One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity I have to talk with our partners. The Microsoft Project partner ecosystem is dedicated, vast and highly skilled! They provide a great deal of insight on deployment, adoption and overall feedback which is important to us for business and product planning.

With many of our Project partners’ businesses doing really well given the industry Project Management demand, it gives us an opportunity to talk about the future. A common discussion topic is how partners should think about their business over the next few years with the explosion of devices, democratization of IT, shift to the cloud and constant desire for change and innovation with tight budgets. These factors aren’t Project or Microsoft specific rather they are relevant to the software industry.

In our discussions, two themes that generally emerge are Cloud and Partner-to-Partner opportunities. These incidentally were also the focus at WPC this year.

The Cloud. The word “cloud” is overloaded – it could mean Public Cloud (for eg. Office 365, Azure, Salesforce) or Private Cloud (for eg. Hyper-V, VMWare). And each one of these can be sub-segmented even further: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, etc. In any case, the reality is that the cloud is an important business consideration and a current technology trend. Microsoft is leading with the cloud and uniquely positioned to offer services for On-Premises and the Cloud. And whether you are a System Integrator (SI) or Independent Software Vendor (ISV), the cloud is something that you should consider for your product and business strategies. Here is one way to think about your business if you’re a partner that is enterprise focused today:

- Enterprise market. The cloud offers a new way for enterprises to deploy (eg. don’t have to install software, manage hardware, etc)  and purchase software (eg. pay subscription fee, don’t have to buy server hardware, etc). As a partner, this means you want to focus on business scenarios, adoption, interoperability, migration and customization. There’s a lot of opportunity in this space and an opportunity to engage your existing customers and help them move to the cloud.

- Small & Medium Business (SMB) market. The cloud offers a unique way to reach new customers that weren’t able to install and manage “enterprise” software in the past. In this case, these are potential new customers to the industry. And while this represents an entirely new opportunity space, the partner engagement and business model is quite different. SMB customers are not necessarily looking for deep engagements; rather, they are interested in lighter involvement to get their solution up and running. The number of users are much smaller than enterprise customers and in this space, you’re potentially looking at a larger volume of customers with less users each. If you’re a partner that’s traditionally focused on enterprise customers, the questions are 1) are you interested in the SMB market and 2) if you are, how will you transform your business to have lighter touch, higher volume engagements that are similar in nature to the SaaS business model of subscription payments?

Partner-to-Partner.
Think about how you can offer additional services and scale your business by partnering with other partners. Before you start reaching out to partners, think about the types of partnerships you need to be successful and then recruit and invest in select partners. Be thoughtful on what your business drivers are and which partnerships will help you build your business. For example, do you need to partner with a hoster? Do you need resellers? A training company? An outsourcing company? Or even someone in the same space as you with broader global reach? And while these questions seem very straightforward, many partners don’t invest the time to think about their own partner strategy. It’s important for someone on your leadership team to be thinking about P2P opportunities.