**Editor's Note: Microsoft is banning trade media and analysts from Inspire 2018, so we will be covering the event remotely via virtual news briefings and collateral material.**
Microsoft One Commercial Partner (OCP) is showing some love to MSPs with the unveiling of the new Azure Expert Managed Service Provider (MSP) program, hammering away at the company’s all-in strategy to run everything as a service in – preferably – Azure.
The news comes ahead of Microsoft Inspire event in Las Vegas, July 15-19.
Participants in the new program will be experienced partners who have demonstrated advanced skills and the capability, and are able to deliver consistent, repeatable, high fidelity managed services on Azure.
“This will give customers the confidence when selecting a partner to help them with their digital-transformation journey,” said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president, OCP. “As more customers move to the cloud, they want partners to manage that infrastructure for them.”
Microsoft has more than 72,000 cloud partners.
Azure Expert MSPs are required to complete a rigorous, two-day onsite audit by an independent third-party and provide multiple customer references of Azure managed service projects delivered over the past year. To maintain a credential, the MSP partner must meet the annual prerequisites and complete a progress audit every year.
The new Azure Expert MSP qualification is the result of a pilot program that Microsoft ran last year with some of its MSP partners. Schuster says data from that pilot showed that customers start their cloud journey by moving one or two workloads to see how it works, then pick up the pace with consumption of new workloads.
“They basically say, 'Is this going to work?' — then they turn over the whole infrastructure to these partners to manage it for them,” she said.
Thirty MSP partners, such as New Signature, Capgemini and Infosys, are participating in the new Azure Expert MSP program.
Schuster also addressed some other new partner initiatives around the AppStore, its go-to-market, new credentials and AI.
Microsoft continues to make its AppSource marketplace more relevant to partners, calling it the “front door” for partners selling with the company. A couple of new capabilities include: the creation of integrated partner-to-partner solutions to enable solution providers to go end-to-end with and through each other and each other’s solutions; and the inclusion of consulting partner listings, beginning in Canada.
Microsoft also announced new ISV program offers — the ISV Starter Kit and ISV gold and silver competencies. These new offers target Microsoft partners who build packaged solutions and publish to AppSource or the Azure Marketplace.
Addressing the company’s go-to-market strategy, Schuster talked about new benefits that will help partners build their marketing practices, support them in generating leads, and improve their close rates.
Among the new resources are two new Cloud Practice Development Playbooks – Cloud Migration and Modernization, and Grow Your ISV Business with SaaS – adding to the existing six, which are: Cloud Application Development Playbook, Data Platform & Analytics, Cloud Infrastructure & Management, Enterprise Mobility & Security, Security Practice Development and AI Practice Development.
Microsoft also released new Digital Transformation eBooks: Engage Customers, Empower Employees, Optimize Operations and Transform Products.
In addition to the new Azure Expert MSP qualification, Microsoft announced a new advanced specialization — the modern-workplace competency. Coming soon is a small and midmarket cloud-solutions competency, and a Windows and devices competency.
“This allows a partner to differentiate if they do threat protection or GDPR, e-discovery or compliance management for things like Yammer or Teams; those are the kinds of services that customers will typically be looking for,” said Schuster.
Microsoft wants partners to help customers unlock their data to attain their digital-transformation goals; that’s where partners need to focus.
“Building AI services and unlocking the data that customers have hidden all over the organization,” said Schuster.
The vendor’s goal is to make AI accessible for everyone.
“We’re counting on our partner ecosystem around the globe to realize this significant opportunity, around AI, the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge,” she said, adding that it’s where partners are going to find their fortune and win in the digital-transformation era.
Microsoft is expanding its AI Inner Circle partner program to include ISVs, in addition to system integrators. The vendor also has been offering a three-day AI practice-development workshop worldwide.