VAR Extends Office 365 Productivity Tool To Other Solution Providers

A South Florida VAR formally launched this week a service to help other solution providers deliver more value around Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based productivity suite that is sold direct to end users.

Champion Solutions Group signed up 20 VAR partners with more than 60,000 mailboxes in its first 24 hours for its 365 Command tool, according to the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company.

365 Command is a set of web-based administration, reporting and monitoring tools that businesses and solution providers use to manage Office 365, including setting mailbox passwords and permissions, and for password synchronization.

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Champion Solutions Group acquired the 365 Command technology when it acquired Charlotte, N.C.-based MessageOps, which Champion Solutions purchased, in part, to keep pace with Microsoft's strategy to introduce more cloud technology to end users. While it's likely solution providers won't see the revenue they previously enjoyed selling on-premises licenses for Office and other Microsoft products to customers, there's still room to add value, said Chris Pyle, president and CEO of Champion Solutions Group.

"Like many partners, we were struggling with how to make money from Office 365. You're not going to get rich on the partner-of-record fees," Pyle said. "Microsoft expects the partners to figure out how to add value to the Office 365 offering. I don't think we're alone in struggling how to figure that out. We the channel have to figure out what we can provide the customer on an ongoing basis to remain relevant in their eyes and get paid for that."

That's where 365 Command helps Champion Solutions Group and can help other VARs, Pyle said. 365 Command eliminates the need to know Windows PowerShell, and sets up and manages mailbox and other functionality with just a couple of clicks, Pyle said.

"In the past, to do a lot of administrative tasks that customers would be willing to pay for, you'd have to know PowerShell. The truth is, PowerShell is a very strong programming tool but you'd need a level- two or level-three guy to be able to perform these PowerShell administrative tasks," Pyle said. "We've created an easy-to use elegant GUI interface that allows both end users and partners to do mailbox administration and management as well as reporting."

365 Command was in beta for four months, where it managed 387,000 mailboxes from 725 companies, Pyle said.

"It's going really well. We're making money not just on Office 365 sales, but on the value-add of providing additional services that customers are willing to pay for and software they're willing to pay for. We've opened up 365 Command to the partner community to add services and software and administration to provide additional income streams and value," Pyle said.

ASI System Integrators, a New York-based solution provider, is ramping up with 365 Command after meeting with Champion Solutions Group at Tech Data's recent TDCloud conference, said Josh Cohen, manager of managed services at ASI.

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"When we do a lot of our customizations that would require PowerShell, it's a lot easier to do it using Command. It speeds up processes and you can manage the environment better," Cohen said. "Major customer issues are usually around password resets. This gives you complete control and permissions."

ASI, and other solution providers, need to be more proactive and evolve their businesses to meet the changing dynamics of Microsoft's model, Cohen added.

"We're getting into [Microsoft's cloud strategy]. I don't think partners are getting left out. Yes, Microsoft does do some direct business, but when they do direct, they farm out services to partners that have a track record of being able to deploy the services," Cohen said.

ASI's customers are still "a mixed bag" when it comes to cloud adoption of Microsoft products, Cohen said. IT staff has concerns about their jobs disappearing, but business owners -- especially small and midsize business owners -- see the benefits, he said.

"It's a big hurdle, but it's why we're going down this path," Cohen said.

Tools like 365 Command can help solution providers make a more smooth transition to cloud solutions, said Champion Solution Group's Pyle.

"I think the partner community, in general, needs to evolve to figure out how to add value in this cloud/SaaS world that we're slowly moving into here," Pyle said. "If you want to buy [a license] and put it on premise, go ahead. If you want to go on the cloud, go ahead. The market is making the decision for a lot of partners. Why do you need all these servers and backups and SANs for SharePoint when you can let Microsoft do it and pay a monthly fee? A lot of traditional ways that partners made money from implementing Exchange and selling backup solutions are going away. I don't think it's Microsoft. Customers are saying I want this. Partners have to figure out new revenue streams and stay relevant. "