Microsoft has rolled out a fresh round of program adjustments to help partners mitigate ongoing challenges related to Covid-19, following widespread ecosystem feedback.
The changes centre around increasing incentives and issuing competency extensions across specific product portfolios such as Teams and Azure, alongside postponing Microsoft Partner Agreement implementation plans. This is in addition to ramping up online training and certifications, backed by improved access to digital marketing resources.
In response to the adjustments, one partner - speaking on the condition of anonymity - reflected the sentiment of the entire channel during this period, articulated through Channel Asia’s special report: Protecting partners during Covid-19.
“The channel is looking for payment terms that reflect what they are experiencing with their customers,” the unnamed source told Channel Asia. “During the Covid-19 crisis the channel should have back-to-back payment terms with vendors.”
The report centres around the belief that in the case of Covid-19 - a once in a generation crisis - it’s accurate to suggest that the channel ecosystem is under water, with partners drowning due to the heavy burden placed upon their shoulders. With customers defaulting on payments, the channel continues to be widely exposed and under threat.
Specific to Microsoft however, Gavriella Schuster - corporate vice president of One Commercial Partner at Microsoft - said the technology vendor understands that some partners may want to accelerate pace during this period, while other partners may want to slow things down.
"Regardless, what is most important for you to know at this moment in time is that we are listening to feedback from you, our partners, and doing what we can to help," Schuster added.
The adjustments follow a partner update in mid-March which focused more on outlining best practices through educational content, training resources and technical assistance.
Less than three weeks later however, Schuster said further changes have been instigated in response to daily developments related to the Covid-19 outbreak, with confirmed global cases now passing the million mark.
“Every day, we are learning more and more about the global impact of the coronavirus,” Schuster acknowledged. “For decades, Microsoft partners have been at the centre of how we deliver technologies and business transformation to customers.
"Today, more than ever, we need to collaborate and co-innovate to meet those customers’ needs. For our part, that means ensuring that we’re giving you the support you need in the weeks and months to come."
The first major incentive change centres around online services usage in relation to Teams via Microsoft 365. Effective April 1, and through to September 30, the vendor has increased the incentives payout at the 15 per cent milestone for all qualified entitlements related to non-FastTrack partners, while adding a new incentive payout at the lowest qualified entitlement level for FastTrack partners.
Meanwhile, if a partner competency anniversary date falls between January 1 and June 30, 2020, Microsoft is extending existing competencies through to the next anniversary date in 2021. To activate this extension, providers are required to take action in Partner Centre with more specific information available set to be shared later this month.
Specific to Azure, for a renewing Azure Expert MSP partner with an audit date before June 30, program anniversary dates will be extended with providers audited against the Spring 2020 Progress Audit checklist, with a due date on or before December 31.
For an Azure Expert MSP partner due to renew between July 1 and December 31 originally against the Fall 2020 Progress Audit checklist, program anniversary dates will also be extended to allow an audit on or before December 31. In this case, partners will be audited against the Spring 2020 Progress Audit checklist, not the Fall Progress Audit checklist.
Specific to a newly applying partner for the Azure Expert MSP program, providers will have until December 31 to complete an audit against the Spring 2020 Audit checklist.
Furthermore, the published program requirement increases in Azure Consumed Revenue (ACR) planned for July 1 will now take effect on January 1, 2021, with the Fall 2020 Audit checklist and Progress Audit checklist also taking effect on the same date.
Partners that are currently enrolled in any of the Azure advanced specialisations and have a renewal date on or before December 31, program anniversary dates will be extended to June 30, 2021. For advanced specialisations that require an audit, Microsoft said partners will be audited against the checklist that is in place at the time of the renewal audit.
With mo immediate action required, the changes include Windows Server and SQL Server Migration to Microsoft Azure; Linux and Open Source Database Migration to Microsoft Azure and Data Warehouse Migration to Microsoft Azure. This is alongside Kubernetes on Microsoft Azure; Modernisation of Web Applications to Microsoft Azure and SAP on Microsoft Azure.
Delving deeper, the vendor has set a new date of April 1, 2021 for Partner Contribution Indicators (PCI) scoring for the Cloud Business Applications competency to take effect as part of the requirements. To coincide with the changes, Microsoft is postponing the implementation of the baseline snapshot for the Functional Consultant metric in the new Partner Contribution Indicators scoring from March 31 to October 1.
An updated policy as to how Software Assurance Deployment Planning Services (DPS) and Software Assurance Training vouchers may be used is also available, extending active vouchers created prior to April 1 for an additional 90 days. This is alongside waiving the onsite requirement for delivery partners, allowing for remote Deployment Planning Services engagements through to 30 June, with no action required from partners or customers.
Rounding off the changes, plans are in place to increase the number of digital testing centres to allow certification exams to be completed at home, waiving rescheduling fees and extending exam voucher expiration dates.
The changes follow the recent cancellation of Inspire 2020 due to escalating Covid-19 concerns, with the world’s largest channel conference exploring alternative arrangements for more than 18,000 attendees.
Originally scheduled for 19-23 July in Las Vegas, the annual event is the largest partner gathering on the channel calendar, bringing in more than 130,000 people from over 150 countries during the past 10 years.