Microsoft’s Choice To Head MCS Raises Concerns In Channel

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The appointment of seasoned IBM Global Services veteran Mike Sinneck to lead Microsoft Consulting Services is a coup for company brass but compounds the worries of some in Microsoft's solution provider channel.

As first reported by CRN, Microsoft said on Tuesday that 32-year IBM veteran Mike Sinneck has been named worldwide services vice president, replacing Robert McDowell. McDowell's sudden departure, just days before the long-awaited MCS rules of engagement are scheduled to be released, has many wondering whether his departure is related to MCS-partner conflicts. Others maintain McDowell is assuming a less demanding position at Microsoft, a customer-focused role at MCS, for family reasons.

Sinneck comes to Microsoft with more than 32 years of experience supporting enterprise customers. Most recently, Sinneck was vice president for business operations of IBM Global Services Americas. Sinneck, who officially began his new role on Monday, declined to be interviewed for this story.

In a prepared statement issued late Tuesday afternoon, Orlando Ayala, group vice president at Microsoft, and the company's chief sales executive, maintained that Sinneck's expertise lies in providing consulting services and support to enterprise organizations but hinted that MCS will be channel-friendly. "Mike Sinneck has an incredible depth of experience and knowledge that will be instrumental in advancing these efforts and, in particular, forging stronger alliances with our partners to help them win business and make customers successful on Microsoft's platform," Ayala said. Microsoft's worldwide services organization was created in April 2001.

But some in the industry question how one of the top executives of the world's most aggressive services company, IBM Global Services, can be genuinely channel-friendly.

"It could be a sign that Microsoft has decided on a more aggressive and involved role in dealing with partners and business customers, which is cause for concern. It could also be that Microsoft simply wanted someone with more experience in managing a global services organization at the reigns," said Ian Chronister, senior industry adviser at Chronister Consultants, a consulting firm in Mobile, Ala. "Even if it is just an issue of experience, it will be interesting to see how easily Michael Sinneck can transition from an aggressive organization like [IBM Global Services to a partner-friendly channel policy."

Another solution provider echoed those thoughts. "We don't do any work with IBM. My understanding, however, is that IBM has a more aggressive services model than Microsoft does," said Michael Cocanower, president of ITSynergy, a solution provider in Phoenix.

Another solution provider, who requested anonymity, worries that conflicts with MCS could turn from bad to worse. "I can't say I'm sad to hear [about McDowell's departure. Bob [McDowell told us directly to our faces [nine months ago that MCS would not compete with the channel, which we've obviously seen since was a flat-out misrepresentation," said the source. "On the other hand, change always has the potential to be bad. Will the new person be even more aggressive than McDowell was in pursuing opportunities in and competing with the channel? That could really be bad if the new person gets the ear of executive management."

However, Rich Figer, vice president at S.B. Stone, a systems integrator in Cleveland, said he had no fears about the new MCS chief--or MCS--in the future.

"The accounts they are going after are way out of our league," Figer said. "We serve the SMB space, and I cannot imagine them getting down that low. I have never run into Microsoft in any of our accounts."

Analysts say it is too soon to tell, but one said IBM Global Services, for all its aggressiveness, has some experience with co-engagements with partners. "Until Microsoft clarifies the relationship between MCS and its other partners and channels, I think the channel is going to be worried about anything that happens there," said Paul DeGroot, lead analyst of sales and support strategies at Directions on Microsoft, an industry newsletter in Kirkland, Wash. "Sinneck looks like an excellent match for a fairly aggressive MCS, but IBM works with many partners as well, so the concept of simultaneously winning consulting engagements and working with partners shouldn't be totally foreign to him. It really depends on his marching orders. If he was brought in to help Microsoft compete with IBM in enterprise services, there's reason for concern that MCS growth may come not at IBM's expense, but at the expense of less aggressive or smaller partners who get caught in the crossfire."

In a press release issued about the appointment on Tuesday afternoon, Microsoft said Sinneck will play a key role in continuing the integration of MCS and Product Support Services, as well as enhancing partner relationships and identifying opportunities for Microsoft and partners to together drive the adoption of Windows, the .Net Platform and .Net Enterprise Servers.

Cliff Reeves, vice president for Microsoft's Windows.Net Server Division, who was scooped up from IBM Microsoft last year, said he does not know Sinneck but his appointment is a good one for MCS. "I don't know him, but it's pretty clear from product plans, hiring and overall emphasis that Microsoft is serious about understanding and serving enterprise customers," Reeves said.

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