Microsoft Business Applications – Freelancers vs. Partners
Sometimes people ask me where I come up with post ideas, here’s one way. I saw a LinkedIn post today from a recruiter, suggesting the use of “freelancers” for Dynamics 365, and presumably other Microsoft Business Applications. While freelancers may have a place in the process, there are some very good reasons, that you should seriously consider an actual Microsoft Business Applications Partner instead.
I don’t have anything against someone looking to make a buck. We’re all in business to do that. But, whether a freelancer is a true “hired gun”, or someone who is simply moonlighting on the side, they are, by their nature, an individual person. There is no requirement to pass any certification, or get any license, to post out there that you are available as a freelancer. There is no government, or other body, ensuring that you have any idea of what you are doing. It is a classic “Buyer Beware” situation.
As a partner, we engage freelancers from time to time, and we have found it to be a mixed bag. If a partner, who knows exactly what a true skill-set looks like, can end up with mixed results, end customers must rely on pure luck. Last year we engaged a freelancer for something outside of our wheelhouse. We reviewed his list of great customer recommendations, since that is really all we had to analyze, and moved forward with this project. Fortunately, this was an internal project, as the freelancer did a shit job across the board. I gave him an unsatisfactory review on the site where we found him, wondering how he had so many good ones. Immediately he called me, begging me to remove the negative review, even promising to work for free for as long as I needed, and even offered to refund what we had paid, to get me to change the review. Of course he sucked, so more sucky work for free did not persuade me to change the review, but I guess this must have worked with all of his other customers in the past.
We, like most customers, will sometimes have a need for skills that we do not possess. Freelancers are one path, if you are lucky, to obtain those skills. The customers in the past that I have seen turn to freelancers for Microsoft Business Applications, are the same ones that try to avoid engaging partners at all. In most of these cases, I am fairly sure that the customer does not even understand what a Microsoft Partner does, and simply thinks they are some kind of middle-man. These are the same customers who buy their licenses directly, with no understanding of what licenses they actually need, and always end paying way too much for them. They also have no grasp of how all of the Microsoft Cloud pieces fit together, and hire some freelancer who only understands a narrow slice, and then wonder why the end up with a mess.
I, and many of my partner peers, have been asked to bail out many failed self-deployments, often where freelancers were used to plug gaps. In almost every case, the first thing that we discover is the customer is on the wrong licensing matrix. They are either paying way more than they need to be, or they are using licenses in the wrong way, and are significantly out of compliance with license terms (Team Member anyone). Turning to the actual work that was done, even if the freelancer was good at one thing, they seldom took advantage of everything else the customer had in place. Often, their methods were simply out-of-date, since they are not up-to-speed on everything that Partners are made aware of. In many cases, they built a house of cards, that ended up costing twice as much to dismantle, as it would have to do it right in the first place. When the customer found themselves in a mess, the freelancer had no channel for advanced Microsoft support, nor did the customer, and they found themselves on the other end of the line with a person, with an incomprehensible accent, asking them if their machine was turned on. I have difficult time feeling sympathetic to this customer, and really lose my shit if they start saying the product is bad.
To be fair, not every Microsoft Partner is stellar either. In the Microsoft Business Applications space, we have our share of unqualified partners, who instead of referring a customer to a qualified partner, will attempt to learn on the customer’s nickel. Fortunately, they are easy to spot thanks to Microsoft. Microsoft has long used a system of “Competencies”, a certification from Microsoft that a partner knows what they are doing. Obtaining a competency requires having people in your partner organization pass multiple proctored certification exams, as well as having a significant number of successful deployments. By the way, there is no such thing as a Freelancer with a Competency, these are awarded to Partner organizations, not individuals.
You should also be aware that there are many Microsoft “competencies”, and just because you are talking to a partner who has their “Microsoft Gold Competency for Licensing” for example, does not mean they know anything more than you do, about Business Applications. Most of the partners I know, that have their Business Applications competency, really know the product well. In addition, as Business Applications are so central to what Microsoft is doing in the cloud, they also understand all of the surrounding parts, and how they work together. The Partner licensing guide for Business Applications is over 140 pages, that only a Business Applications partner could even understand. Most importantly, if something does go wrong, Business Applications partners have access to advanced Microsoft support resources to get things fixed quickly.
The Top Level
If you really want to insure success, there is one more step you can take beyond making sure the partner organization has their Business Applications Competency, and that is MVP status. The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) designation is an individual award. It is given to individuals who are at the top of their game in whatever category they are awarded. One of those categories is “Business Applications MVP”. I am humbled to be a part of this exclusive group of the true “brain trust” for Microsoft Business Applications, along with 161 other exceptional individuals from around the globe. MVPs are the people who are really on the forefront, as Microsoft continuously consults directly with them on the products. In fact, for anything you might want to do with any Microsoft product, including Business Applications, you might want to save some steps, and just start your search here.