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Microsoft Partners At A Crossroads: Radical Changes Rattling The Channel

Wade Tyler Millward

Recent changes to Microsoft’s partner program -- NCE and the upcoming Partner Capability Score -- are rattling some solution providers in Microsoft’s 400,000-strong channel ecosystem. Is the tech giant listening?

‘So Far’ From Qualifying

Prejean, currently a Microsoft Gold partner, said working toward a higher partner score for her business would be too difficult.

“We’re so far from being able to qualify that it’s been like, ‘OK, we don’t even have to dig into this anymore,’” she said. “We can’t. It’s so based on growth.”

All levels of the upcoming Microsoft Cloud Partner Program share some benefits—such as a cloud enablement desk, help and support requests, digital marketing content on demand, marketplace rewards, and training and enablement resources.

Partners who score below 70 can still buy Microsoft’s Action Pack aimed at new and smaller partners, Rippey said during Inspire. Action Pack provides some technical presales advisory hours, co-sell eligibility, Azure credits and Visual Studio subscriptions. It’s also less expensive at $475 a year than what partners currently pay for Silver and Gold levels. Silver costs partners $1,670 a year, while Gold costs $4,730 a year. The coming Solutions Partner designation will cost the same as Gold.

Zac Paulson, CEO of TrueIT, a Fargo, N.D.-based Microsoft partner, called the new Partner Capability Score a “disaster.” His business, a Gold partner for Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM tool, currently scores below the 70-point threshold in all six Solutions Partner areas—business applications, digital and app innovation, security, modern work, infrastructure and data and artificial intelligence.

Paulson told CRN that he’s confused on what data the Partner Capability Score pulls from and how to get a more accurate measure for his business.

“We’re very well-versed in Dynamics, we do a ton of work in Dynamics … that shows me something’s broken,” Paulson said. “In my opinion, that does not represent the large buy-in our company has to Microsoft and the large spend we have with them either.”

Paulson is hopeful that Microsoft will delay the Partner Capability Score deadline and revise how partners get points. He’s concerned that Action Pack won’t provide the same number of internal use rights that comes with his Gold membership, should he lose it when he reaches his next anniversary in May.

“One of the things that is probably the most frustrating with Dynamics is in order to get the [new Solutions Partner] designation we would have to have 20 trained professionals,” said Paulson, who has a staff of about 50 between TrueIT and its spinoff, TruNorth Dynamics, a Dynamics consultant aimed at MSPs.

“You had to have the certifications across the board,” he said. “And that’s just not rational. Not rational at all.”

A Moving Timeline

Although various Microsoft executives repeated the October deadline for Partner Capability Scores during Inspire, a delay wouldn’t be a surprise.

In June, the tech vendor indefinitely delayed a plan to enforce the premium on renewals of Microsoft 365, one of multiple delays during the rollout of the partner program changes. Microsoft called the delay “a business decision” in an online post.

The delay came two weeks ahead of the deadline—still more lead time than Microsoft gave partners in March when it gave partners a reprieve for the overall Microsoft 365 and Office 365 price increase on the day it was set to go into effect. Microsoft at that time announced a two-week delay, citing “current high demand” to move customers onto NCE as the reason.

Even the start of NCE was pushed back from an original date in October 2021—about seven months after Clark replaced Gavriella Schuster as Microsoft channel chief.

Clark and his team had also added a discount for partners to effectively keep the 20 percent discount at bay until June 2022—pointing to the changes as signs to partners that Microsoft is listening to their concerns.

“I made a decision to actually push the launch of this from October to January just to provide more time for our partners to get ready,” Clark told CRN in February.

 
Wade Tyler Millward

Wade Tyler Millward is an associate editor covering cloud computing and the channel partner programs of Microsoft, IBM, Red Hat, Oracle, Salesforce, Citrix and other cloud vendors. He can be reached at wmillward@thechannelcompany.com.

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