Meet Robert Mc Dowell. Thirteen years ago he was hand-picked by Bill Gates to join Microsoft Corp. Today, McDowell deals directly with many of the company’s largest and most important clients, helping them identify how critical business problems can be solved through the application of Microsoft technologies. McDowell is currently on a new mission acting as a global spokesperson and evangelist for Microsoft’s new “culture shift” – a shift that could dramatically change how the Redmond-based software giant does business in future. As part of a global whirlwind tour, McDowell has shared his message with industry groups in every important global city from Sydney to Shanghai. He was in Toronto last week addressing a group of Canadian Microsoft certified partners. Joaquim P. Menezes, IT World Canada’s online editor reports on the man and his message.
“Less is more” appears to be the new philosophy governing Microsoft Corp.’s relationship with its re-seller partners in Canada, and across the world.
The software behemoth will be very picky about who it names as its partners in specific selling situations, according to Robert McDowell vice-president, information worker business value with Redmond, Wa-based Microsoft Corp.
A key exponent and evangelist for Microsoft’s “culture shift”, McDowell was in the city last week addressing members of the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners Canada (IAMCP)….in a given situation it’s about fewer and deeper.Robert McDowell, on Microsoft’s partner-strategy>Text His message was unequivocal. “Unlike the past, we’re not going to go in and say: ‘we’ve got 94,000 partners around the world…they’re all equally competent, we love them equally well.’ Both are lies.”
Instead, McDowell said, Microsoft’s partner strategy would be tied to the company’s emphasis on “verticalization” and its commitment, when selling to industry and government, to be very precise as to what its offering is, and who its partners are.
The new strategy, he said, has been announced and will take effect on July 1 of this year.
When creating and promoting industry-specific solutions, McDowell said Microsoft would seek partners with a certain depth of knowledge and application expertise in that industry. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want more partners. But in a given situation it’s about fewer and deeper.”
The meshing of the partner and industry-specific focus will be the next wave, he said.
According to McDowell, a massive culture shift has started to occur within Microsoft. The company, he said, is moving from a packaged product mentality to a solutions and service orientation, and that’s “very different from a transaction-oriented box relationship.”
Microsoft, he said, has invested heavily in this new initiative and the field, including Canada, is already hiring against it. The Redmond executive said everything – including flagship products such as Office 2003 – should also be viewed from this perspective.
Office 2003, he said, is the first version of Office that functions – not just as a set of discrete and disparate productivity tools – but a platform upon which one can build solutions.
For instance, he said, Office could potentially be integrated into an insurance company’s claim processing systems. “That’s an area where we are [seeking] opportunities for custom application build or off the shelf packages. Why should we not be positioning Office as a piece of that platform?” He said Microsoft is likely to require a great deal of partner help and support in this area.
McDowell reassured the assembled partners that the new strategy would mean tremendous opportunity for them.
He said Microsoft has adopted a very different strategy from other big technology companies in the way it delivers solutions. “Give me one example of a significant technology company in this business that hasn’t built their own service organization.”
He noted that IBM is no longer a product company, but a service company. It’s role and headcount and profit and revenue is service, not product. We have chosen a different path.” Microsoft, he said, would remain focused on being a software company, and depend on its partner channel network to deliver the bulk of its services and solutions.
Several Microsoft partners at the event welcomed, albeit cautiously, the company’s new vertical shift and the associated partner strategy. Some took it as a sign that Redmond is serious about working more closely with them.
That is the view of Babak Varjavandi, CEO of Nakisa Inc., a Microsoft gold certified partner based in Montreal. Nakisa develops applications for organization charting and organization management. While Nakisa is also a certified SAP and PeopleSoft certified partner, Varjavandi says Microsoft, is generally easier to work with than the ERP companies.
He said his ongoing feedback to Microsoft on various issues is being taken very seriously by the company’s Strategy and Evangelist Group at Redmond. “They phoned me for my recommendations, and I e-mailed them quite a few,” he said. “They were frank with me, and indicated that some recommendations were currently outside their scope, but promised to get back to me on others.”
He said while Microsoft has been a great partner to go to market with, traditionally “they have not done a good job in individual sales engagements. “That, we believe, should be an area of emphasis for them.” They have not done a good job in individual sales engagements. That, we believe, should be an area of emphasis for (Microsoft).Babak Varjavandi>Text Frank Abate, CEO, Infinity Technologies Inc. in Mississauga, Ont. agrees. Also a Microsoft gold certified partner, Infinity Technologies provides custom software and services to small and mid-sized businesses in the GTA and southern Ontario.
“This proactive engagement with partners is very new for Microsoft,” Abate said. He said in the past the company had separate teams to engage with end users and partners – “and these teams really didn’t speak to each other. If anything, they tended to work very independently of one another.”
He said he liked the fact that Microsoft would be establishing partner competencies and letting customers know for specific projects, which partners would could get the job done effectively.
He is so encouraged by this message, he said, that his firm, which had earlier decided not to participate in the upcoming Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2005 had changed its mind and would now be attending. The Conference is to be held in Minneapolis in July.