COVID-19 drives Microsoft NZ's new-model SaaS partners to the cloud

COVID-19 drives Microsoft NZ's new-model SaaS partners to the cloud

SaaS companies come out of all sorts of organisations, not just the start-up community

Andrew Taylor (Theta)

Andrew Taylor (Theta)

Credit: Supplied

Microsoft NZ is signing around five new software-as-a-service (SaaS) partners a month, driving business for its Azure cloud and creating a virtuous circle for partners and their customers as well.

Partner director Matt Bostwick says while the company has a traditional channel and a SaaS channel, they are not incompatible. 

Some traditional channel partners, consultancies and service providers, are also becoming SaaS partners, spurred in part by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We build together, we help them build and we help them take what they building and build a sales channel for them offshore through our networks," Bostwick told Reseller News. "We see that as a partner play.”

Traditional partners are having a bumper year, he said, driven by demand for digital solutions for remote work and to stay connected in uncertain times.

"There are a lot of positives for the channel broadly out of that forced transformation that has come out of the pandemic," he said.

However, with the announcement of a new local data centre region arriving soon in New Zealand, there are also lots of new discussions breaking out with organisations looking to really embark on their own cloud journeys.

"For me, part of that is the shift of the centre of gravity towards hyperscale global cloud as a place to get things done," Bostwick said.

Citing a recent NZ Tech skills report, he said the fastest growing skill reported on LinkedIn was now Microsoft  Azure. 

"That underpins a real drive towards investment, skilling and capability in some of those cloud platforms," Bostwick said.

Matt Bostwick (Microsoft NZ)Credit: Microsoft NZ
Matt Bostwick (Microsoft NZ)

The most telling statistic, however, was that Microsoft NZ, on average, brought around five new SaaS partners on board each month over the last year and was getting a lot more enquiries. 

"That reflects the real strength and health of that part of the channel," Bostwick said.

"We've given ourselves some targets and focused hard on how we can support organisations to build SaaS companies partnering with Microsoft," he said. "We are seeing really strong growth."

That growth has highlighted something else: a SaaS company is not necessarily what many people think.

"When think about where a SaaS company comes from – we think there’s all these incubators and startup accelerators and people with great ideas sitting there in basketball boots and pony-tails and cool t-shits.

"But there are lots of other places where SaaS companies come from."

One example is local consultancy Theta Systems, which has taken some of its existing IP to the cloud to both address the challenges posed by the pandemic on its own business and to help customers deal with their COVID challenges.

While best known as an ICT consultancy, Theta has been investing steadily in innovation for some years now. 

More recently, it took an application acquired as part of its 2019 buyout of Designertech to a global audience as a SaaS product on Azure.

Andrew Taylor, director and head of product at Theta, has been leading a team rebuilding a reception register product called Eva Receptionist into a SaaS tool that addresses urgent COVID-19 contact tracing needs.

While there was a plan before the pandemic to move Eva to SaaS and to give it its own attention and space, the vision for that project blossomed into something much bigger when COVID-19 arrived.

Eva had been a tablet and touch-screen based system for visitor check-in, but it quickly became clear that was not what the world was now looking for.

"We needed to be thinking about contactless experience," Taylor said.

On top of that, businesses were asking how to manage this in relation to new contact tracing requirements.

The team "downed tools" on the original rewrite and spun up a whole new brand, Eva Check-in, a contactless system that used QR codes before New Zealand's COVID Tracer app. 

And it has been very successful, Taylor said. A lot of organisations are now using it across NZ and Taylor himself was doing five demos a day to prospects.

It was the most intense market test you could have, he said, spurring a super-fast iteration cycle to answer feature requests.

"That was heaps of fun and we knew we had something that worked for people and also for site health and safety," Taylor said.

But Eva's real success came in Queensland, where the SaaS version is used for one of the biggest providers for contact tracing as well as in closely related visitor management and contractor management applications.

"We had to build a good portion but had the bones and that meant we could turn it around in a couple of weeks," Taylor said. 

"It was still a lot of work. We had to develop new brand, website, payments and billing. Without Azure behind the scenes we couldn’t have done that."

Mobile apps for Android and Apple have been downloaded more than 100,000 times and new releases keep coming, including one to create digital visitor passes rather than the traditional sticky labels. 

"COVID is temporary, but the need is permanent for general working environments," Taylor said.

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