Microsoft Channel Leader: Partners Must Build Up Technical Skills To Succeed In Public Cloud

Microsoft's Alyssa Fitzpatrick said solution providers must acquire technical skills around building, developing and deploying Microsoft Azure to predictably move customers to the public cloud.

"Make sure you have the technical skill set in-house," Fitzpatrick said during CompTIA ChannelCon 2017 in Austin. "You have to be able to articulate the art of what is possible in the cloud to your customers."

Channel partners with a specialized skill set will find it much easier to have customers lead them into the cloud on their terms while at the same time helping them understand how digital transformation can accelerate their business, Fitzpatrick said. It is therefore critical that solution providers understand what their customers are looking to put in the cloud and where they are willing to dabble, she said.

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"We don't have to have everyone jump in the cloud all at once," Fitzpatrick, who is general manager, worldwide channel sales at Microsoft, said Tuesday. "You can do a hybrid approach."

Solution providers that make the technology investment will find that Microsoft has significantly bolstered its resources available to channel partners supporting Azure, Fitzpatrick said. Specifically, she said the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor is flooding the market with technical resources that will enable partners to more easily craft differentiated solutions that sit atop Azure.

"We are no longer just throwing the technology and saying 'run with it and see what you can create," Fitzpatrick said. "We want to work with you."

Much of Microsoft's effort will focus on helping partners build vertically-focused solutions that address problems specific to the manufacturing, financial services, retail, healthcare, education or government industries, Fitzpatrick said. End users are increasingly expecting solution providers to be capable of having a conversation that's relevant to the specific business issues they face.

"Our customers are incredibly demanding," Fitzpatrick said. "They don't want a generic approach."

Microsoft's selected these six verticals since they're the more mature and offer the richest opportunities for modernization and cloud adoption, Fitzpatrick said.

At the same time, Fitzpatrick said solution providers need to be aware that many end users are still trepidatious about moving sensitive or mission-critical workplace into the public cloud.

Fitzpatrick recommended a "stair-step" approach for those customers, where clients are allowed to move apps into the cloud one at the time. Sampling a small workload in the cloud will allow end users to feel safer and more secure, Fitzpatrick said, while easing operating expenses and integration challenges.

"We don't have to push our customers 100 percent to the cloud," Fitzpatrick said.

A pay-as-you-go licensing model is also needed to help avoid a huge upfront commitment and not force end users into an either-or decision where workloads are delivered entirely on-premises or completely in the cloud, Fitzpatrick said.

As far as channel partners as concerned, Fitzpatrick said born-in-the-cloud solution providers have it easier in some ways since they won't encounter the pain points associated with transitioning from a perpetual license to a subscription model.

But while legacy costs don't encumber born-in-the-cloud partners, Fitzpatrick said they also don't have any long-standing customer relationships to fall back on. Traditional solution providers, therefore, benefit from being able to sell cloud into a base of existing customers whose needs and requirements are well-understood, Fitzpatrick said.

Azure is absolutely the largest Microsoft-focused opportunity for solution providers today, Fitzpatrick said. Surveys have indicated that the portion of companies looking to move workloads into Azure has skyrocketed from just 20 percent a year ago to 90 percent today, she said.

"We're here, and this is the cloud of the future," Fitzpatrick said. "Get in there with us."

Microsoft's increased focus on channel enablement, particularly as it relates to engineering and sales support, will likely be well-received by partners, according to one solution provider who didn't wish to be identified. The partner also said embracing a "stair-step" approach might help some recalcitrant customers get comfortable in the cloud.

However, the partner said increasing the technical training expectations around Azure might serve as a deterrent to solution providers that have yet to launch a practice.

"I think they could be leaving a lot of sales on the table," the partner said.