Priming the Pump: Expanding Services Ready Program Widens the Pipeline for Partners

NEW ORLEANS — July 13, 2009 — Creating a new service offering based on evolving technology is a recurring challenge for tech-industry service providers. It requires them to train on the technology; understand how to deploy, integrate and manage it effectively; and describe new capabilities and value propositions to customers.

Back in April, Microsoft Corp. announced a new program designed to give Gold Certified Partners that experience and insight so they can hit the ground running with existing and new Microsoft products. Called Services Ready, the program uses Microsoft’s work with early adopters and established customers to develop offerings that help systems integrators build their capabilities. Services Ready “primes the pump” for partners by packaging lessons Microsoft has gleaned from its engagements for partners to use in their own businesses.

Early results show that the program is working, and this week at the Worldwide Partner Conference 2009, Microsoft is announcing the program’s expansion. To find out what is new, PressPass talked to Wayne Prentiss, director of Partner Programs and Strategy for Microsoft Services, leading up to WPC in New Orleans.

PressPass: Why should partners participate in Services Ready?

Prentiss: Simply put, the program cuts the risk of entering a new service space by reducing the up-front investments in time and resources to build expertise. We provide tools and best practices that partners would otherwise invest in creating themselves. These resources can scale to different engagement sizes, including internal guides for consultants, customer-ready templates and even sales materials.

Most importantly, we also provide training. Partners can sit down for a couple of days with a Microsoft consultant who delivers these exact types of engagements, learn about our best practices, ask questions of our experts, and sharpen their skills. We also work with them on their first deployment, giving them hands-on experience while providing reassurance to customers.

PressPass: What has been the response so far?

Prentiss: It has been tremendously positive. Partners are seeing big value in a program that helps them get to market more quickly with some of the hottest technologies. When we formally announced the program three months ago, about 100 partners were on board, many for multiple technology offerings. Since then we’ve doubled that number. Interest in virtualization and unified communications is especially high because of the way those technologies increase efficiency and reduce costs, which customers really need in today’s economy.

PressPass: After just three months you’re announcing that the program is going to expand. What changes are you making?

Prentiss: We are expanding the program in a couple different ways, and making it easier for more partners to join. First, we are going to at least double the number of offerings during this fiscal year. That will give Gold Certified Partners a lot more options to expand their business.

Second, we’re working to reduce the up-front costs for partners to adopt more of our offerings road map. A lot of partners want to be active in multiple solution areas. When it comes to Services Ready, they want a good deal when they choose more than one solution area. In response, we are introducing options that let partners sign up for offerings on a global basis, or opt for multiple offerings or individual offerings, depending on their business needs.

This has evolved from how we introduced Services Ready, as a set price per offering available within a specific geography. Participating partners will now be able to sign up for offerings that accommodate multinational, multiregional organizations and more concentrated areas of business.

Combined, these changes give partners more choices of solution areas to pursue at a lower cost.

PressPass: What technology areas are you supporting with the program?

Prentiss: Partners will be able to choose from more than 25 solution offerings with an emphasis on core infrastructure, business productivity and application-platform infrastructures. New offerings will include solutions for both existing technologies and upcoming product releases.

A number of offerings within the Core Infrastructure and Business Productivity Optimization areas, for example, will enable partners to help their customers deploy, manage and ensure security with Windows 7 and Office 2010. The Desktop Platform road map will focus on Windows 7, giving partners a chance to really ramp up and be ready to deliver when Windows 7 comes out this fall.

Other areas include Client Virtualization, Content Management, Business Intelligence, Application Integration, and Identity and Security Unified Communications. (Partners can find the full list of offerings here.)

PressPass: Is this program a departure from how Microsoft Services has traditionally supported partners?

Prentiss: This is a natural extension and deeper investment in what has been our strategy for some time. With this program, Microsoft Services is taking on that up-front investment and skill-building, what we refer to as priming the pump, with the goal of eventually handing off this business to partners when we start gearing up for the next opportunity.

We have always worked that way, but partners haven’t always been clear on when the baton would pass or how much opportunity would remain. So this program provides partners with much greater clarity and predictability. We have posted information on our Web site that outlines upcoming offerings and rough timelines for how long we’ll pursue them ourselves. It makes us more of a key advisor and consultant to the partner community. Our goal is to not only help partners make good investments in building their Microsoft consulting practices, but to increase our predictability and consistency.

PressPass: Do you have any plans to create a more limited and lower-priced program for smaller partners? What’s next for Services Ready?

Prentiss: Currently all Gold Certified Partners are eligible to participate in Services Ready. At this point, it is really targeted to our upper mid-market and enterprise partners. We will continue assessing the program for partners that service other customer segments, and one of the big challenges over the next year will be scaling this to a new set of partners. We want to take these successes and make them accessible to a broader range of companies worldwide.

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