Microsoft to rebrand its partner program and focus resellers further around its cloud

Microsoft is making big changes in certifying and scoring resellers. But so far, despite continued partner outcry, there have been no changes to the New Commerce Experience requirements.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft has been encouraging, cajoling, and easing its reseller partners into focusing on cloud offerings for well over a decade. But it wasn't until today, March 16, that Microsoft announced some coming partner program changes to make that focus truly front and center.

Microsoft officials said the current Partner Network is comprised of more than 400,000 global organizations around the world. Partners act as Microsoft's primary salesforce even though Microsoft has and continues to compete with them on some fronts, especially when it comes to anything involving the largest customers. 

Microsoft is announcing today that it will be changing the name of its partner program in October 2022 from "Microsoft Partner Network" to the "Microsoft Cloud Partner Program." Microsoft officials also will be changing the areas in which partners will be certified, qualified and scored as part of what officials are calling "the first material change to the Microsoft Partner Network in 15 years."

One part of its partner program to which Microsoft didn't announce changes -- to the chagrin of many upset partners -- is around its ongoing transition to the New Commerce Experience (NCE). Partners have continued to complain loudly in public and private about many of the changes rolling out via NCE.

Today's partner program changes were all about presenting a unified cloud front. Currently, Microsoft's partner program revolves around a competency-based model. The new program will focus on how proficient partners are in six solution areas aligned with the Microsoft Cloud. The Microsoft Cloud is what officials formerly called the commercial cloud. It includes Microsoft 365/Office 365, Azure, Dynamics 365, and other cloud-based Microsoft business services. The six areas of proficiency are Data & AI (Azure), Infrastructure (Azure), Digital & App Innovation (Azure), Business Applications, Modern Work, and Security.

Under the new program, there will no longer be a baseline "member" status plus Silver and Gold competencies and "advanced specializations." Competencies will be phased out and replaced by two new qualifying levels beyond baseline: Solutions Partner and Specialist/Expert. And Microsoft will move to a new partner capability score and drop its current Partner Contribution Indicator score.

Meanwhile, Microsoft officials have had nothing new to say about the NCE initiative which it is in the midst of implementing, much to the displeasure of many of its current partners. 

Microsoft introduced the NCE model -- which streamlines how partners license and customers purchase products -- is in the midst of being implemented across Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Windows 365, and the Power Platform. Under the NCE, partners, distributors, and end users will be required to go with annual, not monthly contracts, which can go up but not down. If customers go out of business, partners are left holding the bag for any Microsoft licenses they agreed to purchase.

"My larger customers don't know what their counts will be 12 months from now - I would like Microsoft to tell us how many of their customers actually know what their counts will be - or what their IT environment will look like - in 2 years," said Christopher Regan, Managing Partner with partner B&R Business Solutions. "I am yet to meet one customer that appreciates this. As many have said 'things were working, why did they have to go and change things and mess it all up?!'"

Another Microsoft partner, Nick Whittome, a former Microsoft MVP, MD, and owner of NTES Limited, recently tweeted about his dissatisfaction with NCE.

"Tying Partners, Distributors and end users into annual contracts that can go up, but not down, with no protection for liquidation etc. I've never had so many requests for going back to Google. What a mess!

"Currently, as a MSP (Managed Service Provider), I have my own legal people reviewing the whole liquidation thing. How can a distributor > Microsoft tie a MSP into a contract in the event of an end user going out of business. Liquidation / insolvency / bankruptcy (sp) laws are pretty clear."

Like Whittome, I'm hearing rumors Microsoft is well aware of the anger over NCE and could make some modifications to the program in the coming months. But for now, there are no "we heard your feedback" admissions happening from the Microsoft partner organization over this one.

Update (March 18): It looks like Microsoft is giving in on at least one ill-received NCE provision. The cancellation period of 72 hours (after which a partner would be liable for new subscriptions purchased by their customers) is now 7 days instead. Thanks to Microsoft licensing expert Rich Gibbons, for the heads-up.

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