Microsoft Channel Chief: Office 365 Fast Track Services Are Not Going To Eat Partner Business

Microsoft partners have nothing to fear from the Office 365 Fast Track program update that's going into effect next month, Microsoft channel chief Phil Sorgen told CRN in an interview earlier this week.

Microsoft will provide free remote "onboarding" services to customers that buy 150 seats or more of Office 365, as part of an update to its Office 365 Fast Track program starting next month.

Microsoft will also offer customers free email migrations to Office 365 as part of a special "adoption offer" that runs from Sept. 1 to March 31 of next year.

[Related: Microsoft Exec Discusses Plan To Offer Customers Free Office 365 Migration Services]

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This last part has many Microsoft partners upset because they charge money for their email migration services. But Sorgen told CRN that Microsoft will only do email migration work that can be easily automated and done remotely.

Anything more complex than a basic email migration will still be handled by Microsoft partners, Sorgen said. In these cases, Microsoft will provide funding to customers to defray the costs of the partner engagement.

Microsoft partners can get $15 per seat for up to 1,000 seats and $5 per seat after that, with a cap of $60,000 per customer.

"For our partners that qualify for the adoption offer, we think this is an accelerator to advance the sale and opportunity and deployment with customers," Sorgen said. "We think these funds will contribute to the deployment they will do with customers."

Even if the customer chooses the free email migration, Microsoft will still try to get them to work with a partner, according to Sorgen.

"Our goal is for every customer that allows us to attach a partner, we will attach a partner," Sorgen told CRN. "We will be regularly asking to attach a partner to the customer, because there is only a subset of tasks we can do."

David Greve, national director of Microsoft cloud strategy at Perficient, a St. Louis based Microsoft partner, is optimistic about the opportunities the Office 365 Fast Track will generate for his firm.

"The new Fast Track offer will greatly benefit customers interested in the self-service approach, with guidance from Microsoft," Greve said in an email. "Fast Track certified partners benefit from Microsoft’s endorsement and marketing efforts as a partner-of-choice who can further assist customers needing additional support due to project complexity or lack of staff to deliver deployment."

The Office 365 Fast Track changes stand to impact Microsoft's "born in the cloud" partners the most, as many of them got into Office 365 early on and have made significant investments in building services capability.

"Microsoft’s service can onboard 75 percent of customers that have worked with partners in the past for simple identity and email migration," said one partner, who didn't want to be identified. "Sure, this helps partners with no deployment services like large account resellers, but this does not help born in the cloud partners."

NEXT: What About All Those Engineers Microsoft Is Hiring?

Partners have told CRN that Microsoft is hiring up to 800 engineers to provide the Office 365 on-boarding and free email migration services. Microsoft has said some of these engineers will be based in call centers.

Sorgen told CRN these engineers will not be working on site at the customer location, as has been rumored in the channel. "Where possible, this will be technology-delivered and not person-delivered. That's the goal," he said.

Onboarding services are things like domain configuration, service provisioning and identity-related tasks. These are not a big part of the Microsoft partner's business model and they're typically a small part of an Office 365 engagement, Sorgen said.

Partners will still play a big role for customers that have a mix of on-premise and cloud-based infrastructure, and they'll have a chance to handle mail migration work that goes beyond the "automated and repeatable tasks," Sorgen said.

Sharepoint and Lync are other big areas of opportunity for Microsoft partners that will not be impacted by the Fast Track update, Sorgen said.

Sorgen said many customers will continue engaging with partners even after the Office 365 Fast Track changes go into effect. Microsoft will also "contribute to having the partner do the whole thing. We want that to happen in the majority if not all cases," he said.

Microsoft is planning to do free SharePoint and OneDrive migrations at some point, Tanuj Bansal, Microsoft's director of partner and channel Office marketing, told CRN in an interview last month.

At the time, Bansal said Microsoft would publish a list of the services its engineers will deliver "very shortly," but it has yet to do so, and Sorgen didn't have any new information on that front.

"That’s not what we're releasing [next month]. I live in the here and now, as part of the sales organization, and that's not what we're releasing in the next couple of weeks," Sorgen said.