Microsoft Hones Tech Support, Consulting Services

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Microsoft's chief services executive said the software vendor has crafted a suite of new technical support and consulting services for partners that's designed to slash the cost of entry for small solution providers seeking a formal relationship with the company's services group.

"In listening to the partners' needs, there were many things about the Premier [support] offering that they liked--the service management, the number of incidents, the access to online material and the proactive services--but the price point didn't make sense for smaller partners," Rick Devenuti, corporate vice president of Microsoft Services and IT, said Sunday during a meeting at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

In the past, the entry point for the Premier plan was roughly $50,000, which forced many partners to buy support on a transactional basis, Devenuti said. Under the new program, dubbed Microsoft Services Partner Advantage, the entry point for the standard services package is between $6,000 and $8,000, depending on the region, he said.

Microsoft Services Partner Advantage, slated to launch in 17 countries this month, includes three tiers of support. Under the Standard plan, partners or ISVs are entitled to a prepackaged set of online resources, problem-resolution incidents and proactive services, such as workshops. The Plus offering including more consulting services and customizable support, as well as a designated services resource. There's also a fixed-price, prepackaged plan for Microsoft Business Solutions partners located in the United States and Canada.

Though Devenuti doesn't believe all partners will participate in the program, he said the new structure should encourage a much higher percentage of partners to sign up. That, in turn, will help Microsoft improve service and product offerings for specific partner constituencies, especially when it comes to its catalog of proactive consulting services. For example, an ISV might expect deeper technical development resources, while an integrator might be looking for help with a prescription for an architectural or design issue.

At the high end of the plan, Microsoft will offer customized, multivendor support--an area in which the company intends to invest, according to Devenuti.

Moving forward, Microsoft's consulting organization has several pillars of focus, Devenuti said. One area involves assigning an enterprise strategy consultant--in essence, a dedicated Microsoft technical resource--to certain customers to help them derive more value from existing products. The consulting organization also plans to focus on what Devenuti calls "market-making" deployments in emerging solutions areas, in conjunction with partners.

"With the size of the consulting workforce [4,000 Microsoft employees worldwide], there are going to be partners on virtually every engagement we lead," Devenuti said. "We subcontract to partners on some engagements. We are subcontractors to partners on their engagements. We sometimes partner under different agreements with the customer. It really is a customer issue. My preference is to be partner-led and Microsoft-enabled."

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