The Changing Role of the Microsoft Business Applications Partner


Six years ago, I wrote a post that was directed at IT Directors/Managers, about the need for them to re-imagine their roles in the face of the then rapidly growing cloud thing. Today, the role that needs to be re-imagined is that of Microsoft Business Applications Partner. Between Microsoft and the Citizen Developer, the space previously occupied by the Partner is getting narrower.

You can’t Get There from Here

Not that long ago, if you wanted to bring Business Applications into your organization, a significant part of your budget planning had to include a pretty big chunk for an Implementation Partner. It did not matter whether it was Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce.com, a large bucket of cash had to be allocated. For most implementation partners, this was their entire business model. It has been a great model… for years… for the partner that is. But not so great for customers who had to pay for it, or Microsoft who got no vig on it. Back in 2016, I wrote another post titled The End of the Microsoft Partner, which may have been a little early, but it is coming to fruition now.

The End is Near

Two days ago I was driving somewhere and stopped at an intersection. A well-dressed man, who looked like a banker, was waiting at the crosswalk. When the “Walk” sign lit, he walked across in front of my car, and as he reached the middle of my hood, he stopped, pulled out a piece of paper from his suit jacket pocket, unfolded it, and held it up to me. It said “The End is Near”. After a few seconds he folded it back up, put it back in his pocket and continued on. I was not sure if the massage was for me, or all of humanity, but I checked my seat belt anyway. As I was driving away I found myself thinking about a call I had with one of our customers last Thursday.

It’s About Bob

Bob (not his real name) is one of our Dynamics 365 customers. Bob is pretty technically savvy, but was quick to say that he was not very familiar with Dynamics. He also said that, while he wanted to learn more, he had a pretty full plate of other responsibilities at his mid-sized company. Bob also felt his company was an excellent candidate for Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing, and that he wanted to jump all over that with us, as well as build out his entire sales process. Most partners would probably be drooling at the Project Services opportunity that this appeared to present.

The engagement seemed to be ramping up rather slowly, we built a basic custom entity, after which things quieted down, with just the occasional questions here and there. Then suddenly, it seemed like all-hands-on-deck with the Marketing App. Last week he wanted to have a call with me to show me “Something he had been working” on, just to see if he was on the right track. Over the years, I have had similar calls, and so have learned to not chuckle, when a customer shows me their feeble efforts, so I felt I was prepared. I was not prepared.

Bob the Builder

I joined the call at the appointed time with Bob, and made him a presenter. He wanted to show me an “App” that he was working on for a segment of his sales team, to get my thoughts. Of course my first thought was, “Why are you building it instead of us”. Until I saw it. Bob, who did not know Dynamics 365, and had a full plate, was able in his spare time, to build an app that would rival any I have seen most partners do. Sure, there were a few areas for minor improvement, but truly minor. My role was limited to pointing out a few ideas, that I am sure Bob will go explore on his own.

Bob’s Limits… for now

Bob ended up needing more help with the Dynamics 365 for Marketing application, but in reality, most of the areas where he needed help, we also needed help. Mainly, as one of the first customers of this new application, we were both working through some V1 issues. Issues that were being addressed and eliminated as we went. Bob probably would not have even needed our help with that, if he were starting in October. or at least not much.

Bob is Coming

As I said, our Bob is pretty tech savvy, but not unique. There are a lot of Bob’s out there in our customer organizations. Meanwhile, Microsoft is continuing to lower the barriers to entry, and the level of tech savviness to accomplish what Bob is doing, will continue to come down. What will be the partner role in a world full of Bobs?

The Answer

To be honest, the answers are hard to come by here. It is obvious that partners will need to reinvent themselves, but into what? How long before we are over-run by Bobs? Who knows, but probably quicker than you are hoping. It seems partners will need to go even deeper down the rabbit hole of either the super complicated shit, or the brand new shit, because what was too complicated yesterday, is no longer.

5 Comments

  1. James J Townsend

    Microsoft partners, including Dynamics partners, play many roles. Some of them specialize in an industry vertical and bring related expertise and intellectual property, such as add-ons for the Dynamics ERP products. Others are resellers that help customers identify the right products and subscriptions for their needs. Integrators help tie products together and migrate from one system to another. As you point out here and in other posts, it is challenging to keep pace with the end user features that Microsoft introduces in Office and Dynamics and that overlap in some cases between products. Keep sharing your thoughts and starting conversations.

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  5. Jakub

    Steve, firstly, I love your stuff, it does make me think! Indeed, the time has come and our customers will be able to do more themselves without our technical skills. But I don’t think it’s an apocalypse :). I was painting a ceiling over the weekend thinking about my friends in Australia making a fortune out of this trade.. The question in mind was why would someone want to pay them good money for something he/she can do themselves? An answer to the question is what will make our future relevant: I think our role will be to sell our customer an ability to focus on what is important to them rather than a unique skillset they don’t have. The painting industry could be a good inspiration to figure it out..

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