Channel in focus for Microsoft

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Internal staffing changes don’t signal a disinvestment in the New Zealand channel, Microsoft’s Chris Ichter tells Heather Wright.

Microsoft has moved to allay any concerns about the software giant’s commitment to the New Zealand reseller channel, saying if anything it will be increasing its partner focus over the coming year.

Questions were raised last month after the departure of Brent Colbert, director of partner strategy.

However, Chris Ichter, Microsoft director small, midmarket solutions and partners group, says he has a specific target this year of ensuring increased spend on channel incentives.

“The money we will spend this year in channel incentives alone is twice our marketing budget,” he says.

“I’m in the unusual position of having an objective of spending money, where normally we have to bring money in.

“There is absolutely no disinvestment,” he adds.

“Ninety- seven per cent of our revenue comes from partners and this will not change.”

He says Microsoft is aware that the more incentives and rebates offered, the more partners are able – and incentivised – to sell, creating a win:win proposition.

Changing partner needs

Colbert’s departure followed the merger of two partner- focused positions – his and that of Bernadette Ah-loo, partner network and development manager.

Both were offered the new, combined, position, however, Colbert opted to leave Microsoft, while Ah-loo has moved to another position within Microsoft.

Ichter says Microsoft is currently recruiting a replacement. If an internal replacement can’t be found, the position will be opened to the wider market this month.

“It’s better if we can find someone internally, so they can hit the ground running,” Ichter says.

He says the partner team underwent a ‘minor restructure’ in recent months, with three new specialist staff also added to the team.

“Last year we needed the two different roles as MPN was still a new programme and we were introducing new incentive programmes and needed someone in charge of that.

“But now those programmes are bedded in we need less resoures to run them than last year.”

Surface, 365

Responding to international suggestions that Microsoft’s Surface tablet will be sold via Microsoft stores and online only, Ichter says simply:

“We’re a partner driven company and this will not change.

“We have less than 200 people, so we don’t have the sales force of the likes of Gen-i, so there’s no way we can scale out without our partners.

“Microsoft will not become a hardware seller like HP, Dell and so on,” he says. He was unable to comment on distribution plans for Surface in New Zealand.

Ichter acknowledges that Microsoft’s 365 offering will see ‘a very small percentage’ of customers purchasing direct, however, he says the ‘vast majority’ will continue to go through resellers.

“Smaller businesses usually don’t have the IT skills and prefer to trust their local reseller.”

Changing landscape

Ichter says while Microsoft remains commited to its partners, it acknowledges that the partner landscape is changing, particularly with the emergence of cloud.

“It means there are three types of partner now.”

He says there are partners along the lines of Xero, not playing in the infrastructure market but instead selling public/hybrid cloud offerings, and says Office 365 is ‘a great opportunity’ for new players in that market.

The ‘traditional’ IT reseller, just ‘in the business of selling and installing PCs and software and just continuing to do that’ remains.

“Then there are a large chunk of partners who understand that cloud is a reality and are embracing it, adapting and reinventing themselves, and looking at how to combine [selling and implementing] infrastructure with cloud.

“We need to ensure we help them embrace cloud,” Ichter says.

He says one key market he believes has yet to be properly tapped is that of the ‘cloud aggregator’, offering end-to-end solutions, bundling a range of cloud offerings, such as 365 and other hosted solutions, for customers.

“It’s a new way of doing business and it’s a great opportunity.”

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