Microsoft Channel Chief To Take A Break

Watson, who is slated to host the company's annual worldwide partner conference in July, plans to take a couple of months off after that confab, several sources said.

While those sources characterized this as a six-month "sabbatical," a spokeswoman said Watson is merely taking a two-month vacation.

Watson is corporate vice president of the company's worldwide partner group; she reports to Eduardo Rossini, corporate vice president for worldwide SmallMidmarket SolutionsPartners (SMS&P).

Watson has been with the company since 1993, heading worldwide channels for four years. Her direct reports are Don Nelson, Marie Huwe, Todd Weatherby and Sherle Webb-Robins, according to the most recent org chart from Microsoft research firm Directions On Microsoft, Kirkland, Wash. But that apparently is changing too. Webb-Robins, general manager of partner program architecture and strategy, is moving out of SMS&P and into Simon Witts' Enterprise Partner Group (EPG), according to sources. Webb-Robins' role will be filled by Julie Bennani, a former Accenture consultant now joining Microsoft, sources said.

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When Watson was named a corporate vice president last year, insiders characterized that as a big promotion. But there has been contention between the SMS&P group, which has oversight of the bulk of Microsoft's VAR and ISV partners selling into small and medium-sized businesses, and EPG, which manages relationships with the global integrators working with big companies.

The move comes as Microsoft works to suss out its "next" next-generation partner program, code-named Octane. A big focus of that effort is to restore luster to the Microsoft Gold certification, several sources said.

"Right now, there's not that much differentiation with Gold, and they want to refurbish that," said one source familiar with the company's thinking.

The company would like to make it harder for solution providers to win the Gold designation, the source said.

Even many Gold partners believe there's not much value in the certification now. It will get harder to win that label, and "it's going to be ugly," according to the source.

Others close to Microsoft say there's a broader reorganization going on within SMS&P, including a possible layoff or "reduction in force." No further details were available. A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company is reallocating resources in both SMS&P and EPG and will try to minimize job losses.

"These are very strenuous times for anyone trying to do a partner program, especially with software-as-as-service lurking on the horizon," said George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Microsoft partner.

The core issue going forward is where traditional resellers fit in as SaaS gains momentum as a mode of software delivery. Partners with domain expertise in various verticals and that can integrate SaaS systems with legacy on-premise solutions will continue to find traction, most experts agree.

Google, the kingpin of the advertising-supported SaaS model, is starting to make forays into partner programs. Last week, it said it was seeking application development partners.

-- Paula Rooney contributed to this story.