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What is a Microsoft Partner?

As soon as the decision has been made to look for a Microsoft Partner for your business, then you have the job of finding the right technology company from the thousands out there.

The process a company uses to get to the end result can vary greatly and you’ll need to look into how they propose to deliver the best outcome for your business. Ideally, you want to partner with a company that will be able to fulfil your requirements every step of the way.

With that in mind, we’ve put together some important points to help your business understand and choose the right Partner. And it all begins with the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN):

The Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) – formerly called the Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) – is an international community of organisations with access to resources, programmes, tools and connections. All designed to help the organisation grow as a partner of Microsoft.

The principal idea behind the Microsoft Partner Network is that of a unified network of technology companies who are all striving to provide the best service they can to their customers. Microsoft places great importance on this shared vision and consequently invest in their partners with a variety of resources, including:

  • Custom training programs
  • Up-to-date information (often released to partners in advance)
  • Access to connect and collaborate within the MPN
  • Product licences
  • Technical support
  • Tools to help the partner’s business grow

It is the action of enrolling in the Microsoft Partner Network that makes you a “Microsoft Partner”. So, a “Microsoft Partner” is a company that has signed up to the Microsoft Partner Network. This opens the door to competencies, the commercial marketplace, Microsoft marketing collaboration and more.

With a high level of support and backing from Microsoft, a Microsoft Partner is in a position to offer high-quality expertise and have the means to deliver the best possible solution as well as handle any problems that may arise.

There are many different levels and competencies in the Microsoft Partner Network. The first step for any business would be to join the Microsoft Partner Network and become a Microsoft Partner. All a company needs to do to accomplish this is to fill out the registration form. In this first step, membership is free and does not require any authentication or vetting.

More information: https://partner.microsoft.com/en-gb/

Membership begins with joining the network. The next step upwards is to purchase an action pack. After that, a company can move on to earning silver and gold competencies.

This is the next level of Partner collaboration. With it, a company gains access to everything from joining the network plus listing in the partner centre and co-branding with logos. This means that this is the first level of Partner that permits usage of the “Microsoft Partner” badge.

On the technical side, this level gives the business access to 5 hours of advisory hours, product licencing benefits and 10 product support incidents. The Action Pack has an annual subscription fee of £350.

Although there is no certification for this tier, Microsoft does hold its “Action Pack” partners to certain standards. Microsoft states that to purchase a Microsoft Action Pack, the company must adhere to the requirements of the Microsoft Partner Network agreement, acknowledge the Partner Code of Conduct, and complete the Partner Code of Conduct training.

More information: https://partner.microsoft.com/en-gb/membership/action-pack

The next level of Microsoft Partnership is Competencies. Qualifying for a Competency involves exams and skills validation that a company’s employees need to successfully complete, as well as business performance requirements.

Competencies exist within four broad areas: Apps & Infrastructure, Business Applications, Data and AI, and Modern Workplace & Security. Within that, there are very specific competencies breaking down into 18 in total.

 

Area Competency
Applications and Infrastructure – Application Development
– App Integration
– Cloud Platform
– DevOps
– Datacenter
Business Applications – Cloud Business Applications
– Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
– Project and Portfolio
Data and AI – Data Analytics
– Data Platform
Modern Workplace and Security – Collaboration and Content
– Communications
– Cloud Productivity
– Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM)
– Messaging
– Security
– Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions
– Windows and Devices

 

Ref: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/partner-center/learn-about-competencies?tabs=workspaces-view#competency-areas

There are 2 levels of Competency that a company can aim for – Silver and Gold. Those who achieve Silver Competency in one of the above areas can be considered to be in the top 5% of all Microsoft Partners dealing with that area. Meanwhile, those who achieve Gold Competency are in the top 1% of partners.

A full list of Competencies and their Silver and Gold requirements can be found here: https://partner.microsoft.com/en-gb/membership/competencies

As well as everything from the previous tiers, Microsoft Partners with Silver Competencies benefit from referrals from Microsoft sales representatives, marketing consultations and tailored marketing benefits, training tools and Microsoft support.

Each product Area and Competency has its own requirements for Silver Competency. However, these typically include a combination of the below:

  • Being a member of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).
  • Demonstrate a specific revenue level
  • Meet specific performance thresholds
  • Demonstrate a specific Azure customer consumption level
  • Reach a number of KPIs through training of Microsoft official Learning Product
  • Achieve a specific Partner Contribution Indicators (PCI) score

Microsoft charges an annual fee of £1,300 for Silver Competencies.

Building on all previous benefits, partners with a gold competency can co-sell directly with Microsoft, which is a powerful aid in accelerating the sales cycle with direct help from Microsoft sales representatives. Additional marketing benefits exist, including the brand-new partner go-to-market toolbox.

Gold Competencies usually require higher training and performance than Silver. Additionally, companies with Gold Competencies are usually required to have at least 4 fully certified employees in their ranks. Once required exams have been passed, skills validated and performance requirements met, there is also the annual fee of £3,100.

Yes – Advanced Specialisations are a fairly new offering from Microsoft. They are a way for partners with an active gold competency to demonstrate deep technical knowledge in a specific area. They currently exist in four categories: Azure, Business Applications, Modern Work, and Security. Currently, there are 25 niche areas in which to earn advanced specialisations.

 

Azure – AI and Machine Learning in Microsoft Azure
– Analytics on Microsoft Azure
– Data Warehouse Migration to Microsoft Azure
– DevOps with GitHub on Microsoft Azure
– Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure with Microsoft Azure Stack HCI
– Hybrid Operations and Management with Microsoft azure Arc
– Kubernetes on Microsoft Azure
– Linux and Open-Source Databases Migration to Microsoft Azure
Business Applications – Microsoft Low Code Application Development
– Small and Midsize Business Management
Modern Work – Adoption and Change Management
– Calling for Microsoft Teams
– Custom Solutions for Microsoft Teams
– Meetings and Meeting Rooms for Microsoft Teams
– Teamwork Deployment
Security – Cloud Security
– Identity and Access Management
– Information Protection and Governance

Each Advanced Specialisation comes with its own documentation on how to achieve this status. Find out more here: https://partner.microsoft.com/en-gb/membership/advanced-specialization

MSPs have available to them their own programme helping to differentiate, receive co-sell engagements, get special business and technical support and access to training.

It is a time and cost-intensive auditing process required to achieve this level. More information can be found here: https://partner.microsoft.com/en-gb/membership/advanced-specialization

Microsoft Partner Network

Common Misconceptions:

The terms “Microsoft Certified Partner” and “Microsoft Certified Professional” no longer exist. These terms were in use but are now no longer valid. The correct term is simply Microsoft Partner. Now you understand the different levels, this makes sense as there is no check done on the early levels and all it means is the company wants to associate itself with Microsoft.

This is what the Microsoft website says about this:

“As of November 1, 2010 in the Microsoft Partner Network, there are no longer “Microsoft Gold Certified Partner” or “Microsoft Certified Partner” levels to achieve for companies. Now in the Microsoft Partner Network, partners have the ability to achieve gold competencies and silver competencies which are named based on how customers buy. This provides more opportunity for differentiation for partners, as well as even more opportunity for partners to highlight their specific skillsets and areas of strength. In addition, this naming is more transparent to customers and identifies partners’ core capabilities and expertise.”

(Ref: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-gb/archive/blogs/mssmallbiz/the-microsoft-partner-network-gold-competencies-silver-competenciespart-1-branding)

It is also common to hear the terms “Microsoft Silver Partner” or “Microsoft Gold Partner”. These, in fact, no longer exist and the correct term would be “Microsoft Partner with one (or more) Silver/Gold Competencies”. That being said, it is generally a harmless error and just a shorter way of describing a company. So as an example, here at Ballard Chalmers, we used to be called a “Microsoft Gold Partner”. However, our new designation is:

Microsoft Partner with Five Gold Competencies:

  • Gold Application Development
  • Gold Application Integration
  • Gold Cloud Platform
  • Gold Data Platform
  • Gold Data Analytics.”

You can find our accreditations here.

In Closing:

Choosing the right Microsoft Partner for your business needs to be done with careful consideration. It’s an important investment on your part and you want the best outcome possible for your company. So, make your questions count before you come to a final decision on which technology company to partner with.

Ballard Chalmers is one of the leading Microsoft Partner in Sussex and the UK. Get in touch with us here.

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