Ballmer's Brain

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One of the amazing things about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s recent strategy discussion with CRN, which is featured as part of our cover story this week, is what a clear, compelling vision the longtime channel advocate lays out for partners regarding Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service strategy.

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There’s more than a little fear, uncertainty and doubt in the channel regarding Microsoft’s SaaS plans because of what can politely be called the software giant’s monopolistic tendencies. But Ballmer takes that starting point and clearly shows Microsoft has a plan to plug VARs into the SaaS world from small business to enterprises. That’s blockbuster news given the lack of communication from nearly all the major software vendors regarding SaaS. This is a landmark emerging opportunity for both vendors and partners, so to come to the table with no thought of how partners play is unacceptable.

Ballmer’s channel-friendly SaaS view comes with rival Google stepping up its plan of attack, releasing what it called a limited test version of its Google spreadsheet. There is no doubt a lot more software is going to be delivered as a service. But to think any business will plug into a service without solution provider customization, support, etc. is foolhardy. The question then becomes who actually builds a channel network that exploits the opportunity? Google CEO Eric Schmidt, by the way, hasn’t said boo about whether or not the search behemoth will embrace partners. That begs the question: How important is it for a CEO to communicate directly with the channel and then drive that channel view aggressively down to midlevel managers and into the sales trenches with pro-channel policies and budgets?

Think about the public service TV commercial with the fried eggs. You know the one: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” The same ad could be applied to Microsoft: This is Microsoft’s channel strategy with Ballmer’s brain. This is Microsoft’s channel strategy without Ballmer’s brain.

The only problem is since Microsoft can’t clone Ballmer’s brain, it needs to do a better job of making sure the rank and file understand and execute the CEO’s no-holds-barred channel view.

What do you think of Ballmer’s brain? Let me know at (781) 839-1221 or via e-mail at

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