How Microsoft will measure partner success in 2018
Microsoft has unveiled key channel priorities for 2018, throwing down the digital gauntlet in the pursuit of partner success. Underpinned by cloud, Redmond has outlined a roadmap to the promised land of digital transformation, offering the clearest indication yet as to where future channel success lies.
In 2018, the tech giant considers specialisation key, aligning to outcome-driven partners capable of monetising data, delivering customer value and maximising managed services offerings.
Alongside the Internet of Things (IoT), the blueprint for partner success comes almost 12 months after the launch of the One Commercial Partner operating model in February 2017.
“The opportunity over the next few years is staggering,” Microsoft corporate vice president of One Commercial Partner, Gavriella Schuster, said.
Citing IDC research, Schuster said investment in digital transformation initiatives will reach $2.2 trillion by 2019, representing an increase of almost 60% from 2016.
“That kind of growth presents incredible opportunities for us to bring digital ambitions to life,” Schuster added. “In 2018, I expect introspection and specialisation to be top priorities for partners and customers.
“Business decision makers will be asking their teams: What separates us from the pack? Where do we add core value to our customers’ business?”
According to Schuster, both questions represent “two critical” starting points for any business embarking on digital transformation strategies, strategies which “may completely change” a company’s business model.
“A good example is with systems integration requirements, which are now easier to manage,” Schuster explained.
“A customer’s environment can be assembled with the core building blocks on the cloud platform, as opposed to being dependent on the customer’s unique on-premises hardware environments.”
As a result, Schuster said that enables systems integrators to build repeatable offerings and identify what differentiates them.
“For instance, let’s say a partner’s core value is an unparalleled understanding of the market and deep trust of their customers,” Schuster added. “With fewer complex integration requirements, they can now focus on the data management parts of their solutions.
“Another partner may decide to cross over into managed services. While it may not have made sense before, they’ll no longer have the heavy burden of a capex environment and can more cost-efficiently manage their customers.
“Those are just two examples in which partners can manage on behalf of their customers in new ways and tap into Microsoft’s industry-leading partner ecosystem.”
As outlined by IDC, the majority of digital transformation spending in 2018 will go toward technologies that support new or expanded operating models.
Such investment will be driven by a need for customers to make operations more effective and responsive by leveraging digitally connected products/services, assets, people and trading partners.
“Every successful company is on a journey to become a digital business,” added Microsoft corporate vice president of digital Anand Eswaran.
“However, leaders are up against the fact that they can’t future-proof their businesses. The rapid pace of technological change, coupled with shifting market forces, is leading them into a period of intense, continuous evolution. There’s a lot of opportunity, but it’s not without risk.”
In a direct address to digitally savvy partners, Eswaran advised the channel to help customers identify “desired business outcomes”, leveraging low hanging fruit to help organisations deploy new solutions at a manageable pace.
“The reality of a world where technology is evolving so quickly is that most digital transformations don’t start with an organisation-wide plan of change, but rather with a series of micro-revolutions,” Eswaran added.
“These are small, quick projects that deliver positive business outcomes and build over time to a larger shift in direction.”
From a technology perspective, spending on digital transformation in 2018 will centre around connectivity services, IT services, enterprise hardware, and applications.
The end result is a market rapidly gathering pace, according to IDC, with competitive pressures from early adopters beginning to force rival businesses to begin transformation efforts.
Such pace of change is combining to create new levels of value across cross-industry cloud innovation.
“As we listen to our customers and partners, we’ve learned that while organisations transform at different speeds, there are synergies and opportunities that cross industries,” Microsoft corporate vice president of industry, Toni Townes-Whitley, added.
“At this time next year, new data-rich technologies and business models will be even more deeply embedded across our industries, helping us to address markets and services that we haven’t yet anticipated.”
For Townes-Whitley, the companies that will succeed in the long-term are those using machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate new insights and data applications, designed to “exceed customer expectations”.
“The opportunity for partners now is to start working with their customers to understand their data and learn to use it more efficiently,” Townes-Whitley added.
Creating a smarter channel in the process, Microsoft’s deepened focus on leveraging data aligns with partner plans to build intellectual property (IP) and differentiate through application development.
Staying close to the customer
Honing in on the end-user, Microsoft advised partners to focus on customer experience when positioning the benefits of digital transformation, in response to changing technology buying patterns across organisations.
“As companies evaluate how they use technology to enable digital transformation, the way they make their IT purchasing decisions will continue to shift,” Microsoft general manager of channel sales, Alyssa Fitzgerald, observed.
“Cloud computing has democratised not only how business solutions are built and delivered, but also how customers identify, evaluate, and choose solutions. It’s no longer just an IT sale.”
Consequently, partners must now pivot to target the new influencers of IT, becoming conscious of the rising importance of line of business leaders when purchasing it.
Spanning sales and marketing, human resources (HR), finance, digital, security and much more, line of business (LOB) leaders are fast becoming legitimate technology buyers.
Today, these buyers are not impressed by technology skills or talk, rather outcome-focused discussions tailored to specific business needs, requiring partners to adapt go-to-market strategies to address this new buying reality.
“Increasingly, technology buyers are the business decision-makers who want to use technology to support and enhance their businesses,” Fitzgerald added.
“When talking with customers about the solutions you offer, you should articulate the value proposition for the technology with the customer experience in mind.”
“MSPs will have more opportunities to deliver services such as provisioning, management, monitoring, security, governance, and optimisation,” Microsoft general manager of partner development, Mark Rice, added.
“By investing in automation and cloud tooling and being proficient at cloud infrastructure management, partners offering managed services may be able to increase their margins.”
To be successful, Rice said, partners must invest in capabilities around integrated application-level monitoring and lifecycle management, DevOps as a fundamental approach, and cloud native app development.
“Many customers will need hybrid cloud deployments – a perfect opportunity for Microsoft Azure Stack,” he explained.
“MSPs that are ready to transform their own businesses and increase profitability should consider how they leverage public cloud infrastructures, and we’ll see a growing number of them migrate their customers from their own data centres to Microsoft Azure to provide differentiated cloud services.”
Microsoft’s stance follows news that one third of enterprises globally are underprepared for the wave of digital transformation impacting the industry, creating new demand for channel partners as C-level strategies screech to a halt.
Consequently, the channel can capitalise on the immaturity and complexity of the digital transition, assisting organisations currently at a transformation crossroads.
IDG News Service