Once a month, without fail, I watch my fiance deal with the billing for his contracting business, usually on a weekend. It's a painful process, mainly because he still chooses to do it by hand with only a calculator and his hand-scribbled notes as his aide, but it's one he still insists on handling himself. He feels it helps him maintain a vital link with his customers.
With this knowledge, I can understand why many Microsoft partners are concerned over the company's new agent model for SMB accounts, which it started rolling out late last month. The bottom line is that they're worried about losing touch with their customers. But I would argue that the changes let value-added solution providers concentrate on making each contact with their customers more meaningful than a billing conversation.
There are many sound reasons for Microsoft's policy change, not the least of which is the fact that managing software licenses has never been easy. The mess of patches and security updates with which users are presented on a weekly, if not daily, basis are enough to make one's head spin.
As Microsoft finally rolls out a revised licensing option for the SMB arena, why not leave it to "pros" like distributors and license experts, who have the skills, experience and systems to handle this with a minimum of angst? That way, VARs can concentrate on things that are tougher to automate, such as assessments of a customer's infrastructure, advice about security policies or custom application design tailored to an account's specific business needs.
I'm one of the most change-resistant people on this planet, but the fact is that this evolution is inevitable, especially as we move closer to a software-as-service world. Scoff if you will over the much-maligned ASP model, but the fact is that utility computing will be part of our future. Why not prepare for it now with the support of channel advocates like Microsoft, who are at least willing to revise their policies if they don't make as much as sense in practice as they do on paper?
I'll probably never convince my fiance to change his billing habits, but maybe one day I'll help him automate them. That way, at least he can spend his time with customers drumming up new business rather than going over his hourly rates.
Are you willing to change? HEATHER CLANCY, Editor at CRN, welcomes your comments and letters at email@example.com.