by Seth Fineberg

Microsoft Business Solutions resellers and even third-party vendors don’t seem to mind that the release of the company’s next-generation accounting product — Project Green — is further delayed, or the lack of details available about MBS’s new Competencies and Partner Points channel programs.

Many resellers had expressed skepticism about their future with MBS after only limited MBS-specific information about product direction and channel strategy came out of last fall’s Worldwide Partner Conference. That, combined with several quarters of lackluster sales, had some resellers seriously on the fence.

Project Green, which was expected to be released this year, now will most likely not be available until 2006.

But despite that large speed bump, many MBS channel partners have noticed a marked turnaround in the company’s treatment of the channel this year. And, after hearing the information coming out of the recent Convergence conference and the Worldwide MBS Partner Summit, resellers are even more encouraged.

Greg Price, chief executive of PKF Texas — the technology consulting arm of Houston-based CPA firm Pannell Kerr Forster — is one of a growing number of resellers feeling more confident about being an MBS reseller these days — specifically for the Navision product he carries.

“It has really been a 180-degree turn for MBS. We are personally getting more attention than we have, and there’s definitely more attention to Navision since the acquisition, which will be two years ago this summer,” Price said. “It also helps that people are buying again. It is a strong year so far for us, and in the first quarter we are already on track to exceed our revenue estimates.”

Price stressed that his attitude is a far cry from even two quarters ago, when sales were down and little to no product direction information came out at the Worldwide Partner Conference. He was also pleased to hear about support for the current MBS product line that will extend for at least another 10 years.

At this year’s Convergence confab — an MBS-specific event — most product direction concerns were quelled by Doug Burgum, the division’s senior vice president, who has typically given speeches focused more on motivation than product direction and strategy.

In a recent interview, Burgum said that Project Green is “completely dependent on Longhorn,” the company’s next-generation operating system, and that Longhorn may not ship until at least 2006. But he also stressed how MBS promised to support its existing accounting software lines (Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon) until 2013.

“You keep selling all of them [the existing accounting products] because you are making money on them. It’s a portfolio management approach,” Burgum said. “We are feeding R&D through the sale of existing products. It’s not about getting people to switch products. While we are developing a new product, we have four streams driving profitability.”

Channel partners like Bill Dean, of North Haven, Conn.-based Accounting System Resources, don’t seem to mind that Green is delayed, and are focusing more on “the new face of MBS” and the clearer message that he is hearing of late.

“I was there through most of Convergence, and they were really upbeat. They gave enough information and you left feeling better,” Dean said. “I’m not sure what Green is going to look like, but I’m not that concerned. Longevity and viability of the company and products was communicated, and one of the big concerns was, ‘Oh, if these products are going away, why are you staying with them and MBS?’ but that’s just not the case now.”

Dean was also one of many who left frustrated from the Worldwide Partner Conference last fall, where thousands of classic Microsoft partners converged for the first time with the MBS channel.

New programs
Another key issue among channel partners was the lack of information available about a new MBS partner strategy designed to help partners advance further and reap more benefits from being a part of the MBS channel.

At last fall’s Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft announced that, starting Jan.1, 2004, partners would be evaluated on their value from customer feedback and business strategy, as well as sales volumes. These ratings will ultimately help a partner achieve “Gold Partner” status or better, affording them yet-to-be-defined benefits from Microsoft.

As of late April, partners had an opportunity to enroll in the program, which has two parts — Microsoft Competencies and Partner Points. Microsoft is also providing Webcasts and other tools and resources designed to help partners learn about the programs. Current partners are grandfathered into the program at their current level, providing them with time to explore the new Partner Points and model their current business.

“The Microsoft Competencies and Partner Points will help partners clearly identify their areas of expertise, making it easier for them to position themselves with their customers and better align their business with Microsoft marketing initiatives and business groups,” Allison Watson, vice president of the Worldwide Partner Sales and Marketing Group at Microsoft, said in a statement. “These two components mark the first step in delivering a revolution in partnering innovation and implementing it across our worldwide channel in an evolutionary way, meeting our goal to build the best-in-class industry partner program that generates results for our partners.”

What remains to be seen are specific details about program benefits and how it will work overall. MBS has been collecting feedback from its channel for several months, especially from Inner Circle partners like Terry Petrzelka, president of Tempe, Ariz.-based reseller Tectura.
Petrzelka still believes that MBS has some work to do with its new partner program, but is confident that it will all be worked out. Meanwhile, he too has been more positive about the feedback that he is getting from MBS executives.

“Microsoft is finally coming out and saying they are in business solutions. Tactical field marketing in all geographies is needed, and they are coming up with partner programs for that,” Petrzelka said. “As for the new partner program, we have suggested they put closure as to what Gold status means and give specifics about incentives. It will likely be no different from release 1.0 of anything, but could be something solid enough to build on.”

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