5 Big Partner Announcements At Microsoft Inspire 2021

Microsoft is using its Inspire partner conference to launch new advanced specializations and Partner Center portal updates, while also disclosing enhancements for marketplace and ISV partners.

Updated Partner Programs

Two new advanced specializations for Microsoft Azure, a revamped Partner Center portal experience and reduced commercial marketplace agency fees are among the biggest announcements for solution providers this week at Microsoft’s Inspire 2021 partner conference. Held virtually for the second year in a row, Inspire comes as Microsoft has continued to report strong growth across its Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and security businesses—with more than 95 percent of the company’s commercial revenue continuing to be “influenced” directly or indirectly by partners. Microsoft now reports having more than 400,000 partners in its network.

Jonathan Groves, CEO of LogicalisUS, a Microsoft Gold partner based in New York, told CRN that the pipeline for his company’s Microsoft cloud business has grown “dramatically” over the past year. He now expects the Microsoft business to grow tenfold over the next three years.

“It‘s a big business for us,” Groves said. “It’s something that we invest a lot in, and we’re really starting to see that pipeline grow. The opportunities, the deal sizes [are] getting larger as customers are focusing fundamentally on what their core businesses are.”

Microsoft has also been upping its game when it comes to making partner-friendly moves, he said. “They are beginning to really drive profitability in the partner community, maybe more so than ever,” he said. “I like what I‘m seeing with Microsoft.”

What follows are the details on five of the biggest partner announcements at Microsoft Inspire 2021.

Two New Azure Advanced Specializations

At Inspire 2021, Microsoft announced two new advanced specializations related to the company’s fast-growing Azure cloud platform. The new advanced specializations are Hybrid Operations and Management with Microsoft Azure Arc and Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure with Microsoft Azure Stack HCI.

Microsoft Partner Network members can gain more visibility with Microsoft sellers and customers, along with new financial incentives and access to Azure business programs, through achieving the new advanced specializations.

Partners that earn the Hybrid Operations specialization can use Azure Arc to enable management at scale and development operations (DevOps) across hybrid and multi-cloud environments, according to Microsoft.

Meanwhile, the new Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure specialization shows customers that a partner can use Azure Stack HCI to deploy hyperconverged infrastructure on-premises, according to Microsoft.

In June, Microsoft Channel Chief Rodney Clark told CRN that helping more partners achieve advanced specializations is one of his biggest priorities.

“A lot of our customers are now coming to us with a digital path already charted,” Clark said. “And so now, what they’re looking for are solutions that snap into that—as opposed to, before they were looking for a partner organization to provide that digital path. So what that means for our ecosystem is, for them to drive the higher-value services and for them to drive the higher-value workloads—which translates to profitability—they need to focus on advanced specialization.”

Partner Center, Microsoft 365 Lighthouse Updates

At Inspire, Microsoft announced the launch of a private preview for a new Partner Center portal experience—which will provide recommendations about customers likely to convert from the trial phase, customers needing follow-up and existing customers ready for new deployments.

Microsoft is calling the new Partner Center experience “Project Orland,” and says the experience aims to help Cloud Solution Provider partners to grow their cloud business and improve account management. Project Orland is in limited preview, according to Microsoft.

Along with Project Orland, the company said that its Microsoft 365 Lighthouse unified portal for managed service providers has entered public preview. Microsoft 365 Lighthouse offers an easier way for MSPs to secure and manage their Microsoft 365 Business Premium customers, Microsoft has said.

Marketplace Fees Reduced, More Margin For CSPs

For partners that use Microsoft’s commercial marketplaces, the company announced that it has reduced agency fees on the marketplaces from 20 percent to 3 percent. That fee reduction covers all transactable applications published to the commercial marketplaces, which include AppSource and Azure Marketplace.

A 20 percent fee for marketplace transactions is the industry standard, said Nick Parker, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global partner solutions, in a blog post.

“The reduction means higher margins for partners who publish transactable offers in our marketplaces and simplifies the fee structure,” Parker wrote in the post. “Both of these benefits reflect our commitment to do everything we can to make our platform partner-focused.”

Microsoft reports that there has been a 70 percent increase in transactable applications on its commercial marketplaces, year over year, Parker said.

Meanwhile, in an effort to encourage ISVs to share margin with resellers and make selling commercial marketplace offers more profitable for partners, Microsoft plans to allow app publishers to set one price for customers and another price for preferred CSP partners. The change is planned to debut in the fall.

This will provide partners with margin upfront and allow partners to mark up prices when reselling to customers outside of the commercial marketplace, according to Microsoft. Publishers can develop their partner channel in the CSP program and compensate partners for new sales, Microsoft said. Solution providers can work with publishers they already partner with or form new relationships, the company noted.

ISV Connect Updates

Microsoft is announcing changes that are coming this fall to the ISV Connect program, including reduced revenue sharing, simpler go-to-market benefits, ISV app license management and discounted environments for development, testing and demos.

Microsoft AppSource, which has more than 750 million customers, will also gain improved application discoverability and search results, according to the company.

ISV Connect now has more than 734 ISVs in the program and has certified more than 1,472 apps in AppSource. Microsoft launched the program at Inspire 2019.

In April, Parker said in an interview with CRN that Microsoft is “increasing the amount of effort and resource on ISVs”—with the company’s fiscal 2022 that began July including “a big ramp in the ISV wins and the co-sell success we have.”

“We’re just going to continue full steam there,” he said. “It’s the ISVs’ success that has been very front and center with cloud adoption.”

New ISV Benefits With Teams and Viva

Additionally at Inspire, Microsoft announced new benefits for ISV partners that build and market business-to-business apps for the company’s Teams collaboration app and Viva employee experience platform.

Qualified ISVs will gain access to Microsoft technology, training, consultations and marketing resources to reach more Teams users, Microsoft said.

In April, Parker told CRN that Teams presents a compelling business opportunity for ISVs.

“Teams can be integrated in applications for workflow, other than the voice, video, chat that we know and love,” Parker said. “You see this much more as a platform that ISVs can integrate with.”

That same month, Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365 collaboration, told CRN that Viva presents a “huge set of partner opportunities, thinking through what content and training and applications should be targeted to what employees.” Viva was unveiled in February.