Microsoft Partner Chief Dezen: Partners Will Get More Generative AI Resources

Partners ‘are the scale engine, Microsoft Chief Partner Officer Nicole Dezen tells CRN in an interview.

When it comes to Microsoft’s copilots and generative artificial intelligence, solution providers can expect more skilling, more specializations and designations, more enablement, greater access to the vendor’s sales methodology and other resources for understanding and deploying this new technology, Microsoft Chief Partner Officer Nicole Dezen told CRN in an interview.

Dezen – who also serves as Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft’s corporate vice president for the Global Partner Solutions (GPS) group – told CRN that the vendor is investing in its rechristened Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program and other resources for partners around generative AI.

“The more that partners can benefit from the investments we make internally, the decisions we make as a company, the things that we test and learn and try – of course, we should enable our partners to do that because they are the scale engine,” Dezen said. “They are the ones delivering so much value to customers.”

[RECENT: Microsoft CEO Nadella: AI Partner Opportunity Could Reach $7T]

Microsoft Generative AI Partners

Microsoft solution providers automatically moved into the MAICPP from the former Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program and kept their benefits and designations, according to the vendor.

Multiple Microsoft solution providers have told CRN about their excitement and investment around the vendor’s generative AI offerings – even before they all become generally available (GA).

Vineet Arora, chief technology officer of WinWire Technologies — a Santa Clara, Calif.-based Microsoft partner and No. 233 on CRN’s 2023 Solution Provider 500 — told CRN in an interview that “the scale of the investment that we have planned is [incomparable] to anything else that we have done in the last 16 years.”

“My entire time is going into this,” he said. “The opportunity size, the technology, the speed at which it is evolving requires 100 percent — 110 percent — dedication from our side. So the scale and the level of focus has been different from anything else that we’ve done in the past.”

Microsoft expects 90 percent of enterprise applications to have embedded AI within the next two years. And millions of Windows and SQL Server licenses remain on-premises, reflecting how much work for solution providers remains, according to the vendor.

Microsoft’s $100 million Azure Innovate fund for analytics and AI and its tripling the investments in Azure Migrate and Modernize are examples of more investment in partners, Dezen said. The vendor has also increased access to the Microsoft customer engagement methodology (MCEM) as optional guidance to solution providers on how to sell.

“The market is moving fast. And customers are quite advanced and sophisticated. And so partners need to be even farther along in order to deliver real value to them,” Dezen said.

At Microsoft’s partner-focused Inspire event earlier this month, Dezen shouted out multiple examples of services partners embracing generative AI, including:

*Avanade’s enterprise knowledge management system for a global oil and gas company leveraging millions

*Insight Enterprises’ Insight Lens for GenAI service offering for customers to find areas that could benefit from generative AI

*Neudesic’s Document Intelligence Platform (DIP) for automating manual invoicing processes, which saved a customer $500,000 a year

Generative AI should open up more conversations between solution providers and customers by discussing new value created in products such as customer relationship management (CRM) suite Dynamics, AI capabilities in communications platform Teams, Dezen said.

At Inspire, she also highlighted AI-enabled devices such as Yealink SmartVision 60 for Teams Rooms and the Lenovo ThinkPad X13S – one of the first devices with AI-powered Windows Studio Effects – as ways to open new customer conversations for solution providers.

She also highlighted AI Bootcamp events, intermediate and advanced technical certifications, remote and in-person AI workshops and “AI campaign in a box” resources that will be available for all 18 mainstream solution plays in 11 languages by the end of December.

For solution providers concerned about the capital costs of adopting generative AI for customers who have slowed digital technology purchases since the peak of the global pandemic, Dezen recommended tackling business problems, focusing on the savings AI can bring and the potential for employee morale boosts from eliminating mundane tasks.

“This isn’t about tech for tech sake,” she said. “This isn’t a science project. This is about how you help customers solve their real business problems.”

When asked about an ongoing issue with Microsoft’s new commerce experience where solution providers who win a new customer in the middle of an annual commitment have to awkwardly work with the former solution provider on offboarding the customer, Dezen said that “we’re always assessing our policies to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the business, for customers and for our partners.”

“I’m really pleased with our progress on NCE,” she said. “And I applaud our partners for doing great work with us. It’s been a meaningful transition for our partners, for their customers. And I feel really good about the progress we’ve made.”

Here’s what else Dezen had to say.

What should partners know about the copilot stack looking ahead?

It’s really important for … partners to understand the magnitude of new product announcements we have. … And, really, for every partner tight to see where they can take advantage of this and leverage this for their business.

So that’s a big topic for us. A second (big topic) was the skilling and enablement resources we’re delivering through the new Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program.

When I think about it, the skilling and enablement is just so key to the capacity we have and showing customers which partners have the specific capability and expertise they need to solve a specific problem in their business. And, frankly, just staying ahead of where customers are.

The market is moving fast. And customers are quite advanced and sophisticated. And so partners need to be even farther along in order to deliver real value to them.

What do partners need to know about new investments and incentives?

There are quite a few places that we are investing really significantly (in). And we really wanted partners to see how they can grow more profitable businesses with Microsoft through our commitments to AI and the platform.

And we’ve made some very intentional bets, particularly around tripling our investment in Azure Migrate and Modernize. That was a very effective program for us in our fiscal ’23. I would say it was one of the more popular investment funds we had and a necessary one to migrate all of those legacy apps.

There’s still more work to do. And so we decided to triple down – triple our investments there.

And then the other big one … Azure Innovate, the new $100 million fund, all around analytics and AI.

And the great thing is, we’re showing partners how those two things complement each other and work together. And it’s really designed to make sure that – whatever a customer’s needs are in their place on their cloud journey – the partner has a solution they can go offer. And the partner has the resources to help them.

What do partners need to know about ways to go to market with Microsoft and AI?

It’s really valuable for partners to understand how Microsoft sells because I think it’s one of the differentiators in how Microsoft goes to market – because we get the combination of our sales force plus our marketplace.

And so, as much as possible, we want partners to understand how we speak to customers, the way that we think about selling and “the rooms of the house.”

And that’s really being able to have the right conversation with every decision maker. And we introduced some new things there. Of course, we added our new customer methodology, which we already use in the business here today. We’re adding that for partners this year as well as the new Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program.

I’m really, really excited about the decisions we made and commitments we made. … The big thing for me for partners to take away was that no matter what type of partner business you have, no matter what your business model, the size of your business, the stage or maturity of your business, there was a way for that company to really lean into this AI opportunity with us and take advantage of our differentiated value.

What else should partners know about the Microsoft customer engagement methodology?

The Microsoft customer engagement methodology – MCEM (em-sem), as we call it, here in Microsoft – it’s a sales methodology we have rolled out to our own field in our fiscal ’23

And it’s really about understanding what the customer needs at each stage of the journey – starting with listening and consulting. And bringing the customer through the stages.

And the intent is not to say to a partner, you must do what Microsoft does. We never want to do that.

But it’s really just another example of talking to the partners about the rooms of the house – of saying, ‘This is how Microsoft sellers speak to customers.’

And the more that partners understand that – the more we use common language with customers, the more that partners can have a, really, 360(-degree) conversation with the customer that includes the Microsoft sales team as part of that.

It’s been very effective for Microsoft. And so, something that works for us at Microsoft, we always want to pass along to our partners.

The more that partners can benefit from the investments we make internally, the decisions we make as a company, the things that we test and learn and try – of course, we should enable our partners to do that because they are the scale engine. They are the ones delivering so much value to customers.

What will partners see from the Microsoft partner program in the future?

First and foremost, I want partners to see how committed and serious we are to the AI platform and how invested we are in enabling partners to succeed and help customers succeed through that.

Microsoft only wins when partners and customers succeed. That is core to our mission. And so we were very intentional in making so many big investments this year in all things partner.

Everything from the program itself, all the way through to specializations and designations to really shore up training capability.

Our investments and incentives – these are meaningful dollars to help partners go deliver fast time-to-value for customers.

Because that’s where the truth is. That is the measure of success. When customers are realizing value, then we’re all successful.

Will distributors play an important role in bringing generative AI to market?

I’m really excited about the investments we’re making in our global distributors this year, particularly when it comes to generative AI and how to help the distributors and the distributors’ partners adopt copilot.

We’re going to be especially focused with the distributors in SMB (small and midsize business). There’s just massive opportunity there. And this is where we lean quite heavily on our global distributors.

I’ll share one example. Our ‘distributor partner of the year’ award winner, Ingram Micro, is a partner that we’re working really closely with on this.

We’re working with them to help them scale and enable their channel partners as well as the service providers on all of the capabilities of generative AI and really guiding them on the best practices to get started in building those AI practices.

And so they’re building new services. I think this is going to be a gamechanger for Ingram’s channel partners. And this will help them support customers with Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Azure solutions.

We’ll be bringing more and more capability all the way through all of our customer segments. And I’m especially excited to see what they do in SMB.

Do you see more industry-focused and nuanced enablement for generative AI for partners?

The use cases in industry are really powerful. And this is where we’re leaning on partners very heavily.

My lens on this is less about the products, but more about how we enable the partners to go deliver differentiated offerings to industry customers. … This is where we’re betting, in particular, on prioritized industry ISVs (independent software vendors).

So these are ISVs that have very specific industry capability, whether it’s in retail and consumer goods, or health care. … The role of the ISV and the role of the services partner and systems integrator is going to be very key to delivering the unique requirements of each of those industries.

Can partners expect more specializations, more previews and more enablement in generative AI?

There’s a lot more in the roadmap. We’re not slowing down at all.

With all the focus on generative AI, is it important for solution providers to know that Microsoft continues to iterate on its greater portfolio of products?

Microsoft does have the most comprehensive enterprise portfolio in the market because of the Microsoft Cloud. And our AI platform is going to play a really important role there.

But we remain really, really committed to the work in each of our solution areas. And our partners do phenomenally important jobs there for customers, whether it’s modern work or business applications.

You name it, partners are delivering that value for customers. … We talked about the industrial metaverse program that’s in private preview now. I talked about marketplace – I’m really excited about marketplace.

We are betting really big here. This is just going to be an enhancement to the unique way that Microsoft goes to market.

It’s going to help partners scale faster. We’re investing to help them get their solutions into the marketplace. Helping customers find those solutions. And then they can leverage their existing commitments to cloud with us. So it’s a really nice, virtuous cycle.

Any advice to Microsoft partners still figuring out how to leverage the marketplace?

Absolutely. … ISV Success is generally available now. And ISV Success is the way that partners can get the support they need. They get access to Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 developer SKUs (stock-keeping units).

They get Azure credits. And we’re adding GitHub Copilot access at the end of this year, which I think will be amazing.

Are services led partners also interested in ISV Success?

I’m actually seeing quite a few partners across all of our partner types talk about building solutions and really thinking about how to build IP (intellectual property) – infuse AI into IP.

And our services partners have a unique role to play. They touch customers in a way that other partners don’t.

And so oftentimes, you’ll see they can quickly understand what a customer needs to complement the services delivery they’re doing. And I’m seeing quite a bit more of that.

What’s your advice to partners whose customer base has been particularly hit by the economy but they are still interested in generative AI?

In my conversations with partners, I always recommend they start with the business problem that they’re solving for the customer. This isn’t about tech for tech sake. This isn’t a science project. This is about how you help customers solve their real business problems.

And then you can get to the crux of – what do you need to do? And what are the resources, investments you need in order to solve this problem?

I mentioned GitHub Copilot coming to ISV Success, which I think is just super cool. But in my mind, if you think about some of the common problems that Microsoft hears from customers all the time, one of the challenges that’s pretty frequent is business leaders are trying to improve employee experience.

Something like GitHub Copilot does that. The feedback we’ve gotten from users of GitHub Copilot is that 75 percent of those developers are telling us that this now lets them focus on more satisfying work.

That’s an amazing thing for a company to be able to do for their developers, which is such an important population in a company.

Another one is productivity. It’s a pretty obvious place to get direct cost savings. This is where you realize savings through time savings. I love the way that we talk about Microsoft 365 Copilot and you can eliminate those mundane tasks.

The elimination of those mundane tasks is the elimination of hours of work. There’s real cost savings there.

Can partners look forward to plenty of lead time before generative AI offerings become generally available?

Microsoft is here to help these partners succeed. It’s the reason that we published our first AI partner transformation playbook.

I think of it as the toolkit for partners, like, where to go. And then there’s a ton of resources in there for our partners. And any partner in the Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program has access to it.

They’ll get some recommendations on skilling there or how to go-to-market with us. How to think about what to prioritize depending upon their business model. And we’ll continue to add to that playbook as well.

On NCE, can partners look forward to any updates on license portability so that, if they get a new customer in the middle of an annual commitment, they don’t have an awkward conversation with the former solution provider?

I would say we’re always assessing our policies to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the business, for customers and for our partners.

I’m really pleased with our progress on NCE. And I applaud our partners for doing great work with us. It’s been a meaningful transition for our partners, for their customers. And I feel really good about the progress we’ve made.

Is generative AI an opportunity for even Microsoft’s smaller services partners?

Yes. Gosh, the opportunity for services partners is incredible here.

The advice I would give to any partner – and certainly to our services partners – is to prioritize the things that are most important.

We’ve introduced a lot of things to choose from and a lot of ways to help customers achieve their goals, mapped to the business type that our partner embraces.

The conversations that we’re having with partners right now are all around – let’s prioritize the most important things you can do.

For services partners, there’s such an important job to do around getting customers migrated to the cloud. There are still millions of Windows and SQL Server licenses on-prem.

Getting those customers to the cloud is such a big unlock because then those customers get to enjoy all – and realize all – the full benefits of AI.

And that’s why we made the big investments we made in Azure Migrate and Modernize and Azure Innovate.

And there are going to be even more tools coming to the AI transformation partner playbook and help partners think about how to get started or accelerate their journey, whatever their stage of maturity might be.