Written by Rob Quickenden, Cisilion’s Chief Technology Officer

Microsoft announced that they are evolving the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) partner program to “deliver what partners need to innovate, grow their businesses, and deliver on the promise of digital transformation for customers across organisations and industries”.

Among other things, this will mean that the current silver and gold competencies will take a back foot, strengthening the focus on partners to attain Advanced Specialisations. This follows on from controversial changes to the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program with their New Commerce Experience (NCE) platform, whereby a premium on pay monthly Microsoft 365 subscriptions was introduced, aimed – in part – to driving longer-term partner-to-customer relations.

The changes reflect Microsoft’s investments in the cloud as a strategic growth area, and the need to align partners with the evolving requirements and buying patterns of customers”, according to Rodney Clark, Corporate vice president of Channel Sales.









The new ‘Cloud Partner Program’

From October 2022, the 15-year-old Microsoft Partner Network will become the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, focusing on six key areas:

  • Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence
  • Azure Infrastructure
  • Azure digital and app innovation
  • Business Applications
  • Modern Work
  • Security

The three Azure-related solutions partner designations will also become prerequisites for the Azure Expert MSP from October 2022, creating a bunch of work and certs for existing MSPs to stay ‘compliant’.

As such, Gold and Silver Partners are no more.

Under the new Cloud Partner Program, Microsoft said that they will be retiring the current Silver and Gold competencies to help differentiate and place them beyond a baseline partner “network membership” status.

Instead, the focus will be around Advanced Specialisations, something Microsoft has been banging the drum about for a while – with many partners questioning where these were heading, which has now become clear.

The new two-level program will continue to be open to Microsoft’s current partners — resellers, systems integrators, managed services providers, device partners and independent software vendors — but Microsoft is changing the way it categorises them to signal their cloud expertise and experience to customers. Those partners are a critical part of Microsoft’s success.



New Partner Categories

Microsoft is also altering the way that their partners are identified and recognised with regards to partner capability with two different qualifying levels.

The solutions partner level is a designation that is based on the partner meeting specific requirements across a new partner capability score, which is measured across each of the six solution areas.

This partner capability score rank partners’ technical skills and cloud performance, based on KPIs, including their certificationsnew customers added, successful deployments and overall growth. The score will be a telemetry-based calculation based on reporting through their Partner Center portal and partners must earn at least 70 points out of 100 to earn the designation. Partners will be able to access the portal to see their current progress toward that goal.

Specialisations and expert programs (similar to the Advanced Specialisations and Azure Expert programs) will allow solution partners to differentiate and to demonstrate deep technical expertise and experience in specific technical scenarios under each solution area.



Changes will take effect slowly

Over the next 6 months, Microsoft will start transitioning to the new partner program model which will also change its name from “Microsoft Partner Network” to the “Microsoft Cloud Partner Program.

Moreover, they stressed that there will be no immediate changes to partners’ business or program statuses, including anniversary dates.

Partners have until September 30th to decide whether to join the transition to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program or renew their legacy Microsoft Partner Network benefit status for one last year if they need more time to prepare for the transition.



Other Changes and Investments

Microsoft emphasised in the announcement yesterday that, in addition to renewing the benefits that partners already use and rely on, they are making them more customised.

Vital benefits, like Internal User Rights, are not going away – something they attempted to remove several years ago which was overturned when partners went into up-roar – but they will now be called ‘product benefits’. These will continue to include on-premises licenses, cloud service subscriptions and Azure credit and said, “in fact, we’re increasing investment in our program by more than 25%.



Closing thoughts

Like any change, people may be quick to judge and critic, but as a Gold Partner with 11 Microsoft Competencies, these changes are good in my opinion and reflect the future direction of digital transformation, as well as the way in which organisations like us want and need to work with partners.

We have time to adapt, and I suspect the program will be tweaked further too, as partners provide feedback. Microsoft is a different beast to traditional hardware partners like Cisco and Dell for example. Personally, however, I have found that Microsoft gives its partners a great amount of commitment, investment, and love. Partner benefits such as commercial incentives, training, Internal Use Rights and (as a top-tier managed partner) strategic account and technical development, for us at Cisilion, make the Microsoft Partner Program one of the best in terms of true partnership.

That said, Microsoft is a complicated beast, with lots of pockets of preferential partners, old operating models, outdated and siloed systems and fragmented partner resources (Yammer, Partner Centre etc.). We are lucky being a managed partner since our partner manager works closely with us and helps us navigate through these challenges.

The new competency and specialisation driven programs, in my view are more relevant than the current ones and make sense.

The ink is still drying on the announcement of course and my views may change as we get to grips with the changes, impact, and investment we, as partners need to make to transition to the changes.



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