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Microsoft Announces Measures to Boost Flexibility For Partners

The new initiatives include extensions for competencies and advanced specializations, along with increased incentives around Teams deployments.

Microsoft is making a series of adjustments to its programs for solution providers as a way to provide greater flexibility during the ongoing health and economic crisis, Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster said in a blog post Thursday.

"We understand that some partners may want to accelerate their pace, while other partners may want to slow things down," said Schuster, who is corporate vice president for Microsoft's One Commercial Partner organization, in the post. “Regardless, what is most important for you to know at this moment in time is that we are listening to feedback from you, our partners, and doing what we can to help.”

[Related: Microsoft Cancels Inspire Conference, Will Explore Alternatives To In-Person Event]

Amid the disruption caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Microsoft is announcing adjustments such as extensions around requirements for competencies and specializations.

"We’ve heard from many partners that it’s challenging to meet requirements and renew existing competencies in the current climate," Schuster said in the blog.

Partners with a competency anniversary date between Jan. 1 and June 30 2020 will receive an extension until their next anniversary date, in 2021, Schuster said.

For partners enrolled in Azure advanced specializations with a renewal date before Dec. 31, meanwhile, Microsoft will now extend the anniversary date until June 30, 2021.

Partners in the Azure Expert MSP program with audit or renewal dates in 2020--or partners looking to apply for the program for the first time--will also get extensions and loosened audit requirements in some cases, according to Microsoft.

Additionally, for training and certifications, Microsoft is "increasing the number of digital testing centers so certification exams can be done at home, waiving rescheduling fees, and extending exam voucher expiration dates," Schuster said.

"I think they're being responsive to partner concerns," said Reed Wiedower, CTO of Washington, D.C.-based New Signature, in an email to CRN. "There are lots of different sized partners in the Microsoft ecosystem, but all of them regardless of size are certainly impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Almost all of the changes they announced are ones that carry significant costs -- so by delaying they lower the amount of time and energy. It's a very welcome change."

There are also several updates to incentives for Microsoft partners.

Incentive payouts are being increased for non-FastTrack partners who work with customers to achieve 15-percent usage in Teams deployments, while FastTrack partners will now be eligible for a new incentive "at the lowest qualified entitlement level," Schuster said. Those incentives are being offered through Sept. 30.

Amid the surge in work-from-home deployments, the number of Teams users has seen explosive growth with the collaboration platform adding 12 million daily users in a single week in March, Microsoft reported.

"I think it's strong for partners of Microsoft's to be compensated for deploying and increasing Teams deployments, during a time in which customers are looking to rapidly deploy products like Teams," said Robby Hill, CEO of Florence, S.C.-based HillSouth, in an email to CRN. "And whatever product they deploy now is something that customers are going to be locked into for a very long time – well past the current crisis we're in."

Ultimately, the move "seems generous for every level of partner to encourage them to put Teams first as a profitable business partnership," Hill said.

As for the Microsoft Partner Agreement, partners that have not accepted the agreement as of April will not be prevented from transacting as originally communicated. "To help prevent disruption to partner and customer businesses, we are postponing the enforcement date until later this year and will update you when we have set a new date," Schuster said.

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