Over the years, Microsoft has established an extensive partner ecosystem to drive success and digital transformation for its customers, encompassing hundreds of thousands of companies, including IT services companies, ISVs, business consulting companies, IT advisors, OEMs, and many other types of partners.
When making decisions about the companies they choose to work with, customers want to understand their unique capabilities. In Microsoft Partner Network, Gold and Silver competencies let partners exhibit expertise and success while validating their broad capabilities in Microsoft products and technologies.
To make it easier for customers to find and select the right partner for their needs, Microsoft established advanced specializations for its partners. Azure advanced specializations validate the capability of Microsoft partners to deliver best-in-class specialized services in complex solution areas with Azure. An advanced specialization is earned on top of an active Gold competency. It demonstrates a partner’s proven ability to deliver specific services requiring deep expertise measured against demanding standards. Think of it as the PhD in comparison to a competency’s master’s degree.
As more companies have already earned or are just planning to get an advanced specialization from Microsoft, explaining advanced specialization benefits to the customers might be a tough challenge.
In this article, we will review some basics of advanced specializations. Also, we asked Microsoft partner Infopulse that became a regional leader with 5 earned advanced specializations, to share their own experience in this matter.
Advanced specialization does not determine the exact level of specialists’ skills nor does it provide a specific score or ratings like “A+”, “A” or “B”. Instead, it is a validation of a solution partner’s deep knowledge, extensive experience, and expertise in specific areas, such as: migrating and modernizing production web application workloads, managing app services in Azure, or deploying, scaling, and securing virtual desktop infrastructure on Azure, etc.
Only partners that meet stringent criteria around customer success and staff skilling, as well as pass a third-party audit of their migration practices, can earn Microsoft Azure advanced specialization. Microsoft utilizes this approach to determine the most trusted partners and advisors that can work with the most demanding cases, where the highest levels of quality and responsibility are required. Besides, in the future, advanced specialization might become a key decision-making factor for the customers in terms of partner selection making this status obligatory for those Microsoft partners that are willing to work with the most exciting and challenging projects.
Infopulse established a partnership with Microsoft more than 15 years ago and it has been a trusted partner both for Microsoft and for its customers for years. Ivan Musiienko, Head of Cloud Center of Excellence at Infopulse, shares what advanced specializations mean for Infopulse and what significance this status bears for their customers. He also explains the specifics of earning advanced specialization in plain words.
What can Microsoft customers expect from an advanced specialization Partner?
As a customer, you can be entirely sure that an Advanced Specialization Partner is ready to fulfill your request and address all related business requirements regardless of their complexity in the specific solution area. A Microsoft Partner with Advanced Specialization has polished their skills, knowledge, and processes to such an extent that they can guarantee the highest levels of quality and reliability of their services.
Secondly, you may get more than simply having your challenge addressed or business problem solved. Infopulse, as an Advanced Specialization Partner, offers its customers holistic service packages and end-to-end solutions with added value and extra benefits. This includes post-migration maintenance, user support, all project artifacts, accurate documentation, etc.
Finally, collaboration with an Advanced Specialization Partner may become a cornerstone in the digital transformation journey of an enterprise, helping it reach new levels of productivity, performance and market share, and further boost its business strategy implementation.
Is it hard to earn an advanced specialization?
Like any other certification, earning an advanced specialization is equal to passing an exam, but on an enterprise level. This implies passing a compressive 3rd party audit of subject-related processes and methods, including documentation and reporting, the professionalism and knowledge of in-house specialists, and overall company expertise in the selected area. To pass the external audit, the company must comply with all audit requirements without exceptions.
Infopulse has gone through all stages of the audit, securing five advanced specializations as of December 2020:
The SAP on Microsoft Azure Advanced Specialization – is a validation of the partner’s deep knowledge, extensive experience, and proven success at implementing SAP solutions on Azure. Microsoft confirms that the partner has both the skills and the experience to provide a comprehensive and professional SAP to cloud managed service.
The Windows Server and SQL Server Migration to Microsoft Azure – complements partner’s experience with infrastructure modernization and innovation, highlighting the capabilities in migrating Windows Server and SQL Server-based workloads to Azure.
The Linux and Open-Source Databases Migration to Microsoft Azure – emphasizes partners who can be viewed as most capable when it comes to migrating workloads running on open-source technologies over to Azure. For example, in this case, Infopulse has proven to have the skills and the experience required for offering their clients a path to successful workloads migration running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE virtual machines and/or utilizing MySQL, PostgreSQL and MariaDB databases to Azure.
The Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop advanced specialization – demonstrates that a company has expertise in deploying, scaling and securing virtual desktop infrastructure on Azure and it can help its customers create an effective remote working environment.
The Modernization of Web Applications in Microsoft Azure – proves that a partner has deep knowledge, extensive experience and proven expertise in migrating and modernizing production web application workloads and managing app services in Azure.
5 steps to advanced specialization
Infopulse has picked some of the essential aspects that may positively influence the company’s ability to earn an advanced Specialization based on their own experience: accuracy in maintaining project documentation, standardization of processes and approaches, the history of partnership with Microsoft, past projects performed with Microsoft and strategic Microsoft customers, joint activities with the local Microsoft office.
Please note that, while some of these steps are mandatory for the advanced specialization, others are more of a recommendation and may serve as a differentiating factor. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:
Do your homework. To pass 3rd party audit you’ll need to prepare all the required project documentation, which serves as proof of your competencies, demonstrates your knowledge and the volume of service you provide to the customers. An external auditor will pay attention to the following aspects:
- Completeness and accuracy of the documentation provided,
- Compliance with business requirements,
- The list of projects the company is engaged in,
- Publish solutions and consulting service offering at Azure Marketplace,
- The number of certified specialists,
- Compliance with Microsoft standards, utilization of recommended frameworks and other technical details.
Standardize your processes. Established processes, attentiveness to documentation, and operational accuracy are always a must, thus boosting your ability to get ready for Advanced Specialization, even if you have a few years before applying for it. Infopulse earned four of the current five advanced specializations in just a month! This does not mean that the audits were simplified for the company – as it went through a standard procedure just like everyone else. However, all the audits ran relatively straightforward for Infopulse for a reason – year after year, we have been polishing our methods and processes. All the conditions and requirements we had to comply with had already been fulfilled in each and every project. That’s why it was a bit easier for us to prepare all the required documentation and proofs of company expertise.
Having a history of partnership with Microsoft is essential. A long history of collaboration with Microsoft might be another critical aspect of getting Advanced Status faster and easier. Being a Microsoft Partner since 2004, Infopulse has earned Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status in 2010. In 2017, the company became a Microsoft Direct Cloud Solution Provider in the Middle East, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe regions and markets, and later in 2018 – for the European region and market. In 2019, Infopulse was named the Microsoft Country Partner of the Year for Ukraine, helping Darnitsa, the largest local medicinal producer, conduct a migration of their SAP ecosystem to Azure. For 15+ years, Infopulse has been developing its own dedicated Managed Services and Solutions (MSS) business unit. With hundreds of professionals in Microsoft technologies, our MSS business unit addresses the entire scope of Microsoft solutions and services and has enormous hands-on experience working on large-scale international projects.
Reputation is everything. The portfolio of your past projects speaks louder than any words. Customer satisfaction and success in solution implementation determine the vendor’s capabilities, the level of quality they can deliver, and their competitiveness, effectively bringing the Microsoft Partner closer to obtaining advanced specialization. In 2019, Infopulse participated in one of the largest cloud transformation projects in Ukraine – migration of data center to Microsoft Azure for Metinvest Group, an international vertically integrated mining and metals company. Infopulse established a partnership with Metinvest Digital, the IT business partner of Metinvest Group, to work on a project of such a scale as an implementation partner before even earning Advanced Specialization. Our previous experience and the long history of successfully implemented solutions among other factors tipped the scales in our favor. Jan Peter De Jong, CEO of Microsoft Ukraine, commented on the project results: “Thanks to the partnership with Metinvest Digital and Infopulse, we are witnessing an amazing case of powerful digital transformation that will help Metinvest to develop further by implementing new innovative solutions in the mining industry”. The success with the implementation of this comprehensive project has also positively affected the approval of Advanced Specializations for us.
Be proactive. There are many ways to grow the company’s expertise in Microsoft Technologies and improve company specialists’ knowledge. One of the options to achieve that would be working closely with a local Microsoft office and running joint activities, such as digital campaigns, workshops, and webinars for your customers, publishing case studies, helping your in-house specialists undertake individual certifications, standardize, and publish your offers on the external marketplaces, etc. Microsoft Partner status allows you to participate in Microsoft events to attract new customers, share knowledge, publish articles and insights on Microsoft solutions. While taking all these steps is not mandatory for advanced specialization, they can indeed contribute to the expertise growth and to the ability to pass the 3rd party audit. For example, in 2017, Infopulse and Microsoft Ukraine organized Infopulse Cloud Experience, an event on cloud technologies and business transformation. In 2018, Infopulse and Microsoft Ukraine hosted a digital business transformation conference. Infopulse took part in Digital Evolution Forum (DEF) in 2018, where we spoke about the benefits of Microsoft Cloud. At DEF 2019, Infopulse presented Power Apps practice and Standards Compliance Manager solutions. From April 2019 until April 2020, Infopulse conducted or took part in 17 Microsoft-related events, campaigns, or webinars. And despite COVID-19, we ran 22 Microsoft-related online campaigns through April-October 2020. All these activities were instrumental for us to understand Microsoft’s and customers’ requirements and expectations from a cloud partner of the future, causing an overall positive effect on our collaboration with Microsoft and the way Infopulse works with customers today. In the end, all this helped us to pass the advanced specialization 3rd party audits five times already.
To sum up, whether you’re a customer or an aspiring Microsoft Partner, an advanced specialization provides equally important benefits for both sides.
Azure advanced specialization partners undergo rigorous and independent technical validation of their capabilities to ensure they meet Microsoft standards. Move forward confidently, knowing your partner has proven their abilities and is committed to your success.