Microsoft to introduce points program to VARs

NEW ORLEANS — In an effort to cater to the SMB market, Microsoft has rolled out a revamped partner program and released Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003.

The revamped program, which is expected to be in full swing by next

year, gives more than 800,000 Microsoft resellers access to special perks and points through earned competencies.

The company has invested about US$1.5 billion into the program, hosted 48 focus groups and sought input from over 1,000 partners, said Don Nelson, general manager of Microsoft’s worldwide partner group.

The competency categories include network infrastructure; advanced infrastructure; information worker productivity; integrated e-business solutions; business intelligence; security solutions; ISV software solutions; learning solutions; Microsoft Business Solutions; licence and software asset management; and OEM hardware solutions.

Given that 95 per cent of Microsoft revenue comes through partners, the company wants to “”build momentum”” with the channel, Allison Watson, Microsoft’s vice-president of worldwide partner group, told more than 5,000 attendees at the company’s worldwide partner conference. This year the event combines two conventions: Fusion (running since 1997) and Stampede (first kicked off in 1982).

“”Partners are the way our business has turned into a real business value for customers,”” Watson said, indicating the company has taken partner feedback (in part the negative criticism that Microsoft doesn’t listen to its VARs) and responded with its next-generation partner program.

“”We’ve been listening,”” she said, adding partners have asked for help with business direction; share in their risk; a simplified engagement process; and help with selling Microsoft products and tools against the competition.

Under the plan, Microsoft will take a host of things into consideration including customer satisfaction, a reseller’s influence on the sale, and their expertise in specialized areas. Once the points system is in place, which is expected in the second quarter, Microsoft plans to make portal enhancements, she added.

“”This signals a new era of partnership,”” she said. “”It’s a new partner program that addresses the challenges — it’s designed from a partner point-of-view — and recognizes your commitments.””

The idea, she said, is to improve the relationship with the companies that sell software and services to the SMB space.

One of these companies is Barrie, Ont.-based Interprom Computer Technologies. Spokesman Gavin Steiner told Computer Dealer News at the show that the new partner program and official launch of SBS bodes well for his business, giving the smaller fish in the sea a chance to earn accreditation and reward points.

He said the partner program is ideal because it will take more than sales volumes into account. “”It’s opening up benefits to more partners — especially us dealing on the smaller scale. It will set standards and goals, and offer physical incentives using the points system as a gauge.””

SBS, he added, will give his business “”repeatable services”” as well as a chance to make money on the maintenance side by offering remote monitoring for a fixed price. “”With monitoring and maintaining on a monthly basis, they know they are being taken care of.””

The remote support options are an attractive selling point for small businesses, he added. “”It’s one of the things my clients are looking for — to not be locked to a desk makes for a happier employer.””

Microsoft to curtail patches

Microsoft head honcho Steve Ballmer said in his keynote address that partners are asking for enhanced security and want better patch management. He said partners and customers want Microsoft to provide guidance and training, and mitigate vulnerabilities without patches.

“”Security is our No. 1 priority. Patches are proliferating and that’s an issue. The time to exploit is decreasing and the exploits are more sophisticated. The current approach is not sufficient.””

As part of the company’s security roadmap, Ballmer said the idea is to reduce complexity and offer a one-patch experience. “”Move to one patch from 63.””

Other plans include the rollout of Software Update Server 2.0, a corporate patch deployment server and service, updates to Microsoft Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, as well as global education programs to provide partners with tools for securing systems.

And while improving patch management is a positive step, Ballmer said he wants to move beyond patching. “”We want to make customers more resilient to attack when patches are not installed.”” The perimeter needs protected against malicious e-mail and Web content, viruses and worms, and buffer overrun attacks, he added.

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Wolston is a social media and SEO enthusiast. He has previously worked with brands like Gillette and Channel V. He is passionate about gadgets and loves the internet served with a hot cup of coffee.

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