infrastructure they want to manage themselves. The thing we're still working through is how that manifests in Australia, but we will probably be consistent with worldwide messaging. Over the course of the year we'll work out the best ways to deliver this in our geography.
One concern raised by partners around Microsoft's SaaS is the negative affect this could have on the relationship between customers and partners. How do you see this playing out? Microsoft has no intention of stepping away from our channel-led model - that's what has made us successful today. Customers need the systems integrators, ISVs and resellers of the world advising them on their IT strategies, hardware and software. This [SaaS] is more about how a customer procures their software. But they will always rely on partners to be the influencers. When I first heard about this model a year ago I wondered how this will hang all together, but as always the partner group has looked at this and it's definitely not a departure from the channel.