CRN Exclusive: Microsoft Names 21-Year Veteran As New Global Channel Chief

Microsoft Thursday named Gavriella Schuster as its new global channel chief, where she is tasked with guiding tens of thousands of partners as they transition to a cloud solutions business model and tackle the massive Windows 10 upgrade cycle.

Schuster, a 21-year Microsoft veteran who has been Microsoft's interim channel chief since Phil Sorgen stepped out of the role in May, was formally named corporate vice president for the Worldwide Partner Group for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant.

Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates, a Microsoft partner based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., cheered the new appointment, saying Schuster is "unquestionably committed, aggressive, and just no-nonsense in her approach" to the channel.

"I think when [Schuster] took the role as general manager initially, she did a few things that were very smart," said Opal. "She sought to understand the landscape inside of Microsoft and the partner perspective there. She went on a mission to make that experience better for Microsoft's interactions with partners in a few different ways, including improving … the partner portal and restructuring the [Microsoft Partner Network] competencies."

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[Related: CRN Exclusive: Microsoft's New Channel Chief On Windows 10 Channel Compensation, Partner Plans For Surface And Cloud Opportunities]

Schuster takes over Microsoft's channel at a time of major transition and transformation.

"There's more opportunity now than there has ever been for our partners, not only cloud and customers embracing cloud, but what customers are calling their No. 1 priority, which is their own digital transformation," Schuster said in an exclusive interview with CRN.

As Microsoft customers increasingly look to technology to differentiate themselves in their respective markets, partners have the opportunity to "move from the back office to the front office," she said.

That shift "probably more than four-fold increases the potential and addressable market," Schuster said.

Schuster, whose appointment comes less than two weeks before Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference kicks off July 10 in Toronto, steps into the role at a time when many Microsoft partners are grappling with fallout from the free Windows 10 upgrade. In addition, partners are struggling to find their place in Microsoft's Surface go-to-market strategy after the company launched a membership service plan earlier this month that some partners fear will cut out the channel.

Schuster was Sorgen's top lieutenant for more than two years in her role as general manager of Worldwide Partner Programs. Sorgen, who took the position of corporate vice president of the U.S. Enterprise and Partner Group, was her mentor for a decade, Schuster said.

The leadership transition will not disrupt the continuity of the program and no other significant structural or management changes are expected, Schuster said.

During her long tenure at Microsoft, the new channel chief gained experience in many divisions of the organization, including sales, product management and partner development. She's worked on licensing and go-to-market strategies for various products over the years.

Schuster said Microsoft will continue to invest in helping partners move up the food chain from project services to managed services, taking advantage of cloud repeatability, scalability and the chance to build unique intellectual property they can disseminate to multiple customers.

The epochal shift to subscription services and recurring revenue is happening under a structure imposed by the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, which provides incentives for partners to bundle services, add value, and handle their own billing.

Microsoft will share more figures describing channel buy-in to that program at next month's partner conference. A Microsoft representative told CRN the company now has more than 10,000 partners in the CSP program -- a higher number than the company anticipated.

"The value CSP provided was it was this vehicle that suddenly helped a lot of our partners understand how you think differently about the service you deliver to your customer," Schuster said.

Many of those newly minted Cloud Solution Providers are starting to add Azure services to their portfolios to complement their Office 365 practices, she said.

Azure, as a platform on which partners can implement business intelligence, analytics and database solutions, lends itself even better than the Software-as-a-Service productivity suite to selling through the CSP program, she said.

As for the migration to Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to help partners with back-end migration tools and systems that smooth the transition to the new operating system. And the new model of Windows-as-a-Service opens up opportunities to manage customer environments after the initial engagement, she said.

But partners will have to wait until the Worldwide Partner Conference to hear more on that front, she said.