Monday, September 15, 2008

Is partnering with Microsoft right for your business?

These days, it seems like everyone needs a villain. OU has the Texas Longhorns, McCain has Obama, and the computer world has Microsoft. Over the past 20 years, Microsoft has slowly moved from being one of the most respected companies in the industry to one of the most vilified and it might be very hard for any rational business person to imagine the idea of forging an actual partnership with the company that has become known for being greedy, anti-competitive, and even outright incompetent.

But let's look at a different side of Microsoft for a moment. Let's look at its partner program. It's widely regarded as one of the absolute best in the industry and very friendly to small businesses willing to commit to the company's technology and programs and move beyond the religious frenzy that's sprung up over the years.

I signed up my small company, OpenEMR HQ, as a "Registered Microsoft Partner" about six months ago. This is the lowest partner level one can commit to and requires no financial committment at all. At this low level, you might ask, what benefit could we get from the program? Isn't the entire goal of the Partner Program to make money?

When we signed up for the program, I thought the very same thing. But I have been very pleasantly surprised by Microsoft's commitment to our business success. While their involvement in our company hasn't been as deep as it would be if we'd signed up to one of the higher levels, we're getting incredible benefits from our association with the company.

At the "Registered Partner" level, Microsoft makes available an enormous amount of resources. Sales information, marketing materials, training, discounts, special customer promotions, and access to an incredibly diverse technology stack that really allows my company to offer a best of breed solution to our customers.

As an independent software developer (ISV), it definitely doesn't hurt us to go into a meeting and mention that we're a Microsoft Partner. But Microsoft also provides us with a wealth of development tools, information, and training that make developing our software on the Windows Server and Windows Desktop platforms dead simple. In fact, as much as I'm an advocate of Linux, we would not have been able to move as fast on creating our new PhoenixEMR desktop application or be as productive as quickly had we stuck to that platform.

I'm not saying we're abandoning Linux in any way. I'm saying we're slowly becoming more technology agnostic and realizing that 'evil' is, when it comes to some things, in the eye of the beholder.

So how could a partnership with Microsoft help your business? There are a number of ways...

First, you have access to Partner Resources. This alone provides you with enough information that you could build an entire business around it and never hunger for money. Partner resources include marketing information, technical sales information, full-featured marketing campaigns, podcasts with other Microsoft Partners who's done what you're trying to do, and more. It's really one of the most valuable aspects of the program.

You'll also have access to technology discounts through Microsoft Action Packs. These low costs bundles provide full-version internal use software to help you run your business. You do have to meet some requirements and their is a fee associated with the program but they are well worth the costs and will save you incredible amounts of money.

Lastly, we can't forget the technical sales and support that comes with partnering with Microsoft. Customers server down? No problem, call Microsoft and they will help you troubleshoot and resolve the issue for free. Need to put together a unique proposal for a new client? Call Microsoft and they'll give you current, discount pricing on everything you need that will help you win the deal.

Keep in mind that everything we've discussed is available to "Registered Partners" which means there is no financial commitment. Increase your alignment with Microsoft and they will deepen their relationship with you. You invest in them and they invest with you. It really is a real partner situation.

All-in-all, I realize that moving our business quickly forward is going to come with the help of Microsoft. We're aligning ourselves more closely with them and are already seeing returns from that alignment. We're learning that Microsoft is a good company that likes to win. And they understand that, when they help their partners win, they win too. They invest time, money, and resources in their partners like no other company I've worked with and I can tell that this is going to be a great partnership.

We're upgrading our partnership this afternoon.

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