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Microsoft's Althoff: Channel Program Will Focus On Six Key Verticals To Meet Fast-Changing Customer Needs

Judson Althoff and Toni Townes-Whitley take the stage at Microsoft Inspire to discuss how the company is helping partners develop expertise in financial services, manufacturing, retail, education, health care and government.

The kinds of digital transformation customers are undergoing represent a huge opportunity for channel partners that are ready to transform themselves to take advantage of it.

That's the word from Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft's worldwide commercial business, who used his keynote presentation Tuesday at this week's Microsoft Inspire partner conference to outline how the company and its partners are evolving to meet fast-changing customer requirements.

Althoff, citing Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's Monday keynote, said there is a $4.5 trillion opportunity available to the IT industry related to the intelligent edge and pervasive intelligence, fueled by the cloud.

[Related: Microsoft CEO Nadella Touts Partner Opportunities Of New Intelligent Cloud, Intelligent Edge]

"It is in fact a new opportunity for all of us. … Rest assured that [our] strategy is fueled by this opportunity," he said.

Partners looking to transform their business to meet the new opportunities need to start with the data, which requires having a deep knowledge about their customers' businesses, Althoff said.

Microsoft is responding by helping partners develop expertise in six priority vertical opportunities, including financial services, manufacturing, retail, education, health care and government, he said. "Customers are asking us to understand their business and marry our technology to help them with their business," he said.

Microsoft is introducing a new commercial model that changes how it interacts with its partners, according to Althoff. That new commercial model aligns account teams by industry, with all specialist technologies aligned to either enterprise, small business, medium business or corporate customers..

The company also is building a formal customer success organization across all four types of businesses to help drive new opportunities and bring them to life, he said.

Microsoft is investing heavily in its inside sales organization to match its capabilities to partner opportunities and feed leads to its partners, Althoff said.

He also committed Microsoft to always being a partner-led organization and aligning with partners to help them build code and develop programs and go to market across all industries.

To add more detail to the partner program changes, Althoff brought Toni Townes-Whitley, Microsoft's corporate vice president for industry, on stage, where she said her focus was to bring more industry content relevance to Microsoft and focus on business outcomes.

Townes-Whitley outlined the scope of several of the opportunities partners can take advantage of.

For instance, she cited a Deloitte and Visa study that said technologically adept "digital natives" will drive financial services spending of $900 billion by 2025, much of which is for services that have not been previously available.

Townes-Whitley then cited the work of education researcher Shift Happens, which found that 65 percent of today's students will have jobs that do not yet exist., and said many of those jobs will require skills that have yet to be created.

In government, opportunities include a nearly doubling in spending by the U.S. Department of Defense on the cloud according to Market Research Media, and spending of $41 trillion by cities worldwide on smart technology. "That's the future, and that's the opportunity," she said.

Microsoft's investment in industry-focused success starts with a partner model that is characterized not by title but by how partners interact with the industry, Townes-Whitley said. This includes the introduction of a new dedicated channel manager role at Microsoft based on the interaction with the six priority industries outlined by Althoff, she said.

Microsoft's account executives are being aligned to one of those six industries as a way to drive activity, she said.

The company also is bringing partners new tools and resources to meet the needs of those industries, Townes-Whitley said.

These include solution maps that can be used across engineering, sales and marketing personnel; a "Book of Dreams" that aims to look at the future of the six industries; and playbooks aimed at how to meet the needs of both customers and partners.

Each of the six priority industries also will be broken down into specific industry-focused solutions, Townes-Whitley said. For instance, the company will work with partners to develop nine focused solutions for the health-care industry, including care coordination, clinical analytics, operational analytics, mobile care worker, patient engagement, virtual health, medical data storage, remote patient monitoring, and health-focused cybersecurity, she said.

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