Better communication channels

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When change comes, it can be swift — and swiftly undone

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Billy

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17 July 2019 | 0

I have to admit that sometimes I’m a little bit sceptical when people and companies make such a big deal about technology being a “fast moving” and “agile” industry. Maybe it is because they have been saying the same thing for so many years. I am not arguing that the IT industry is not fast moving compared to a lot of others out there, it is just that there are times when I think the people busy promoting just how “rapidly evolving” it is are going a little bit faster than the industry is.

This week, however, I’m in the happy position of being able to point to an example of just how quick the technology industry can be in making changes. Those of you who read my column for this site published on 11 July will recall that I focused on Microsoft’s proposed changes to its internal use rights (IUR) licences that enable partners to use its products for free in their businesses.

You will recall that I focused on Microsoft’s proposed changes to its internal use rights (IUR) licences that enable partners to use its products for free in their businesses.

In the article, I referred to a document from Microsoft to partners, dated 3 July, which outlined the changes. The company said it planned to “retire” those licences from 1 July 2020. After that date, partners would only be able to use product licences “for business development scenarios, including demonstration purposes, solution/services development purposes, and internal training purposes”. In other words, they could use the products for free but not for real.

Needless to say, the proposed changes upset quite a few partners. A petition which described the move as “a war on Microsoft Partners and those who have been loyal to the company” generated more than 6,500 signatures.

In the face of such resistance to the proposed changes, Microsoft moved quickly to defuse the row. On 12 July, Gavriella Schuster,  corporate vice president, One Commercial Partner, published a blog post which stated “we have made the decision to roll back all planned changes related to internal use rights and competency timelines that were announced earlier this month. This means you will experience no material changes this coming fiscal year, and you will not be subject to reduced IUR licences or increased costs related to those licences next July as previously announced.”

Fair play to her. I think most people would agree that the plan to axe IUR licences was bound to generate controversy and to be deeply unpopular with partners and they would be quick to applaud Microsoft for abandoning it in the face of such opposition. As Schuster put it: “We listened to you, and we have acted.”

But here is the thing. Microsoft prides itself on its partner community and the importance of the channel to its success. It makes a big deal of its strong engagement with the channel and the longstanding relationships it has with partners. I do not doubt any of that is untrue. But surely, if Microsoft had such wonderful communication and collaboration with its channel, someone in that organisation should have known the idea of limiting IUR licences was bound to cause a stink? That is not an unreasonable assumption, is it?

It is true that after the changes were mooted, Microsoft listened to angry resellers and acted. But should it not have known the consequences of what it was proposing and either scrapped the plan before it got past the drawing board or done a better job of explaining the rationale for its decision?

In her post, Schuster said: “Each year we review how we engage with partners and evolve our approach to ensure we provide best-in-class support to you and stay ahead of market changes.”

But if that is the case, why would Microsoft go ahead with announcing something that needlessly annoyed so many of its partners? The suspicion is that the evolution of Microsoft’s approach in this instance was done without any input from partners at all.

She went on: “Our decision to rescind these changes required a thorough review, and a key determining factor was the connection and trust we have with you, our partners — a valuable asset we do not take for granted.” Fair enough but it does beg the question, just how thorough was the review before the original decision was made to enforce the changes? Also, didn’t the original plan to limit IUR licences demonstrate forcefully that Microsoft had taken partners for granted?

The post concludes with an apology for the confusion caused. Again, that is very welcome and the speed of Microsoft’s retraction of the planned changes is to be commended. But perhaps if the company hadn’t been quite so fast about making changes to its IUR policy without outlining the reason for doing so to its partners, it wouldn’t have been forced into such a speedy (“agile” anyone?) retreat.

If there is a lesson to take from this mess it is that there needs to be better communication between Microsoft and its channel and the vendor needs to pay more attention to the concerns of its partners before airily announcing changes to its channel programmes.

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