Ballmer Issues Marching Orders For Microsoft Partners

Opening Microsoft's Velocity 2006 worldwide partner conference in Boston, Ballmer formally launched the Dynamics CRM Live platform as well as plans for a Live Partner Advisory Council (PAC) and a new Search Specialization for partners in 2007 to help VARs build services businesses for the Live software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.

Ballmer said Microsoft isn't going to get "outhustled" by competitors on the hosted CRM front and will rely heavily on partners to uncover money-making opportunities.

"This industry is full of change. Some call it a disruption. But change is the nature of our industry, and the change that we'll go from running [technology] infrastructure on the Internet is inevitable," he said. "Microsoft has to embrace it, and our partners have to embrace it. We need to work together to find new opportunities. "

The introduction of a "partner-based customization model out of the gate for CRM Live" demonstrates that Microsoft will count on partners to grow its business in the SaaS era," Ballmer said.

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He predicted that partners will benefit from advertising revenue, earn agent fees and commissions for reselling Windows Live and Office Live services, and build practices for hosting customer infrastructures and customizing Internet services.

Microsoft estimates that 7,000 of its 360,000 service partners will attend the conference. Hundreds of the partners who attended Ballmer's keynote Tuesday morning cheered the new CRM Live, which is due to launch in the second quarter of 2007.

Microsoft plans to release more than 10 Windows Live services in fiscal 2007. CRM Live will be hosted within Microsoft's Windows Live data centers.

Microsoft said Live will be a big business going forward but emphasized that most of the channel's business in fiscal 2007 will revolve around on-premise software.

Buoyed by the cheers that rang out with the formal launch of Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 during his keynote, Ballmer gave five top marching orders for partners in fiscal 2007:

&#149 Partners should focus on selling the "blockbuster" Windows Vista and Office 2007 platforms and building solutions for them.

&#149 Partners should push .Net-based Windows Server 2003, SQL Server 2005 and System Center 2005 products.

&#149 Partners must drive Dynamics implementations, including Dynamics CRM and Dynamics CRM Live.

&#149 Partners should participate in the Dynamics Live PAC.

&#149 Partners should help Microsoft enter new markets, including search and portals, unified communications and security software. The first priority, Ballmer said, is for partners to drive sales of enterprise versions of the upcoming Vista and Office 2007 product, as well as the new Enterprise Client Access License, through Software Assurance deals. To help partners, Microsoft announced a new Desktop Deployment specialization within the Microsoft Partner Program.

Search also is a "business of great importance to us," Ballmer said, pointing to the creation of the Quickstart for Microsoft Search program for partners and plans to create a search partner specialization. That certification is slated to be available to partners next year, in addition to the Microsoft's 13 competencies and small-business and accounting specializations.

Microsoft's enterprise information management (EIM) and integrated search capabilities in Vista, SharePoint 2007 and Windows Live Search will complement one another and give partners and customers a variety of client, server and services opportunities, Ballmer said. EIM and search represent a $13 billion opportunity today, he said, adding that Microsoft has enlisted 35 partners--including BearingPoint, FileNet and Wipro--for the Quickstart program.

"We have this year Windows Vista, IE 7, Office 2007, and we are entering into a set of new markets for us--BI, portal, workflow, content management, collaboration. Everyone likes to call it something different, but it's a new category, one market we're entering with full force," Ballmer said.

At the conference, Microsoft demonstrated Vista's search across the desktop and Internet plus SharePoint 2006's business search capabilities, including business data catalog and connectors, which will allow users to search structured and unstructured data like line-of-business applications. One Microsoft executive also noted that the Windows Live Search Center beta will be available in July.

In addition, Microsoft unveiled three new resources for partners. Partner Marketing Advisor Online went live this week. Separately, Microsoft is considering offering a marketing consultancy service for partners that have technical skills but little marketing experience. A service called Demo Showcase for People-Ready Business is designed to help partners align their sales and marketing efforts to specific roles within a corporation. And eight new Customer Campaigns are aimed at helping partners align their marketing plans with their competencies and specializations.