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Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.


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July 21, 2020 |

Microsoft Keeps Partner Program Changes to a Minimum at Inspire 2020

To avoid imposing further disruption on partners already impacted by the coronavirus, the industry giant is announcing few significant changes to the Microsoft Partner Network at this year’s all-virtual partner conference.

No news, Microsoft believes, will be good news this year for its partners. With a pandemic raging, work-from-home challenges persisting, and cloud adoption soaring, the company has few major changes in store for its partner program, whose members already have their hands full at the moment.

“We’ve actually been trying to stay fairly consistent year over year,” says Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organization. “We know that change, no matter whether change is great or not, it’s something people have to pay attention to, and right now we want them to be paying attention to just keeping their business running and customers.”

Schuster spoke with members of the media last week on the eve of the Microsoft Inspire partner event, which takes place today and tomorrow. The conference is being held online rather than in person due to the coronavirus. That change is among the smallest ways Microsoft and its channel have been affected by COVID-19 in recent months, notes Schuster, who has been impressed by the creativity partners have exhibited in helping customers adapt to dire, abrupt, and completely unanticipated circumstances.

“When the world really started to change around us, our Microsoft partners really have stepped up,” she says. “They’ve really been pivoting their business to help customers figure stuff out.”

In particular, she continues, channel pros have worked swiftly to help companies with closed offices implement business continuity plans, secure remote workers, and migrate critical workloads into the cloud. 

“Those were the same kinds of solutions that our partners were building pre-COVID-19, and they have been able to accelerate their delivery to customers,” Schuster says. “They’ve been able to scale up in ways that I didn’t think was possible, and in many cases, when I talked to them, they didn’t think was possible.”

Deploying products in the Microsoft 365 suite to organizations desperate for remote productivity tools has been one of those crash efforts. Microsoft Teams, in particular, had some 75 million daily active users as of late April, up from 44 million on March 18th. Microsoft is expected to report even higher numbers this Wednesday when it posts results for the fourth quarter of its 2020 fiscal year. 

According to Schuster, demand for Windows Virtual Desktop, the cloud-based desktop-as-a-service offering launched last September, is up sharply as well. “It just took off like a rocket as a result of COVID-19,” she says. “Again, this is one of those areas where our partners had plans, but they greatly accelerated their plans.”

To keep cloud rollouts happening despite the steep recession triggered by the pandemic, Schuster added, Microsoft introduced free promotional offers for Microsoft 365 earlier this year. New users of that platform with over 300 seats, for example, could get the first six months of a one-year subscription to the Office 365 E1 plan at no cost. A similar offer let partners offer newcomers to the Microsoft cloud with less than 300 seats six free months of Microsoft 365 Business Basic with a one-year subscription.

“The customers that they’re trying to bring up online with Teams can’t afford to pay them for Teams right now,” Schuster observes. “The partners can’t afford to pay us if the customers don’t pay them.”

Microsoft has taken other steps to support partners this year, she adds. In April, for instance, the company announced that Microsoft Partner Network members whose competency anniversary date falls between January 1 and June 30 will retain those credentials through their 2021 anniversary. Partners unable or unwilling to take classes in person can access all of Microsoft’s training courses online now too.

“As a result, we’ve actually exceeded all our expectations on the number of partner people that we’ve been able to train and certify over this last quarter, and essentially over the last year,” Schuster says.

For many partners, entering a new fiscal year without major changes to Microsoft’s partner program will be a welcome contrast to 12 months ago, when the company surprised and infuriated many in its channel by reducing internal use rights to Microsoft software and raising requirements for earning silver and gold competencies. Schuster, responding to widespread complaints among partners, revoked those changes days after they went into effect. Since then, Microsoft has adopted new governance procedures aimed at preventing another, similar blowup from happening in the future.

“Our intention is if it’s going to be a change that would significantly impact a partner’s business, we need to give them at least a year to be able to accommodate to that,” Schuster says. Partner program leaders who wish to revise rules or benefits must also collect feedback from partners in advance.

“They have to have a certain amount of partner research, both qualitative and quantitative, complete before we will consider making a change,” Schuster notes.

This year’s Inspire is the first Microsoft partner conference held entirely online and open to anyone—including end users—free of charge. Attendees must normally pay thousands of dollars per ticket.

“The number of registrations has exploded,” Schuster says. “It’s far exceeded our expectations.”

Content at Inspire has been modified in response to the pandemic as well. “We’re running a number of virtual workshops on how they can do remote selling, how they think about bringing their own people back to work, how they optimize their productivity, and supporting them in that way,” Schuster says.

Microsoft made a wide array of product announcements today at Inspire, including the addition of a new list-building app to Microsoft 365, the introduction of new integration and administrative enhancements for Microsoft Teams, and the launch of a new solution for safely transitioning remote workers back to the office.

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