Microsoft's Epic Collaboration With Its Cloud Partner Superstars Produces Four Playbooks For The Channel

Microsoft has culled insights from its most successful partners and released them Friday in four lengthy books intended to help its channel thrive in the cloud.

The Cloud Practice Development Playbooks are intended to give partners clear and practical guidance in launching cloud practices, scaling them, and driving greater profits.

Each five-chapter playbook focuses on partner strategies around a specific practice area: Cloud Infrastructure & Management, Data Platform & Analytics, Cloud Application Development, Enterprise Mobility & Security.

[Related: Partners Cheer Massive Microsoft Reorganization, New 'One Commercial Partner' Unit As Key To Accelerating Sales]

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The project was spearheaded by Eduardo Kassner, who six months ago took the position of CTO of Microsoft's channel program. Kassner's previous role at Microsoft involved defining the provider's cloud architecture for customers.

"One of the first motions I wanted to do coming into the role is looking at the whole cloud space," Kassner told CRN.

With IDC forecasting cloud spending to exceed $500 billion by 2020, and partners taking in almost $6 dollars for every dollar in cloud revenue, the opportunity is immense. But Kassner found that guidance was sparse in building cloud practices, and many partners needed advice.

The project started with a collaboration with two solution providers who had already demonstrated how to succeed in the cloud: Solliance and Opsgility.

Those companies, along with Microsoft, went out and "interviewed the living daylights" out of 50 more of Microsoft's top-performing cloud partners. They probed them on every point related to business and technical best practices.

All were surprised by the level of candor, Kassner told CRN.

"I thought most won’t want to give away their thunder in a bottle," he said. "But they were like no, we need to share and grow the market. We want to participate. I was baffled."

That process led to a further expansion of the project in the form of a research study that ultimately collected feedback from more than 1,000 partners.

Among the more interesting findings of that survey, 64 percent of the respondents were profitable within a year of launching their practices.

The playbooks combine the in-depth interviews and results of those surveys. They delve into pricing strategies, incentive models, support models, financial planning — all the prep you do before you start a practice. They also span different partner types, recognizing the range of business models in Microsoft's channel.

"No one's just a VAR or MSP, everybody is a little bit of everything depending on where they find their sweet spot in the market," Kassner said.

And while the books, at 180 pages, are dense, partners are meant to flip to the parts they're interested in, he said.

Zoiner Tejada, CEO of San Diego-based Solliance, one of the two original consultants on the project, said the work stemmed from the realization that while cloud providers are offering more sophisticated products and services, consultancy ecosystems are still limited in their capabilities.

"If you're a customer, your options still are surprisingly limited," Tejada told CRN. "These playbooks are the missing manual for succeeding with Microsoft and Azure."

They explore the junction of technical capabilities and business knowledge, he said. As guidebooks, they can help partners avoid a race to the bottom by sharing strategies for driving value when shifting from selling licenses to subscriptions.

"As we were interviewing people and collecting resources and going through all the Microsoft training material, what surprised us was the sheer volume of detailed information that was already available but not really visible," he said.

Dave Sasson, chief strategy officer at Princeton, NJ.-based Hanu, said that even as a leading Microsoft cloud partner, the books proved revealing.

"Sometimes you think you know everything, but then there's something you don’t know," Sasson told CRN.

There's plenty of information available that's incredibly useful for partners, but its highly scattered across various sources, he said.

"These playbooks are really helpful to offer a more step-by-step approach, with all the resources and links to all these sites Microsoft has that are hard to find on your own," he said.