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Microsoft Cloud Partner Program & MSPs: AI, Security Options, More

We know what Microsoft has to offer certain partner types. But what about MSPs?

Jeff O'Heir

April 4, 2023

5 Min Read
artificial intelligence, machine learning
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“How can I get a Microsoft account rep?” That’s the No. 1 question Dan Rippey, program director of Microsoft’s cloud partner program, hears from MSPs. Lately, though, he’s hearing a lot of other questions. Those stem from changes to the company’s cloud solution provider (CSP) program; the Microsoft commerce incentive (MCI) program and new commerce experience (NCE); certification requirements; new AI solutions and other issues.

Rippey sat down with Channel Futures to help us answer some of those questions and to clarify Microsoft’s partner initiatives, incentives and intentions. We’ll post Rippey’s responses on CSP, MCI, NCE and the evolving role of distributors play in the coming days. In this excerpt from our interview, he discusses Microsoft’s focus on AI and the one change most MSPs will probably not see: more Microsoft account reps.

Rippey-Headshot-232x300.jpg

Microsoft’s Dan Rippey

“Could we give every partner a dedicated account rep? Yes, there’s a mechanism to do it. But I actually don’t think it’s needed because a lot of times partners have clarity on where they want to build the business,” he said. “What they need to find is which socket at Microsoft they want to plug into. The best advice I can give is to listen. Listen with intent on where Microsoft’s leaders are taking the company. Check out the official Microsoft blogs, and check out the chief partner officer blogs on the partner site. That is going to give partners crystal clarity of direction on where we head.”

Rippey on AI and Its Impact on MSPs

MSPs are hearing a lot about Microsoft AI products and solutions embedded within the Azure and Microsoft 365 ecosystems. The newly released Security Copilot for identifying and remediating attacks is generating strong buzz among MSPs.

“This is the next biggest thing,” Rippey said, comparing AI’s importance to high-speed internet, and cloud and mobility. “This is the next decade.”

MSPs realize that. Several told us they’re excited to build solutions around the technology. But some said they need more information from Microsoft prior to AI product releases to help them better strategize with their teams and communicate new AI solutions to their customers.

For now, it’s up to MSPs to find much of that information on Microsoft’s partner sites. They contain comprehensive AI resources and regular updates, Rippey said. He urges MSPs to search Microsoft’s AppSource marketplace for the latest AI apps that partners create for their customers. MSPs should start doing the same in areas that fit their competencies.

Microsoft Azure

“Microsoft is scrambling to get Azure services embedded around this and to deliver those into our partners’ hands so they can start the process of what they do best, which is ideation and creation,” he said. “We haven’t even seen the tip of the solutions that will come out in this new world.”

Microsoft also encourages MSPs to create solutions within its Modern Workplace ecosystem. That includes a specialization in AI.

“We’re looking for partners to come to the table with new solutions. I’d recommend every partner that’s in any paid program that we have  – our Action Pack program, our legacy silver and gold partners, our new solutions partners – to get Azure credits. Azure has just launched new AI services that are included with your benefit package,” Rippey said. “Partners should just get started. Give it to your dev teams, give it to your R&D folks, and tell them to start thinking about what your solutions look like in the future.”

Account Reps

One MSP that books about $2.5 million annually in Microsoft business told us that whole process would be a lot easier if he had an account rep to help his company navigate the complexities and answer important questions that arise when dealing with …

… any large vendor. Rippey understands those concerns.

“If you look at our legacy tools, they’re pretty hard to wade through,” he said.

But he does believe Microsoft has the online infrastructure to answer many questions and guide MSPs to a successful outcome.

“My advice on this is a pretty consistent drumbeat,” Rippey said. “Most partners don’t actually need (an account rep). When I dig into that question with partners, what I find is they’re looking for a Garmin navigation that can just give them turn-by-turn directions, even in an automated way, through our ecosystem. And that is where we have opportunity to deliver.”

Microsoft also integrated more partner information into its Learn platform, “where you can do anything you want to do as a partner,” Rippey said. “There’s an associated guidance that’s almost like a turn-by-turn direction sheet to help you work through how to do that.”

MSPs can earn more attention from Microsoft and its account reps by creating solutions for new technology areas aligned with the company’s latest go-to-market strategies, such as AI and modern work, Rippey said.

“We have incoming customer demand globally that we’re trying to service. And most of the time, Microsoft knows we’re not going to service that first-party,” he said. “We’re going to service that through our partners.”

Dezen Represents MSPs in Exec Boardroom

To help clarify its market position and better inform partners of technology releases and program changes, Microsoft last year named Nicole Dezen to the newly created role of chief partner officer. Dezen, who retains her role as corporate vice president global partner solutions, released her State of the Partner Ecosystem 2023 report last month. It outlines new technology and solutions investments, business application specializations, multiparty private offers through the marketplace, and new training and support services designations.

“That position now has a voice in the executive boardroom,” Rippey said. “It’s because she represents our entire ecosystem, the over 400,000 organizations that partner with us. When we talk to that organization, we’re trying to give that level of clarity and guidance to all of our partners.”

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About the Author(s)

Jeff O'Heir

Jeff O’Heir is a journalist and editor who has spent much of his career covering the business leaders, issues and trends that define the IT and consumer technology channels. His work in print, online and on stage has showcased, educated and connected small and large solution providers, MSPs, channel pros and vendors. During his career, Jeff has also covered engineering technologies and breakthroughs, crime, politics, food and the arts.

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