Alone on top of an underwater glacier
I recently attended the Microsoft Cloud Partner Summit at Microsoft HQ near Seattle. To say the experience was enlightening would be a significant understatement. Here were gathered 90 partners, one representative each, from the top cloud partners in the US. Microsoft’s cloud products, particularly Office 365 have been exploding, and 90% of the success is a result of the efforts of the people in this room. Needless to say Microsoft pulled out all the stops. From putting us up at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, to covering our every need for the two-day event.
While the entire proceeding is under NDA, I did make some discoveries that I can share. First, get ready to be ever further blown away by what’s on the very near horizon. And by near, I mean weeks, not months or years. The additional features and products coming our way are nothing short of astounding, and will significantly raise the bar even higher for Google and Salesforce.
We had assumed, from our both own experience and from our Microsoft handlers telling us so, that Microsoft Cloud CRM knowledge was a rare commodity. This turned out to be another understatement. Of the 90 top partners, none were pursuing CRM in any meaningful way. The majority of the crowd was leading with Office 365 and then offering their Managed Services.
Managed services is the concept of out-sourcing your hardware management. Their Value-Proposition seems like sort of a contradiction, on the one hand “Go with Microsoft Cloud and reduce your dependence on servers and hardware” and on the other hand “We will manage your servers and hardware”. But in spite of that apparent conundrum, this is an extremely fast growing business model. With the advent of Mobile devices and the new trend of BYOD (bring your own device), hardware management is not getting easier, it’s just getting a lot different from what it has been. I have said before, if today’s IT Manager thinks any of his value to his company is keeping that Exchange Server up and running, when that entire workload can be moved to the cloud and just work, his concept of value is vapor.
One of the reasons that Managed Services is the top companion to Microsoft Partners selling Office 365 is that for the most part, both of these services derive from the hardware side of the business, and most of these guys are “tech” guys first. Deploying Office 365 is not exactly a push-button experience, Microsoft propaganda notwithstanding. Migrating email, setting up desktops, setting up Lync, deploying file shares to SharePoint, these are still largely “tech” tasks. The partners met were clearly experts at managing these deployments and migrations. Most however confessed to not be the best equipped for the non-tech tasks, like SharePoint utilization beyond a “drive-in-the-cloud”, or anything related to CRM.
It’s probably the language barrier. As a layperson, if you have ever tried to have a conversation with a “techie”, you may feel like they are speaking a different language… that is because they are. A language that has taken years to master, that only other members of their “tribe” can really comprehend. It used to be just about wires and boxes and connections, cloud has added a whole new level of slang. The reason some of these folks have a little trouble with SharePoint is mostly dialect differences, while still techie in nature, the accent is so pronounced that it seems quite foreign. CRM is worse, as it is really yet another language entirely.
From an end-user standpoint this is all going to take some getting used to. The days when you called down to Bob in the IT department for anything related to your computer are disappearing as we evolve again technologically. Don’t forget, less than 20 years ago, Bob’s department did not even exist. Just like 20 years from now, none of what I am saying today will be relevant (hopefully I will have retired by then). As technology gets cheaper, and it is, it gets a little more complicated in the number of specialized players you have to deal with in order to realize the savings.
I spoke with a lot of partners on my trip, most seemed intrigued by our specialization in CRM. I must confess, we actually came into this with an advantage; as Salesforce.com partners we jumped into the deep end of the pool with a clear understanding of how to swim in this water already. One of the partners confessed that CRM has less to do with software and technology, than with business process, a complete language he did not understand, and had no interest in learning. This was a recurring theme from every partner I talked to, and this was my “enlightenment” I initially referred to. The learning curve of SharePoint is fairly steep, CRM is on an even higher plateau, out of view entirely for most partners.
So, as a result of this event, we have decided to re-focus on our core strength of CRM, primarily Microsoft Cloud CRM. Here we sit, atop this glacier, by ourselves.