Today was all about the value of the Microsoft Partner Network and Microsoft’s competitive strategy. It is always illuminating to listen to Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s Chief Operating Officer, talk about the competition. It’s something that you can gain a lot of insight from if you listen attentively, as I do.

What did I determine was important today?
Microsoft Partner Network (MPN)
Jon Roskill talked about evolution with a steady, consistent cadence. He discussed a $5.8 billion investment in partners, and how changes announced in July will go live in October. This is welcome. We all need to plan our businesses, and sudden changes are painful and often expensive. He left the door open for change though, by reminding partners that market forces were a crucial ingredient in MPN future planning, and stating that MPN must transform in time to remain vibrant and relevant.
Three things I would say partners must go and find out more about today:
  1. Investigate the two competency changes that were announced: the Communications competency, and the merged Systems Management/ Virtualization competency. There is critical work to do to plan for these right now. To be awarded silver or gold status in those competencies will require comprehension of the criteria and partner activity in sales, marketing, and in technical certification.
  2. A new Lync solution incentive program was announced. You should go and find out exactly how to maximize that for your business if you are a Lync specialist or want to be.
  3. Microsoft is investing in workshops to help partners perform their own business transformation. Longer term thinking is required by partners, as the industry is moving from transactions and one-time revenue to lifecycle solutions and annuity revenue. Find out how that can apply to your business.

Kevin Turner on Competitive Strategy

Last year, in Washington D.C., I heard Kevin announce Microsoft’s new goal of changing Bill’s original founding vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home"—which has been achieved—to a new one for the next era of Microsoft centered upon ‘continuous cloud services for every person and every business’. Kevin reiterated that this was still the guiding vision for Microsoft today. In order to do it, he said, it was necessary to repeat what he also said a year ago, which was that partners needed to bet big with Microsoft on the transition to cloud services.
The sharper focus on Private Cloud, Public Cloud, and hybrid cloud provided clear positioning for partners, from my point of view. There’s no doubt that this message—that customer or partner hosted private clouds delivering productivity, databases, business applications, and infrastructure are just as important in this period of transition as their public cloud equivalents—is on target. The transition to the cloud could be quick for some companies and slow, partial, or nonexistent for others. Partners can craft the right solution for customers, using the cloud message as the backdrop to the solution that is most relevant. Seek out the new material to use with customers to back this up. Now is probably a good time to refresh all slide decks and outbound Web material with this current positioning.
Of course, Turner pointed out the momentum Microsoft has with Office 365, Azure, Dynamics CRM Online, and Windows Intune. These all show gigantic inroads into the market with product sets which each partner should be well aware of. If you cultivated an awareness of and sought to develop your capabilities with these new offerings, how can you take advantage of them with customers? Turner made a plea for partners to use the internal use licenses to run their businesses. "We need you running the current versions to sell the current versions." Perhaps this was a sign that this is a key performance indicator to be measured in the future. Partners with other vendors as well as Microsoft might find this difficult to do in entirety, but it certainly makes business sense to try.
On competition, Turner talked about 5 million more seats of Lotus Notes this year up for migration to Exchange, leaving me wondering how many might be left, and how long that competitive migration business is going to be around—which is of critical importance to migration specialists.
Turner’s five big bets for FY12 were stated to be: Cloud Services, End Users/Consumers, Search and Display Advertising, Phone, Windows 8 on ARM, and System on a Chip. He noted that winning in phones is going to require even more work
Turner sent a clear message about the end of Windows XP, IE6, and O2003, which he said needed to be remediated and moved forward, and that this remained a massive opportunity for partners.
Competition affects us all, and he said he was grateful to those competitors. It’s fun to compete in a big way, he added, "Competitors make us better." Here are some highlights:
  • On Google, he asked us to not let our customers get Googled, and said that Office 365 is a Google butt-kicker. CRN quoted "Office 365 is to Google Apps as Xbox 360 is to Pong. It’s in a different league entirely and represents a leap into the next generation of computing."
  • On Oracle, he remarked that buying into Fusion was equal to buying into a vendor lock-in, and that Oracle customers show low levels of customer satisfaction, although the revenues were good.
  • On Salesforce, Turner was equally colorful: "Now we’ve got this huge pacifier to stick in the mouth of Marc Benioff called Dynamics CRM Online." he said. Dynamics CRM plus Office 365 is the answer and the pricing makes Salesforce seem outmoded.
  • On Apple, I detected the best path was dependent on Window 8 with its re-imagining of Windows, scaling multiple device types, screen types, mouse, and touch. Turner pointed out HTML5 in Windows 8 as a key element of cross-device competition that would be better than iOS and Mac OS X for interoperability of apps.
Concluding, he said "Vision doesn’t pay the bills, execution pays the bills." and gave the key takeaways for partners, such as: run the latest stuff, drive adoption, lead to the cloud, create value, and leverage strong R&D.
Sir Richard Branson Interview with Jon Roskill
Virgin is a brand all about customer loyalty. It was very exciting to hear Sir Richard talk about his experiences. In 1984 he just said ‘screw it—let’s do it’ and started an airline. But underneath the risk-taking he had calculated his downside risk as half the revenue of his record business and it was a gamble he was prepared to make.
Sometimes, he admitted, he hangs on to things in business too long. But he likes to delegate to someone smarter to run his businesses as soon as possible. Richard implored us partners not to cling on and do everything on our own. A well-run company, he said, is one that is made of motivated people.
He also said work should be fun. Think about a lot more flexibility in how we treat staff and let them work from home if they want to. You could hear the applause for that here in the UK.
I thought the most telling lesson he gave us partners was to forgive and befriend your business enemies, because life’s too short and the world is too small. Turner had talked about respect for competition earlier. Competition is what makes us all stronger and better.
Lastly, Branson talked about reputation and branding. The U.K. News International scandal made it to WPC. Branson said, "Your reputation is all you have in life…your personal reputation, and the reputation of your brand. If you do anything that damages that reputation, you can destroy your company. It’s going to be very hard for that brand to ever recover."
Food for thought indeed at WPC today: What did you find the most important things in the keynotes? What are you going to do today to act upon the issues raised? ​