Microsoft Swims in New Channel

Updated: Always a channel stalwart, Microsoft's strategy has again evolved.

DENVER—While Office has always had a big reseller channel, Microsoft recognized that it needed to add a different kind of partner in its ecosystem to accompany the rise of SharePoint.

The reason, said Chris Capossela, the corporate vice president of Microsofts business division, is that just as SharePoint gives customers new ways to connect documents and processes, it opens the door for a new legion of partners to support needs that those capabilities have helped to generate.

"The interesting thing for our business has been that Office historically has always had a big reseller channel. You know, lots of partners who sold the product, lots of trainers whove done custom training or end-user training. But we recognized the need for a different kind of partner in our partner ecosystem. More of the ISV, the software developer, more of the solution vendor, solution provider, solution integrator," Capossela told eWEEK in an interview

"When we saw the things we were building with SharePoint, when we saw the things we were doing with Office with XML where you can connect Office to back-end systems because data is in an XML format instead of a binary format, we felt like we were just going to create a huge demand for partner services and we had to go on a massive partner recruiting and education and readiness spree," Capossela said.

In previous keynotes at Microsofts Worldwide Partner Conference several years ago, Capossela said he would ask how many people were using SharePoint as part of their practice, but the audience did not know what SharePoint was.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about how Microsoft plans to pitch software plus services to its partners.

"How many of them were Office partners? Only a teeny, tiny percentage of them had a competency around the information worker space. Since then, weve really done an enviable job at getting the partner base to see the opportunity. Last year I asked how many partners were using SharePoint, how many were delivering SharePoint services? And just thousands of partners raised their hands," he said.

Some 2,000 partners also attended each of the two breakout sessions after that 2006 keynote. "The majority of the partners are now doing information work practices, and so weve got this tremendous momentum in the marketplace behind Office and SharePoint and its really great," he said.

The interest in Office and SharePoint is underscored by the growth in partner numbers. There are more than 5,000 partners that currently meet the Information Worker competency, up from 3,600 at last years conference. Of those, 2,200 are also SharePoint partners.

/zimages/1/28571.gifHow close is Microsoft modeling its Windows Live search offering to Googles search service? Click here to read more.

"Its really broken through, which is great," Capossela said. "Its a wonderful thing for the future of the Office business and for Microsoft and obviously for our partners that are excited, because theres a lot of different places they can go with the one infrastructure. Once they have SharePoint in place, they can do many, many different types of things on top of it, so partners see a big services opportunity for them, a professional services opportunity for them, and thats fun to see."

Microsoft also expects increased partner opportunities to flow from its unified communications products, which include Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, Caposella said.

As such, the company has created a new unified communications specialization under the Information Worker competency in the Microsoft Partner Program.

Next Page: In search of new partners.