A number of Australian Microsoft partners have welcomed the vendor’s announcements at its Inspire conference last week, though one saw room for improvement in the ISV Success program.
Microsoft unveiled a swathe of new product offerings and partner programs at its 2022 Inspire conference, with the new Digital Contact Centre Platform and Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty headlining the announcements.
The Digital Contact Centre Platform combines technology from Teams, Azure and other portfolio products with newly acquired voice-to-text company Nuance Communications to bring in AI to power self-service and live customer engagements, collaborative experiences with live and virtual agents, business process automation, fraud prevention and advanced telephony.
Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty is a new public sector offering, allowing public sector customers to build and transform workloads in the Microsoft Cloud while meeting compliance, security and policy requirements.
Other new product offerings included Teams Connect Shared Channels, Excel Live, video clips and collaborative annotations for Teams, Viva Goals and Viva Engage for Teams.
Microsoft also bumped up incentives Azure Migration and Modernisation Program (AMMP), added new benefits to the ISV Success Program and launched a dedicated Azure Space Partner Community.
CRN spoke to Australian channel partners to discuss how these announcements would impact their businesses:
Alexander Liffers, Illuminance Solutions
Liffers said the Microsoft Digital Contact Centre Platform was the highlight announcement for Illuminance Solutions.
“We’re looking forward to it becoming available to try some ideas through proofs-of-concept that are more lateral than the obvious ‘call centre’ type scenarios for sales and support. Telehealth services, not only medical but also disability and mental, are slowly gaining acceptance in Australia, which is excellent given how vast and sparse this continent is.
“The proof will be how well it performs with Australia’s unique challenges, including our well-documented internet speeds, rural connectivity, and challenges for usability, and for some features such as voice recognition and identification with the sheer quantity of accents we have, especially the indigenous. We’re looking forward to the ‘coming soon’ banner coming down.”
Regarding the ISV Success programme, Liffers said it "will require some review and revision. Microsoft has not got the best recent track record with partners. The last two or three partner conferences have all come with some level of change to the partner community that has made it very clear to us that they see us as a potential direct source of revenue while at the same time asking us to iron out all the kinks in their new technology by placing us at the cold front facing customers directly.
“They wanted to remove all internal use rights for partners’ use and learn their products and services to be better solution providers, which they rolled back. They altered their commercial marketplace by demanding a percentage of all sales in return for very hollow benefits, of which the most useful was perpetually ‘coming soon’.
“Their recent announcement of the New Commerce Experience (NCE) was wildly unpopular, for which partners wore most of the wrath before they ‘indefinitely delayed’ the forced migration of existing customers. Finally, the point system for the Solutions Partner model changes from the old Silver/Gold status system is proving challenging. Customers are engaging multiple partners, and partners are battling each other instead of working together for those precious points.”
On the Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty, Liffers said Illuminance wants to see it become more broadly available to some non-government customers.
“We would like to see these features becoming more broadly available, such as to private organisations that deliver government programs through grants, that have the same sovereignty requirements, and health and community services that hold a lot of health and financial records. The Australian Privacy Act and associated Australian Privacy Principles apply to all organisations operating in Australia. Between those and the National Data Breach notification scheme, data sovereignty is a hot topic outside of just government customers.”
Liffers welcomed Microsoft Teams additions, though expressed some scepticism about the Microsoft Viva employee experience platform.
“We continue to welcome the ongoing changes to Teams. The jury is still out on the actual value of the Viva platform overall, which always draws interest. Still, for now, it remains not very extensible and less relevant to the industries we operate with than it could be.
“Similarly to the Teams Connect Shared Channels also announced, they seem to be targeted at smaller organisations, providing them [with] many rich features at a lower cost than engaging with a Microsoft Partner to provide a more tailored solution. At first glance, this seems ironic for their worldwide partner conference, Inspire, but their partners that provide managed services would benefit from this.”
Scott Gosling, Data#3
Gosling said the Digital Contact Centre Platform was a welcome addition, offering an upgrade to Data#3’s Dynamics 365-based contact centre solution.
“Data#3’s Business Applications Development team has delivered contact centre solutions based on the Dynamics 365 platform, however, there was a lack of native integration with Microsoft’s other cloud platform offerings to make the experience of the customer service agent simpler.
“The new announcements address many of the solution silos in existing contact centre solutions. By leveraging the new AI capability of voice to text, an agent can provide more effective self-service with live or virtual agents. As Data#3 also has a strong Modern Work practice, we can integrate Teams Voice solutions for contact centre and build rich analytics solutions through our Data & Analytics practice to support effective decision making.
Gosling added the Microsoft Viva announcements demonstrate that Microsoft will continue their investments into this employee experience platform. “With remote working teams and resulting reduced personal interaction, building virtual communities and personal connection and wellbeing is important going forwards.”
He also welcomed the ISV Success program, citing Data#3’s large ecosystem of third-party ISV partners.
“The ISV Success Program will be important in building joint solutions for our shared customers. We already participate with Microsoft in the Commercial Marketplace, with the ability to set up cloud sandboxes to evaluate solutions and the technical and business resources will be beneficial to our customers to ensure the application is the right fit for their business.”
Ken Struthers, Barhead Solutions
Struthers also welcomed the Digital Contact Centre. “The Digital Contact Centre brings together such a rich array of capabilities and features that no one customer has been asking for all of it, although the key elements of simple, secure, scalable, personalised, and AI driven contact centres are a constant topic of conversation. Delivering this in the context of Teams voice with the ability to swarm across operators will be amazing.
“The addition of Nuance capabilities to use biometric authentication and predict customer intent is a game changer for providing streamlined and intelligent self-service.”
Struthers added Barhead’s product team is working with the ISV Success program and said it looked “promising”.
“We are excited by the idea that it will take our contract lifecycle and matter management solution, Consensus, to the global market faster as well as make our development investments more streamlined.”
He also welcomed Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty, arguing it was proof that Microsoft was listening to Barhead’s customers.
“Data Security and Sovereignty as an ever-escalating conversation with our Government customers. Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty is a clear example of Microsoft listening to our customers and investing to provide them secure and scalable access to the technology components that they need to enhance their missions.”
David Lee, Arinco
“We're very excited about the ISV Success Program, as this is something we've already been working closely with Microsoft on and has great synergies with our goal of helping organisations accelerate their innovation with cloud-native technologies.
“Digital natives, ISVs and even partners like us will benefit with the big investments that Microsoft have made in the Marketplace to facilitate low friction B2B transactions. This investment aligns with the trend that we're seeing with more modern, savvy organisations looking to utilise more digital focused channels to procure software and services compared with more traditional sales channels.”
Lee also welcomed the Digital Contact Centre, saying it was a “great showcase of the breadth of the Microsoft cloud stack”.
“[Digital Contact Centre] reiterates what we've always advised our customers: that there is much to be gained from adopting cloud-native technologies and leveraging the interconnectivity and integrations that these technologies provide. Low friction integration equates to faster delivery of solutions that addresses various business requirements.”
Steve Johns, Lab3
“[It was] great to see the commitment to ISV and SaaS. Microsoft has been talking about the need for partners to package their IP for quite a few years. Our Dr Migrate offering is a great example of an ANZ partner, packaging our IP, and taking it to market not only locally but globally.”
“This is not possible if we were to remain only a services company. By packaging our work into IP, we can delight more customers and give them a consistent proven positive experience, and expand globally.”
Johns called Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty “fantastic”, and also welcomed the upcoming opening of the new Azure data centre in New Zealand in 2023.
“For Lab3 and other partners, that is a significant market opportunity coming together through Microsoft Corp, Microsoft NZ and the NZ Government.”
“There is customer demand for an Azure public hyperscalers sovereign cloud. In anticipation of that opportunity, we are committed to investing ahead of the curve and growing our team in NZ. We’ve gone from zero to almost 50 people in 12 months!”
Johns also flagged the Azure Migration and Modernisation Program (AMMP), saying the improvements were “very important”.
“We have integrated the AMMP process right within our Dr Migrate offering. This helps customers by auto-generating a selection of applications and data that are easier/ready to move to Azure.
“Our Dr Migrate service will show customers the investment available through Microsoft to help them get started – we smooth out the transition from on-prem to Azure.”