Users turning to Microsoft Corp.'s ample stable of channel partners for products, support or consulting services are getting a new point of differentiation to help them make decisions about which vendors to select.
At its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto Sunday, Microsoft launched its Services Partner Advantage program to provide additional resources and support options to independent software vendors, systems integrators and other partners.
A standard prepackaged option gives a partner phone-based problem resolution support and various online resources. The higher-priced "plus" plan can be customized by the partner and adds a designated service professional at Microsoft as a resource. There is also a third plan, based on the standard and plus offerings, that applies to Microsoft Business Solutions products.
"We want to try to drive better credibility for the partner community so they become more of an asset for their end customers," said Thomas Dawkins, a product manager for worldwide services at Microsoft. His prior experience includes running a consulting practice and working at an independent software vendor. "I know how important it is to show credibility to a new customer," he said.
Partners in the past had to pay at least US$40,000 to $50,000 to get premier support with Microsoft. They will now find an entry-level option for the standard plan starting at $5,000 to $8,000; the entry price point for the plus plan ranges from $27,000 to $32,000, a Microsoft spokeswoman said. The less expensive options are expected to enable an increasing number of Microsoft's partners to access more consistent support.
"It could be a selling point for partners. They might say, 'We can support your system better because we have a dedicated support resource at Microsoft,' " said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft Inc. in Kirkland, Wash. Corporate users looking at competitive offerings from various partners might now ask what kind of support contract the partner has with Microsoft, he said.
The Partner Advantage program is available to Microsoft's Registered, Certified and Gold Certified partners. It is intended to help address partner complaints about contract terms, limited service options and the lack of consistency in the naming of programs on a global basis, Dawkins said.
"It arms the systems integrators and ISVs with services they perhaps did not have before or didn't have enough of to support their customers appropriately," said Paul Edwards, a Toronto-based analyst at IDC. "If partners can get access to the people they need (at Microsoft), the customers will benefit."