Solution providers are wrestling with the best way to add cloud computing to their areas of expertise, and Microsoft offered attendees at the XChange 2012 conference in the US some advice on how to make the transition.
Microsoft, which is in the midst of one of the biggest new-product launch years in the company's history, also offered attendees an exclusive look at some of the capabilities in the upcoming Windows 8 and Office 2013.
"The impact of the cloud on our business is that it's changing the conversations with our customers," said Jeff Turner, Microsoft's director of US SMB channel marketing. "It's no longer about selling IT value. It's about selling business value."
Turner also spoke about Microsoft's "Cloud Easy" program for partners who sell qualified online services. Customers of those solution providers receive rebate checks from Microsoft with the solution provider's name on it, which the customers can use to pay for the services. Qualified services include Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, Office 365 and Windows Intune.
Turner also brought to the stage David Geevaratne, co-founder of New Signature, a Washington D.C. Microsoft solution provider, which has become Microsoft's model for a cloud computing channel partner.
Microsoft has certified the rapidly growing company in 10 gold competencies and 10 silver competencies. Geevaratne attributed part of his company's success to Microsoft's Cloud Champions program, through which he said Microsoft has "invested" in his company and its work with Windows Intune, Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM Online.
Geevaratne said changing compensation models for his company's technical sales representatives was one strategy he used to help change the culture toward cloud computing.
"The way that we sell hardware and software is going away," he said, noting that compensation today is now based more on service revenue. "Because cloud has become so mainstream, we have less of the focus of the customer's budget being spent on servers and expensive software. And instead they can redirect the response to service revenue."
Geevaratne also praised Microsoft's Office 365 Open program announcement at last month's Worldwide Partner Conference. Partners are able to directly sell and bill for the Microsoft cloud application services, where previously Microsoft handled all the billing for Office 365, a practice some partners disliked because they said it came between them and their customers.
"It means that Microsoft actually listened to us, which is awesome," Geevaratne said. "We were desperate for a way we could better control the billing relationship. So now we're really excited about the opportunity to sell Office 365 [by working with] a distributor."
J.J. Antequino, a Microsoft partner technology advisor, demonstrated the capabilities of Windows 8 running on a Samsung Series 7 tablet computer. Windows 8 offers the "live tiles" user interface and a highly customizable look, Antequino said.
"And there's some cool ways I'm connected to the cloud," he added, showing off the links to Microsoft's SkyDrive online document storage and file sharing service. "Windows 8 is a great cloud-connective platform."
Antequino also demonstrated some of the applications in Office 2013, which is currently in preview mode. Outlook 2013, for example, is integrated with Bing Maps and Microsoft Lync communications software. The executive also demonstrated the new versions of Word, PowerPoint and OneNote in the new Office application suite.