“If you’re going to go into the tech industry, be prepared to be learning for the rest of your life.” You’d think most high school kids would groan to hear this from a guest speaker, but the truth is, the kids I talk to are excited by the changes and advances in technology. At Planet Technologies, we are too, and that eagerness to keep learning is how we compete, win, and grow.
We started as a traditional Systems Integrator, and while we’re still an SI partner, a few years ago, all that learning we were doing clearly pointed to cloud as the future of our business. With CEO Scott Tucker’s guidance, we made significant investment to mirror Microsoft’s move to the cloud and to help our own customers’ transition to cloud. We now focus on SharePoint, Azure, and Office 365.
At Planet Technologies, we’ve won a gratifying number of awards, and in the last few years we’ve moved more than 2.5 million seats to Office 365. Even though we have primarily worked with government agencies – and therefore with government regulations – we’ve managed to land some very big contracts. I don’t say that to show off (well, maybe a little), but more to make clear that we feel we’ve developed some keys to success and believe they’re worth sharing.
Invest in mastering the technology
This is the single biggest key to success in our playbook. Upgrades and add-ons come thick and fast these days, and simply enrolling employees in the standard training classes is no longer enough. In order to be able to take advantage of new functionalities, we developed Technical Leads. As part of their jobs, these employees are assigned one solution or aspect of a solution, and it’s their responsibility to stay on top of it. They may spend as much as 10 – 15% of their work hours researching and learning about new functions and other add-ons and disseminating those to their teams.
Why does this matter? If you want to compete and win, being first to master the new technology is a huge advantage in the marketplace. Take Azure Active Directory as an example. Between January 2015 and now, as of my last count, there were 16 undocumented updates. These were new functionalities we knew were coming, they just arrived sooner than anticipated. The updates are great and will benefit us and our customers, so we want to learn about and integrate the new functionalities as quickly as possible. Having dedicated Tech Leads allows us to do that.
As I said during the WPC 2015 session Making money with the Office 365 developer platform, we expect something like 500 additional capabilities to hit Azure over the next year. That’s huge, and you need to be prepared for it, so be sure the leadership of your organization and your team are ready to make the investment to stay ahead of the game.
When in doubt, over-communicate
Even if you have a ton of knowledge, it’s useless unless it’s in the right hands. We’ve worked very hard to improve our communication company-wide. Our Tech Leads aren’t just in charge of learning new stuff, they also need to compile it, make sense of it, and disseminate it. Yammer has proved to be very helpful for this, as we’ve leveraged groups to keep information flowing. Traditional communications channels can lead to siloing, but we’ve found Yammer helps us move ideas and information more freely.
Leverage the community
Partners love to talk, and we love to talk tech. It’s one of our most charming qualities. Partners know Planet’s focus and interests and will flag relevant articles to us with a, “Hey, did you know about this?” One of the ways I personally stay on top of new innovations in the industry is by reading partners’ blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn articles, etc. As a community, Microsoft partners have heard the call to invest in demonstrating thought leadership, and that can benefit all of us – not just our customers.
Knowledge is power; it can also be profit. Many times we’ve won projects going head-to-head with our competition, simply because our information was more current and we could provide the documentation to show it. In an industry that innovates and evolves as quickly as ours, keeping up does require significant investment, but I think you’ll find, like we have, that the commitment leads to a stronger, smarter, more competitive business.
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