New chief, new prospects for Microsoft Canada

The man expected to take over as Microsoft Canada’s new president in 2006 is well positioned to strengthen relationships with channel partners, an industry analyst says.

Over the past year, Microsoft has been “making a lot of noise” about putting more resources into partner programs, said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst, Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont. With his track record, the new Canadian chief would be effective in enforcing that.

Phil Sorgen, currently general manager for Microsoft’s U.S. Enterprise Sales Operations, is expected to take over from incumbent Microsoft Canada president Dave Hemler in January.

Hemler cited personal reasons for moving back to the U.S., but will remain with Microsoft in “another leadership capacity.”

Levy said Sorgen’s initiative in establishing the Microsoft Certified Solution Provider Partner Program at Microsoft’s South Central District makes him ideal to lead the software company in further building relationships with Canadian partners.

“This is a very strong sign for the company that they are going to continue in this direction and they really do value who they do business with as they drive products into the market,” the analyst said.

There are currently 12,800 technology companies signed on to Microsoft Canada’s Certified Partner program, providing products, services and support to the market using Microsoft technologies.

Two of Microsoft Canada’s Gold Certified Partners – Montreal-based Nakisa Inc. and OnX Enterprise Solutions in Thornhill, Ont. – have expressed satisfaction with Microsoft Canada’s partner program, saying this has been the company’s go-to-market strategy for some time.

“If the new president has the same kind of strategy of working with partners to go to market, I think that will be great for us,” said Nakisa CEO Babak Varjavandi.

He is specifically happy with Microsoft’s recent efforts to introduce non-U.S. partners into the American market, providing them with greater business opportunities.

OnX has been a Microsoft partner since the early 90s and has generally been satisfied with its relationship with Microsoft.

“A new guy coming in always creates a challenge for the partners, but in some cases, sometimes change is good – people bring in new ideas that can help the partnership in the future,” said Lasse Silegren, OnX vice president for professional services.

While he admitted that it might be too early to comment on Sorgen’s management capabilities, Silegren said his company does not expect the new president to veer away from Microsoft’s partner-focused strategy.

Sorgen began his career in Microsoft in 1996 as an account executive, subsequently rising to the rank of general manager of Microsoft’s U.S Gulf Coast District in 2000.

“During Phil’s time as general manager of the Gulf Coast District, his organization was one of the fastest growing districts in the United States,” said outgoing president Hemler in a letter to IT World Canada.

Sorgen is also a member of the company’s U.S. Leadership Team, which drives overall sales, enterprise partner, inside sales, commercial licensing and industry organizations, Hemler said.

Simplifying its licensing structure is also another area where Sorgen should focus on as he takes over the reigns at Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., said Levy, adding that many companies are still struggling to stay on top of their licensing situations.

He said Microsoft’s Software Assurance (SA) – a software maintenance program – is a great step in that direction, but the software company needs to “continue that significantly because licensing still remains an area of confusion for many companies.”

“Microsoft has started (improving its licensing structure) over the last year, but there is huge opportunity to educate its client base on proper licensing, simplifying how its offerings are structured and on keeping that educational volume up so the level of confusion continues to come down,” said Levy.

In a paper titled, Calculating the Value of Software Assurance, Forrester Research Inc.’s Julie Giera said many customers surveyed were unsure of the program’s value, despite recent enhancements to it.

While SA does have significant merit, said Giera, Microsoft customers must be able to fully understand and implement the program’s features to drive that value.

“Companies that exploit SA can reduce their IT budgets, improve end-user productivity and satisfaction, increase system availability, and drive thousands of dollars of value to the bottom line,” she said.

Another area that Sorgen could focus on in 2006 is establishing the company’s position as a services-based company. This remains to be the biggest threat to the future of the software company, said Levy.

He said Microsoft has merely played catch-up while its “more agile” competitors have already established leadership in Web services applications, developments and deployments in recent years. “Microsoft needs to move very quickly here to establish its own position in the market.”

The Info-Tech analyst acknowledged, however, that the company has started to recognize this threat and have made some strategic movements toward responding to it.

He cited Microsoft’s recent announcement on its new Web services offerings, such as Windows Live and Office Live, speak well of that realization.

He cautioned, though, “in 2006 and beyond, Microsoft needs to cohesively deliver on this strategy,” and how Canada plays in that strategy will soon be in the hands of its incoming president.

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