Yesterday evening (16th March 2022), Microsoft announced that are evolving the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) partner programme to “delivering what partners need to innovate, grow their businesses and deliver on the promise of digital transformation for customers across organizations and industries”.
Amongst other things, this will say goodbye to the current silver and gold competencies and strengthen focus on partners attaining Advanced Specialisations
This follows controversial changes to the Cloud Solution Provider program (CSP) with their New Commerce Experience platform which introduced a premium on pay monthly Microsoft 365 subscriptions also aimed, in part, to driving longer term partner-to-customer relations.
“The changes reflect Microsoft’s investments in the cloud as a strategic growth area and the need to align partners with the evolving requirements and buying patterns of customers”, according to Rodney Clark | Corporate vice president of Channel Sales.
The new “Cloud Partner Program”
From October 2022, the 15-year-old Microsoft Partner Network, will become the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program which will be focussed on six key areas:
- Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence
- Azure Infrastructure
- Azure digital and app innovation
- Business Applications
- Modern Work
The three Azure-related solutions partner designations will also become prerequisites for the Azure Expert MSP from October 2022, creating a bunch of work and certs for existing MSPs to stay “compliant”.
Gold and Silver Partners are no more.
Under the new Cloud Partner Program, Microsoft said that they will be retiring the current Silver and Gold competencies currently to help differentiate and stand them beyond a baseline partner “network membership” status. Instead, the focus will be around Advanced Specialisations, something Microsoft has been banging the drum about for a while – with many partners questioning where these were heading….. now we know
The new two-level program will continue to be open to Microsoft’s current partners — resellers, systems integrators, managed services providers, device partners and independent software vendors, but they are changing the way they categorise them and segment the partners.
New Partner Categories
Microsoft are also changing the way their partners are identified and recognised partner capability with two different “qualifying levels”:
The solutions partner level is a designation that is based on the partner meeting specific requirements across a new partner capability score which is measured across each of the 6 solution areas.
This partner capability score rank partners’ technical skills and “cloud” performance based on KPIs which include their certifications, new customers added, successful deployments and overall growth. The score will be a telemetry-based calculation based on reporting though their Partner Center portal, and partners must earn at least 70 points out of 100 to earn the designation. Partners will be able to access the portal to see their current progress toward that goal.
Specialisations and expert programs (similar to the Advanced Specialisations and Azure Expert programs today), will allow solution partners to differentiate and to demonstrate deep technical expertise and experience in specific technical scenarios under each solution area.
Changes will take effect slowly
Over the next 6 months, Microsoft will start transitioning to the new partner program model which will also change its name from “Microsoft Partner Network” to the “Microsoft Cloud Partner Program.”
Microsoft stressed that there will be no immediate changes to partners’ business or program statuses, including anniversary dates.
Partners have until September 30th to decide whether to join transition to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program or renew their legacy Microsoft Partner Network benefit status for one last year if they need more time to prepare and transition.
Microsoft have added the new telemetry and reporting alignment for the new solution areas and specialisations to help partners start tracking, measuring, and planning their readiness.
Other Changes and Investments
Microsoft stressed in the announcement yesterday that in addition to renewing the benefits that partners already use and rely on, they are making them more customised.
Vital benefits, like Internal User Rights are not going away (something they attempted to remove several years ago which was overturned when partners went into up-roar) but they will now be called “product benefits”. These will continue to include on-premises licenses, cloud service subscriptions and Azure credit and said, “In fact, we’re increasing investment in our program by more than 25%.”
Whilst we are still navigating through the various docs and changes, in short, it means partner investment for internal use and demo/dev environment will increase significantly and these will grow/extend based on things like the number of specialisations held against solution areas.
Like any change, people may be quick to judge and critic, but as 11 Competency Microsoft Gold Partner, these changes are good in my opinion and reflect the future direction of digital transformation and the way in which organisations like us want and need to work with partners.
“These changes are good in my opinion”
We have time to adapt (I suspect the program will be tweaked further too, as partners provide feedback). Microsoft is a different beast to traditional hardware partners like Cisco and Dell for example, but for me, Microsoft already give their partners a great amount of commitment, investment, and love. Partner benefits such commercial incentives, training, Internal Use Rights and (as a top-tier managed partner) strategic account and technical development, for us (at Cisilion) make the Microsoft Partner Program one of the best in terms of true partnership.
That said, Microsoft is a complicated beast, with lots of pockets of preferential partners, old operating models, outdated and silo’d systems and fragmented partner resources (Yammer, Partner Centre etc.). We are lucky being a managed partner since our partner manager works closely with us and helps us navigate through these challenges.
The new competency and specialisation driven programs, in my view are more relevant than the current ones and make sense. The increase in internal use rights (especially around Azure) are welcomed also.
The ink is still drying on the announcement, and we are still digesting the plethora of information, this is a good move for partners (IMO) and one we are excited to embrace. My views of course may change as we get to grips with the changes, impact, and the investment we, as partners need to make to transition to the changes.