My role is to develop a pragmatic product and service strategy for a Microsoft partner based on the market demands, the skills in the company, and the product direction from Microsoft itself. I do this for Applicable Limited (@appl1cable on Twitter) in the U.K.—a respected specialist Microsoft partner with a gold competency in Unified Communications, well known for delivering cloud services, along with transitions and migration of portals and collaboration infrastructures to the most demanding of customers worldwide.

The partner conference is over. The summer vacations are in full swing here in the U.K. against a very uncertain backdrop of civil disorder and financial insecurity. It seems like a long time ago that we were energized by keynotes, presentations, and actions from Los Angeles. But this is an ideal time to reflect on the ingredients available and prepare to go to market. The sales and marketing efforts for the remainder of 2011 begin in earnest in September, and the reality is that planning needs to be done now, and actions taken to ensure readiness.
But what plans, and what actions, and to what end?
Planning, Post-Conference
I talked this over with Mark Ward, Applicable’s CTO last week. We both enjoyed WPC 2011—me from a distance, live tweeting and blogging for MPN and participating in MPN Live, and he as an attendee with a specific focus on Unified Communications and collaboration and messaging, as well as an objective to meet with like-minded partners and gain a better understanding of our competitors.
We concluded that the repositioning of ‘all in’ from being a demand to being a strategic intent made for a much more realistic and enduring transition-based positioning for Applicable’s existing and evolving Microsoft-based services. Steve Ballmer commented in his keynote that partner focus should be upon making the transition to the cloud with Microsoft, as Microsoft itself makes the same transition, and Mark and I were both pleased to hear that. We have never felt we should have to push customers in a dogmatic way to a 100% public cloud. Real world customer environments and the pressures upon their business are just not as simple as that. Applicable gains the status of trusted advisor to our customers by providing the best answer to their particular set of circumstances, and not by blindly following a set menu of products and services.
Not only is it more realistic, but Microsoft adjusting its positioning in this way plays directly to Applicable’s strengths. We feel it is the perfect time to participate in the market much more aggressively with great case studies and positioning, and make no apologies for our proven ability to deal with the complexity of hybrid environments where public and private clouds mix and vendors intertwine.
Consequently, our actions after the conference are pretty clear, and we have begun work on them.
Preparing for Action
  • Firstly, the planning has begun around new campaigns for Microsoft-based products and services based on ‘the power of choice’, and with a particular focus on Applicable’s strength in private and hybrid cloud products and services. For business workloads that support it, we have a public cloud offering in Office 365 that we will be marketing aggressively with Microsoft support. For more complex environments, our private cloud offers a flexible approach aimed at hosting the customer’s infrastructure with the cost benefits of the cloud, without compromising on functionality or connection to heritage systems.
  • Secondly, we noted the changes announced at WPC around the new Communications and merged Systems Management/Virtualization competencies. We felt there had been some dilution of value due to many partners with limited skills attaining the older gold certification, and welcome the raising of the bar here. This is why the new gold status for Unified Communications was important to us last year, over and above Portals and Collaboration. We have updated our ongoing staff certification plan to take into account the need to aggressively upgrade our other existing silver statuses and add these new competencies.
  • Thirdly, virtualization has been a key component of our technical strategy for data center consolidations achieved in the most stringent of customer and telco environments. A key message from WPC 2011 was that infrastructure partners must be virtual. There’s no place now for physical single-server hardware in data centers, in enterprises, or in the cloud. Applicable will publish case studies and metrics which prove this point based on what we already know through our extensive deployments of virtualization for customers, and for ourselves.
  • Lastly—and by no means unimportantly—we have actions planned around specific Microsoft products both for deployment in private clouds where the infrastructure is wholly owned by our customer and managed to a service level by Applicable, and as a public cloud service where the entire kit and caboodle is provided as a service. Our priorities here are services related to Exchange, Lync, Windows Phone 7, and SharePoint. We are encouraging staff to talk the talk by having Windows Phone 7 based smartphones for access to our Lync, Exchange, and SharePoint infrastructure. We were reminded in the keynotes that we all need to be current in our use of the technologies, and have already completed a Windows 7 and Office 2010 rollout. We are now extending this by, for example, deploying SIP integration into Lync for our own internal use.
Connecting with Partners
In conclusion, if you are a Microsoft partner and think we can add value to what you do and vice versa, we would be delighted to hear from you—especially if you have a complementary business focus to ours, such as SharePoint development and design customization, where we might work together to our and Microsoft’s mutual benefit, taking our cloud-based SharePoint infrastructure services to customers. If you are competing with us, we’d also like to hear from you. As Richard Branson said at WPC, we should befriend our perceived business enemies, because life’s too short and the world is too small. I’ll bet we have more in common than we have in contrast.
I hope to be able to blog further here about our success with these actions in the coming months. Feel free to ask me anything you like about this post.
Angus Fox​