New partner program tackles 'Microsoft Maze'

Microsoft has unveiled a new channel program aimed at broadening partner qualifications beyond certifications, and allowing greater partner differentiation through multiple competencies.

The company is rolling all partner programs – including its Microsoft Busienss Solutions partners - under the new program, which is centred around competencies including networking, security and licensing.

The revamped partner program is geared towards resellers serving the $1.3 million small business market, and 40,000 midmarket organisations, redressing the enterprise bias of the old program, Microsoft partner group director, Kerstin Baxter, said.

The new program continued the software giant’s attempt to streamline and centralise its partner communications to end the so-called “Microsoft Maze”, Baxter said.

Microsoft was already reaping the benefits of its increased investment in partner communiation, she said.

"We’ve had a 10-fold increase in the number of partners we engage with," Baxter said.

She attributed this increase to initiatives such as providing a single point of contact to Gold partner via account managers, or telesales for certified partners.

“We’ve really focused on a more predicable and relevant engagement model,” she said.

Partners would now be able to do one national registration with Microsoft, instead of having to do one for each state, Baxter said.

A points scheme to be rolled out in April will determine certified and gold partner status. Partners will be grandfathered into the scheme, and will have 12 months to update their certifications and competencies, if necessary, in order to maintain their Microsoft credentials. Points can be earned through certifications, customer references and satisfaction surveys.

There are eight competencies at launch, with more to come, Power said. One competency would equate to certified status, with additional points required for gold status.

“The expectation is that most certified partners will attain at least one competency,” MS partner development manager, Katrina Power, said.

Partners can begin registering for the points systems and apply for competencies from April.

Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) partners will be required to re-enrol in July.

They would be brought under the unified partner program in late 2004 or early 2005, Baxter said. Benefits including lead process improvements would also come at that time.

Partners will also be able to achieve multiple competencies, and build a profile which can be used to drive both potential partners and customers to their business.

“Your feedback was you needed us to help you communicate to your customers what your differentiator was,” Power said. For full details see next week's ARN.