Microsoft To Pony Up $30 Million To Bolster Channel Tech Talent

Microsoft is taking on one of its channel's biggest problems: Increasing the talent pool of qualified tech professionals.

For its next fiscal year starting July 1, the company has earmarked $30 million to underwrite training and certification of new tech specialists for its partner community, said Allison Watson, Microsoft's vice president of for company's worldwide partner and small business group.

It expects this effort, dubbed "Project Athena" to drive 45,000 technical service professionals into the market in the first year, across both a broad set of technologies and also in some specific certification areas, Watson told CRN on Friday afternoon.

Ask any solution provider or vendor, and the need is there. Partners end up poaching talented (and some not-so talented) techies from each other, driving salaries up and draining profits. What is needed is "net new" talent in the field, vendors and partners agree.

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Gartner estimates that total worldwide IT spending will grow $175 billion over the next four years, hitting the $425 billlion mark in 2009. One constraining factor to tech adoption has been the lack of enough suitable tech manpower in the trenches.

Partners were thrilled to hear the news. "The number one problem facing partners today is a lack of qualified resources to help us grow our business. I'm delighted to hear Microsoft will help partner meet that challenge so we can accelerate growth for both of us," said one long-time Microsoft partner.

"We have a pretty significant investment in this already but this would double it down. To contrast it, in the early stages of networking and Windows NT 3.5, we probably invested about $5 million" in similar work, Watson said.

The year one goal is to net 30,000 new technical specialists worldwide, 12,000 in the U.S; 15,000 new IT professionals and developers, 6,000 in the U.S.; and 300 new architects, 120 in the U.S.

Microsoft will outline the plan at its upcoming Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston this summer.

"If you talk to one of our 13,000 Gold or Certified partners in the U.S., the average gold might be seeking three net new people. If you're Fujitsu, one of our biggest enterprise partners, they want to add 2,000 people this year," Watson said.

"This is a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment to address the IT talent shortage," said Rick Devenuti, senior vice president for Microsoft Services and IT for Microsoft.

The goal is to bolster partner ranks for the onslaught of new Microsoft products iexpected n the next 18 months. In that timeframe, the company plans to ship the long-awaited Office 2007 family—including new servers, the new Windows Vista client operating system, and Windows Longhorn Server.

Other focus areas for recruiting and training new talent are Axapta and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Watson said.

"For enterprise accounts, this is the biggest set of technology launches we've ever had," Devenuti said. Those products will "jumpstart the biggest potential growth in that sector but will also exacerbate the IT talent shortage."

Microsoft is also growing its internal services capabilities, but its strategy of concentrating on partner co-engagement remains unchanged, Devenuti said.

Earlier this year, the company told global integration partners that it would like to raise its own presence on enterprise customer IT staffs significantly over the next decade.