Microsoft is rearranging its partner programme to include a third tier of smaller partners, called Registered Partners, as well as the current Certified and Gold Certified partners, it said on Monday.
Partners will now be able to accrue Partner Points, based on their technical and business skills, in order to become Registered, Certified or Gold Certified Partners, Microsoft said. This change has been based on feedback from partners that were asking Microsoft to create more opportunities for smaller partners, the company said.
Microsoft has also launched a range of skill set definitions, or "competencies”, to let each partner identify its areas of specialisation, market these to customers and also work more easily with Microsoft marketing initiatives, it said. These competencies include: Advanced Infrastructure Services, Business Intelligence Solutions, Information Worker Productivity Solutions, Integrated E-business Solutions, ISV (independent software vendor)/Software Solutions, Learning Solutions, Security Solutions and Networking Infrastructure Solutions.
Microsoft Business Solutions, OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Hardware Solutions and Licensing and Software Asset Management Solutions competencies will be introduced to the programme later in 2004.
The new points system has been running unofficially for the past two to three months, and has been "a breath of fresh air," Peter Bunyan, managing director of Certified Partner Micropoint Systems in Reading, England, said on Monday.
Network and communications systems integrator Micropoint has been a Microsoft Certified partner for seven years but has never had much of a relationship with the software giant, Bunyan said. With the new programme, Micropoint now finds itself with an account manager and a business plan developed alongside Microsoft, and is in line to become a Gold Certified partner. While Gold status "won't make a blind bit of difference to existing customers it'll help us win new customers, and it's the only way to get leads through Microsoft”, Bunyan said.
There are so many Certified partners listed on Microsoft's site that buyers looking for high level expertise only search for Gold Certified, Bunyan said. When Micropoint joined seven years ago, there would have been little need for an interim Registered partnership, because Certified partner status "wasn't particularly difficult, though it did tighten up as the years went by”, he said.
"I feel very positive about (the changes to the program). It's changed my view of Microsoft," Bunyan said. "I still wouldn't say it's all that high, but the fact is you can't live without them.”
A Web site has been set up to give partners access to marketing materials and news groups, telephone and online support and access to discounted software.