Partners Gain the Spotlight

Microsoft takes aim at better relations.

Microsoft Corp. is acting to soothe its ailing partner channel with a slew of initiatives, including Version 2.0 of its Microsoft Partner Program and product-upgrade highlights across the board, all announced at its Worldwide Partner Conference last week in Minneapolis.

But while the new initiatives amount to incremental steps forward, the efforts to smooth channel relations are critical for Microsoft if it wants to succeed with its huge investment in business applications, according to partners and analysts.

As part of the upgraded Partner Program, announced in 2003, Microsoft will launch four Solution Competencies: Custom Development Solutions, Mobility Solutions, Licensing Solutions and OEM Hardware Solutions. A new Business Specialist Community lets partners access software, training and other resources, while a Partner Learning Center, rolled out to 60 subsidiaries and available in 34 languages, provides training online. A Web-based tool, Response Management for Partners, helps users escalate issues directly to Microsoft, while a Solution Finder tool lets customers find partners on Microsofts Web site.

In terms of financial support, Microsoft announced that each of the companys global subsidiaries will reallocate 50 percent of its global marketing funds—previously set aside for direct marketing—to help partners build their business through joint marketing with Microsoft.

Its no secret that Microsoft has had challenges with its channel strategy. The Redmond, Wash., vendors biggest problem is navigating the channel and providing a clear path for partners, said Dan Duffy, president and CEO of ePartners Inc., Microsofts global partner of the year.

"Microsoft needs to have some global system integrators get in the game, and they need to bring more quality partners to the dance and say, Hey, SAP SI [AG], add Axapta to your portfolio," said Duffy in Dallas.