Peter Sayer
Senior Editor

Microsoft’s partner program gets a cloud overhaul

Mar 16, 2022

Microsoft is rebranding its partner program for the cloud — and updating its rules for membership. CIOs should be aware of the changes as suppliers and service providers push to meet the new criteria.

CSO > Microsoft Azure backups / cloud computing / binary code / data transfer
Credit: Microsoft / Just_Super / Getty Images

The Microsoft Partner Network will fade away October 2022, to be replaced by the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program.

There’s more to this than a change of name, though, as Microsoft is also changing the rules for how partners qualify for the program, grouping them into six solution areas aligned with its Azure cloud: Data & AI (Azure); Infrastructure (Azure); Digital & App Innovation (Azure); Business Applications (built on the cloud-based low-code Power Platform or Dynamics365); Modern Work (its shorthand for the Microsoft365 suite of cloud solutions); and Security.

Microsoft’s channel chief, Rodney Clark, said the changes were made to align the partner program with the way CIOs are buying Microsoft’s services

The company will stop offering Silver and Gold partner designations when the new program opens, although old badges won’t disappear overnight: Current partners have until Sept. 30 to renew their enrolment in the existing Silver or Gold levels, and will be allowed to use those designations for up to a year after that.

From Oct. 3, qualifying members in one or other of the six solution areas will be known as “Solutions Partners,” while labels for “specializations” and “expert programs” will enable them to differentiate their offerings with additional technical capabilities, meaning CIOs will have to learn a whole new nomenclature to help them find the right partners.

Capability score

To earn the Solutions Partner designation, a vendor needs to achieve a “partner capability score” of at least 70 points out of 100 in at least one of the six solution areas. Points are awarded independently in each of the six areas for certifications, customers added, successful deployments, and overall growth.

Although the new program doesn’t formally begin until October, partners already have access to a dashboard showing the areas in which they need to pick up extra points to improve their score.

Clark urged partners to check out the dashboard today, and “start immediately taking steps and engaging on how they can meet the requirements if they don’t meet them already,” so CIOs can expect a flurry of activity from the partners that don’t yet meet the new qualifying criteria as they seek new certifications for their staff, rush to complete existing projects for customers, and hurry to sign deals that will help them grow their revenue and customer base.

The Microsoft Partner Network has 400,000 members, and although the company has calculated all their scores for its dashboard, Clark was evasive about how many of them have already made the grade, saying only that “Every partner has an opportunity to qualify for Solutions Partner, as well as specialized and expert.”

Customers won’t be able to consult the scores (although they can always ask). They will only be able to see which solution areas a vendor qualifies as a Solutions Partner.

Microsoft is investing in technical workshops and other support to help partners meet the requirements, Clark said. The company has committed to increasing its spending on helping partners achieve specializations in business applications, Azure, security, compliance, and identity by 250%.

Despite its rebranding as the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, membership will continue to be open to all partners, “whether they build and sell services, whether they build and sell software solutions or devices,” he said.

Living month to month

Unrelated to the cloud partner program changes, CIOs buying Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Power Platform, or Windows 365 seat-based subscriptions through cloud solutions providers may encounter pressure to switch from annual to monthly terms — and if they do, it’s not a good sign.

That’s because of some wrinkles in Microsoft’s New Commerce Experience (NCE), which since March 10, 2022, is the only way for cloud solutions providers to transact new business for Teams Essentials and other seat-based offers.

Called on to explain NCE provisions that force partners and resellers to continue payment of outstanding fees for multi-year commitments in the case of customer bankruptcy, Clark said that the company had recently introduced new monthly terms and is asking its partners to assess the credit risk of their customers.

“Credit risk has always been a part of this ecosystem and now in New Commerce, what we’re saying to partners is, ‘Hey, if there’s a question as to whether or not a customer has the ability to manage beyond month to month, they should be on a monthly subscription versus an annual one,” he said.