Microsoft has issued a clear message on where it sees the wind blowing as it puts cloud at the top of its new partner program agenda.
The global giant is to rebrand its Microsoft Partner Network to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program as of October this year, which will put Azure on centre stage.
Microsoft claimed the name change was to reflect the "the enormous and ongoing transition of business operations to the cloud".
The Microsoft Cloud Partner Program will be for all partners in its ecosystem regardless of whether they build and sell services, software solutions or devices.
To further bring its message home, Microsoft has now unveiled six solution areas of proficiency that the Cloud Partner Program will focus on. These include: data and artificial intelligence (Azure), infrastructure (Azure), digital and app innovation (Azure), business application, modern work and security.
In order to “better understand a partner’s capabilities”, Microsoft has unveiled two qualifying levels. One of these is a solutions partner level that is designated based on a partner’s “capability score” (PCS).
Partners gain a capability score based on their certifications, added customers, successful deployments and overall growth.
To attain a solutions partner designation, partners will need to earn a PCS of at least 70 points out of an available 100 points across the four measurement areas. Starting on 16 March Pacific Time, all partners can access their dashboard in the Partner Centre to see their progress toward a solutions partner.
“Investment in partner growth and success requires a robust, objective measurement of progress against a partner’s chosen solution areas,” Microsoft said in a statement, adding that the PCS will help it “quantify” that progress.
In addition to the solutions partner, Microsoft has also unveiled new specialisations and expert programs will give solutions partners a way to “differentiate their organisations and demonstrate deep technical expertise and experience in specific technical scenarios under each solution area”.
The solutions partner designation and the specialisations are intended to “give customers an easier way to identify partners with technical capabilities, knowledge and a history of delivering innovative solutions in specific areas,” Microsoft added.
The vendor said they would also help provide a “roadmap” for building partner capability and guiding the way it invests in partners. Before the Cloud Partner Program goes live in October, partners’ business and program status — including anniversary dates — will remain intact and there will be no reduction in benefits.
Microsoft has been contacted for further comment about what the new program will mean for partners’ tier status after October.
The vendor stressed however that partners will continue to receive internal use rights licenses (IURs), including on-premises licenses, cloud service subscriptions and Azure credits. A point of fierce contention between Microsoft and its channel in the past, the IURs will be now known as ‘product benefits’.
In addition, no partner’s incentive eligibility will change in the 2023 investments and incentives program year, which runs from October 2022 to September 2023.
Cloud has been on the cards for Microsoft for a number of years now. However, as more customer accelerated cloud transformations during the pandemic, Microsoft’s cloud commitments increased.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began its global spread, Microsoft introduced a number of competency extensions across specific product portfolios such as Teams and Azure, alongside postponing Microsoft Partner Agreement implementation plans. This was in addition to ramping up online training and certifications, backed by improved access to digital marketing resources.
A year later, the vendor introduced three industry-specific cloud offerings: Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services, Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing and Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit.
At the time, Microsoft said it aimed to — in its own words — empower businesses in their respective industry verticals to deliver value faster, adapt quickly to changing conditions and build for the future, with security at the core.
Shortly after, Microsoft's channel chief Gavriella Schuster exited her role after more than five years paving the way for Rodney Clark to take over.