Steamy Windows

As small and medium solutions and partners (SMS&P) director at Microsoft Gulf, Zaid Abunuwar heads one of the most extensive partner networks in the region. Channel Middle East grabbed five minutes of his time to talk about market opportunities for partners and the company’s local channel strategy for the upcoming launch of Windows 7.

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Steamy Windows
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By  Andrew Seymour Published  October 18, 2009 Channel Middle East Logo


What are Microsoft’s main priorities when it comes to engaging with the channel at the moment?

There are a couple of things that we are very keen on doing. One is what we call ‘coverage’, which basically means looking at the market ecosystem. There are estimated to be 2,500 partners between different reseller and solution provider types. My first priority, therefore, is deciding how to cover this ecosystem, whether it is through field cover, tele-cover or through wider reach initiatives like Portal and things like that. The second thing is how we specialise our partners so that we create a healthy environment where there is a good mix between competition, profitability and coverage. And the third thing is how we create demand for our partners. For example, we have got a 25-seat call centre that gathers opportunities from small and midmarket businesses and, together with our enterprise business, provides leads to partners.

How satisfied are you with the current depth of Microsoft’s channel?

Every year we do what is called a ‘capacity map’, which looks at the entire market and what customers need. It then looks at what our partners have to offer and what they are specialised in — and from that we identify gaps. Normally those are the gaps where we try to provide better coverage. For example, there is more demand for unified communications from a Microsoft platform than we have certified partners. There is more demand for CRM than we are able to provide in terms of capacity. There is more demand for portals like SharePoint than we can provide. So those three areas would be a requirement.

Are there any other areas that could provide an opportunity for partners because demand outweighs channel capacity?

There is hardly a customer I have visited or spoken to in the past 12 months that has not talked about virtualisation and unified communications, because those are great ways they can cut immediate costs and realise good ROI in the short term. We are actively recruiting partners in those areas and we want to provide better coverage to make sure that we can enroll more partners to cater for that.

The economic downturn is making resellers look very carefully at their costs. Are you finding that it is becoming harder for them to invest in Microsoft?

We work closely with partners on the investment that they need to make within their people. Once a partner works with us on a particular specialisation we actually provide something called the Microsoft Partner Academy, which is a highly subsidised training vehicle for partners. It helps them ready their staff and we ready them from a solution-selling competency, as well as a technical competency. Last year we delivered more than 2,000 training hours to partners and on average a partner would attend somewhere around 20 courses and the cost would be below US$3,000. That is instructor-led, classroom training. Our partners also have free access to the Microsoft Learning Centre, which is an online learning centre. Our single largest marketing investment is partner development.

Has Microsoft had to change its channel strategy because of the downturn?

That is a very interesting point because there are a few things here. The market conditions have changed, but I look at the figures — the ones that are quite dramatic and come from outside — and I honestly have a hard time agreeing with them because the business is still very healthy. We have just deployed a team of seven people to address more partners through tele-coverage because we believe this is a time when we can cover more partners that can help us launch and deploy a series of new technologies that we have. For example, we have Windows 7 coming out, which is a major wave, coupled with Exchange 14 and Office 14. That is on the health of the business so let me comment more around your question. Basically what we are seeing is that customers are investing in some technologies that were maybe not as important in the past — virtualisation and unified communications are two very obvious demands that are coming after the crisis, as I said. So what we are doing is prioritising our partners specialising on those technologies so that they can better support the market.

The concept of partner specialisation was a major theme at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in July. Is that something you are trying to drive here as well?

I think the market is teaching us and our partners the value of being specialised. We don’t want jacks-of-all-trades anymore. The market and the ecosystem are looking for partners that can play in a highly specialised niche. For example, we have partners that specialise in securing Exchange using ForeFront and those partners honestly have a problem coping with the demand in the market. We have some partners who still want to play in the general area and they are feeling more of a crunch than others.

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