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With Microsoft in the midst of transforming itself into a devices and services company and a corporate reorganization rumored to be imminent, partners headed to next week's Worldwide Partner Conference will be looking for clues about how they fit into Microsoft's long-range plans.
"Clearly the whole landscape is changing. There's probably some agita out there," said Andrew Brust, CEO at Blue Badge Insights, which provides Microsoft-related consulting services to Microsoft customers and channel partners. "It's a little less clear how partners fit in," he said, referring to the "services and devices" focus and emphasis on cloud computing. "I think for a lot of partners it's cause for some concern."
David Powell, vice president of managed services for TekLinks, a fast-growing Homewood, Ala.-based cloud services provider whose offerings include hosted Exchange, said some partners are being neglected by Microsoft. He sees TekLinks falling into the "forgotten middle" as Microsoft focuses on Large Account Resellers selling software licenses at one extreme and its smallest partners selling Office 365 cloud subscriptions at the other.
"Folks like us are not getting the vendor love from Microsoft," said Powell, noting that TekLinks is one of the fastest-growing solution providers in the country with $93.6 million in sales in 2012. "Companies like ours that were early on in the cloud before Ballmer got on stage saying Microsoft was all-in in the cloud are being forgotten."
Powell said Microsoft has so many different businesses that it is hard for partners to provide a cohesive Microsoft story to customers. "Are they a search company competing against Google? Are they a cloud services provider competing against Amazon? Are they a gaming company? Are they a business intelligence company with products like SharePoint? The answer is they are all those things. Cisco CEO John Chambers has done a good job of navigating Cisco away from all the adjacencies. That has made it easier for us to partner with Cisco and drive value. Microsoft needs to tighten up its focus."
Rumors have been swirling for several weeks that CEO Steve Ballmer is planning a management shake-up throughout the company -- possibly as early as the week of WPC, according to a Bloomberg report. That's adding a note of uncertainty to the pre-WPC atmosphere.
Ballmer was said to be considering putting Skye president Tony Bates in charge of acquisitions and relationships with software developers, and put current Windows chief Julie Larson-Green in charge of the company's hardware operations for all devices, according to the Bloomberg story.
Brust noted that changes at the executive level can result in changes at the partner program level. Microsoft made major changes to the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) three years ago, including stepping up requirements for getting into the program's top tiers and introducing the company's "competencies" initiatives.
NEXT: Some Partners Feeling Left Behind