Microsoft Plays Matchmaker To Push Software Assurance Benefits

On Monday, the software giant officially rolled out the program in the United States with three top resellers and more than 60 Microsoft Certified Partners for Learning Solutions, said Ginelle Cousins, lead marketing manager for MCPLS, formerly known as Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers.

Cousins said the program initially will be launched with Softmart, Softchoice and Software House International to tier-one global countries beginning in December.

"The reseller is the customer's primary contact, so now through matchmaker we're matching Gold learning partners with resellers so they can together go to an enterprise account and assess their learning needs," she said. This is Microsoft's latest maneuver aimed at increasing customer satisfaction with the company's overall licensing and Software Assurance contracts. The pairing of resellers and learning partners is essential to educating partners about their training needs and benefits, Cousins said, claiming several partnerships have already sprung up.

One of those partners, IMG of Chicago, said Microsoft's decision to make free training vouchers available as part of Software Assurance last year shows the company understands that the lack of training is one key reason for failed deployments and underdeployment.

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"There [are] licensing specialists [at the reseller] who sign the deal with customers, but the problem is those people don't know anything about training," said Richard Knudsen, president of IMG, adding the free training vouchers are worth between $50,000 and $70,000 for many customers. "There's a big disconnect there. We talk to IT managers, HR managers and CIOs. The reseller knows benefits and we know training, so we partnered with Softchoice and ASAP Software and made the right connections at the customer account. Microsoft recognizes that's the secret sauce--linking up partner with reseller--so they're formalizing it with matchmaker."

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft for some time has been trying to pump up licensing and Software Assurance contracts. In a Webcast with customers last week, Microsoft Worldwide Licensing and Pricing Vice President Brent Callinicos unveiled a product licensing Web site to make it easier for customers to understand their product use rights. It also said it will make its "Step Up Licensing" option permanent.

Formerly a promotion, the Step Up Licensing program allows Software Assurance customers to migrate from the standard edition of select products to the enterprise edition without having to repurchase a new license.

Another training partner noted that Microsoft is getting smarter about exploiting its channel resources to make licensing more palatable to customers.

"For the first time, we're really working much more closely with Microsoft and their resellers and VAR partners in being able to help customers get value-added software and drive upgrades and renewals," said John Golden, vice president of products and programs at New Horizons.