Microsofts Watson Sells Partners on Adaptable Processes

Q&A: As vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, Allison Watson pushes the company's newest strategy around verticalization and selling an integrated portfolio of products.

MINNEAPOLIS—The buck stops at Allison Watsons desk when it comes to partner satisfaction—a pretty heady position considering Microsofts nearly complete reliance on its partner channel to sell its wares.

Among other duties, Watson, vice president of Microsoft Corp.s Worldwide Partner Group, is responsible for the successful implementation of the Microsoft Partner Program.

Initially rolled out in phases throughout 2004, MPP 2.0 was announced Saturday at Microsofts Worldwide Partner Conference here. The program is designed to offer industry partners a "predictable, consistent and flexible relationship with Microsoft," according to the companys Web site.

In her tenure with the program, Watson has tackled a huge backlog of partner complaints, including overlapping territories, a lack of support and outright competition from Microsoft. And the issues are by no means solved completely.

Now Watson is tasked with bringing partners on board with Microsofts newest strategy around verticalization and selling an integrated portfolio of products, from Microsoft Classic infrastructure to Business Solutions software.

Watson spoke with senior writer Renee Boucher Ferguson about her plans moving forward. And stay tuned for part two of the question-and-answer session, when senior editor Peter Galli joins the conversation with Watson.

Im confused about how the MBS applications are going to interoperate with the Microsoft stack going forward, and it looked like there might be some confusion from partners as well. Can you help me out here?

The theme of the conference is about how we bring the story together to drive business outcomes for customers. I framed up this morning a challenge that our customers are having, and how Microsoft is responding in both R&D and what I also call sales and marketing innovation with our partner channel, and how to go to market with them to deliver, in a new way, for our customers.

The concept of the past 30 years, as businesses have tried to solve business productivity challenges, is that processes tend to be very structured in the business—the standard way you do IT, the standard way you do finance, and the standard way you do sales and marketing. And you wonder after 30 years of selling technology solutions—be it ERP or CRM or B2B—why we still have not solved the business productivity challenge?

The reason is because of people. We talk about people and we start to frame the concept of individuals acting within their roles. Youre a reporter; I am a sales and marketing executive. Every day I come to work and Ive got my agenda driven by my priorities, and whether or not IT helps me, its whether or not it helps me do my job and if I interact with the processes that are set up through technology in my company.

/zimages/4/28571.gifCan Microsoft make over MBS? Click here for a column by Mary Jo Foley.

So, we frame today that the challenge is the nexus of bringing people and process together, with people in the center. Thats really a fundamentally different way of thinking. If youre thinking about ERP [enterprise resource planning] and CRM [customer relationship management] in our stack, instead of thinking about enabling the business and financial and customer processes as stand-alone, you start to think about what are individuals in their roles doing, and how do we then drive innovation.

In order for people to be successful, we have to work with four attributes: empowerment, insight, connectivity [of] people and data, and really the concept of processes being able to adapt to the way people work.

If you look today at the current generation of ERP and CRM—if you look at current processes—many of the applications have been built with a standard way that business process is enabled. If you want to install the application in your company, then you have to adapt your company and your process to the way the software is developed.

We believe the critical link is that there is a layer built that has adaptable processes in it, so that as people change their processes, the underlying system that delivers ERP and finance, CRM, will have orchestration across a line of business systems, so things like BizTalk can adapt.

So, thats kind of the critical link. Now that also has to be surrounded by a platform of great fundamentals: secure, management, scalable, trustworthy computing platform. So, the genesis of what were doing is starting to deliver software that puts people at the center.

So, this is basically developing a composite application platform that brings in infrastructure and applications?

Yes, its about three layers, right? An individual in their role having the tools that they know how to use already to do what they need to do. Its about the layer in the middle, such that if they are changing business process then they dont have to take two years to issue a change request in an IT system, or change their process to accommodate. And the bottom layer is about how to do that quickly.

Next Page: How does verticalization fit in?