By: Dann Anthony Maurno
Recall that when late rock idol Prince changed his name to the unpronounceable symbol, the exasperated press didn’t try to pronounce it, had no keys on the keyboard to represent it, and just called him “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Prince had his reasons – to annoy Warner Brothers into releasing him from a usurious contract.
Microsoft too had its reasons when in October 2015 it revamped its MVP award program to better reflect its cloud-first/mobile-first direction; also to make MVP help more regionally accessible. So it migrated away from 36 areas of technical expertise to 10 new and broader categories encompassing 90 contribution areas.
And, just two weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it would sunset 12 Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) competencies in favor of cloud-first/mobile-first versions.
Are these moves part of the same corporate overhaul? Do they present opportunities to partners, or render their competencies obsolete?
MSDynamicsWorld asked those questions on our MSDW Podcast. Joining us were two Dynamics GP MVPs. They were Mariano Gomez, a senior software developer with Mekorma, and Mark Polino, director of client services with Fastpath.
Following are some excerpts from the podcast (edited for length).
MSDW: What changes have you seen in the MVP program beyond that name – “Business Solution MVP”?
Gomez: I think it follows pretty much with the flow of the overall company reorg. Before we used to have assigned MVP leads, now the program has…rolled up into regional managers, directors; also known by the acronym CPMs [Community Program Managers]. And in essence what the MVP program has done is reorganize into regional chapters across the country [Southeast, Northeast, Northwest and Southwest]. With that type of organization we have kind of direct access to these folks, [and] on a monthly basis I think we’re going to do meetings. Our first one happens to be the weekend of May 15 here in Atlanta at the Microsoft office.
I think Microsoft is reaching out more directly to the MVPs, trying to communicate more of the direction and how we go about the evangelizing program, which is really what the MVPs do for the most part – besides helping out with the community, we evangelize a lot about the products and future direction of products. So that’s in essence how it’s going to play out in the next few months.
MSDW: It sounds a little less focused from the way it’s organized around product, perhaps, and more on the larger vision from Microsoft.
Polino: There will be argument from Microsoft that they’re trying to be more local, at least regional so that if they’re doing something in the Southeast that the MVP lead, the CPM is in the Southeast. So in theory they’ll have a better idea of what’s going on in their region.
I think the bigger challenge for us is the renaming. We’re technically as you mentioned Business Solutions MVPs. While that looks great on a résumé, if you actually want to find someone to work on [Dynamics] AX you don’t want to call a GP MVP and vice versa. It fits Microsoft’s broader all-Dynamics kind of message; but I also think it makes it a little muddier for folks.
MSDW: They wrote that the changes will provide local Microsoft teams with insight into MVP interests and abilities. I struggle with why the local is a priority for Dynamics products.
Gomez: As Mark said, having direct access to MVPs in particular regions is what Microsoft was looking for… if your’e going to go to conferences like Build where there’s a strong presence of MVPs… they want to make sure is that there’s enough MVP coverage in those areas.
The problem when we had the MVP lead, is that MVP leads would live across the country [from the MVPs]. And unfortunately, there was not a good enough mix of MVPs from different specialties attending conferences that were tied to a specific MVP lead. It doesn’t make sense.
So now I think for example here in the Southeast they’ll have access to all the MVPs from different specialties…it’s kind of like bringing the action to your door if that makes sense. I think the reorg overall is going to help getting Microsoft closer to the resources that really evangelize the product base.
Now as Mark said the focus on having a non-descriptive title, Business Solutions MVP, it’s non-descriptive, at least for the Dynamics folks. We’re certainly the most impacted by that change in titles.
MSDW: If you look at the list of the new award categories, Cloud and Data Center Management is one category, Windows development, Office development, Visual Studio [categories are others]; the list is extensive and obviously people will keep describing themselves in terms of their deep product expertise. But does that change what you foresee in either the qualification for the program, the way you maintain your status as an MVP, or the way new people get into the program?
Polino: I don’t necessarily see anything changing there. There are parts of that I think are intentionally fuzzy and that’s perfectly fine. The one challenge I see is Microsoft seems to have renewed their focus overall into IT pros and developers. And so someone is an MVP maybe in the Office area, they’re perfectly fine. For folks who aren’t IT pros or developers in some of the other places including in the Dynamics area, it may get interesting over the next couple of years if Microsoft stays on this course.
MSDW: I have another acronym; MPN [Microsoft Partner Network] – changes to the MVP program are not the same as MPN but are they related, Mariano?
Gomez: It’s certainly driven by the corporate reorganization that we’ve been seeing for the last four years, certainly in the last two with Satya [Nadella, Microsoft CEO] – just that overall corporate rehaul of Microsoft to become certainly more cloud oriented and certainly more mobile focused.
As of last week just with MPN-consolidating and dropping some of the competencies, they certainly are striving to position themselves as the Number One cloud company in the world, and they certainly are positioning the partners to get there.
So changes of competencies mean changes in certifications. Maybe some of them will even end up [dropped] as a result of not having a representative competency for them.
Polino: Clearly they’re shifting to more cloud-based competencies, which is where they want partners to be, and I get that. But two of the ones they announced they were dropping were CRM and hosting at the same time they were making a pretty big cloud push. Mariano, refresh my memory, are these the competencies that rolled back into partner margins?
Gomez: Which one doesn’t, right?
Polino: I think there are some partners who worked pretty hard to get these competencies because at various points they have affected margins, whether they do or don’t today. Folks have worked hard to take tests, they’ve gotten certified, they’ve had to have X number of people, etc. And at some point you’re being told, “Yep, in 18 months this won’t matter. Have fun.”
Gomez: I don’t know the economic impact that it has on partner investment to get those competencies, because a lot of these competencies require folks to go to actual training centers and spend time in a classroom and take those certifications; and after you have a few people with those certifications, then you get those competencies. That was kind of how that was structured.
But on the other side I think where this is truly going…is positioning partners to really compete in the cloud space. Those investments will have to be repurposed, and certainly knowledge in CRM on-premise will translate to knowledge in CRM Online. I don’t know if a lot of that investment is being put to the side, but certainly you will have to be refocused to have folks compete in the cloud space.
Polino: Taking a quick look at this, it does seem to be related to the Silver and Gold competencies for CRM, which would [affect] margins, depending on what level they’re on. So it looks like the move is toward the cloud version of that; but for folks who’ve put in the time and effort and energy, it’s a challenge to realize you did all that work and now nobody cares.
MSDW: Mariano, I’m persuaded by your world view. It’s not a coincidence that things like this are changing at the same time.
Gomez: I don’t know that you can actually individualize or localize these changes without looking at the overall corporate movement. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with cost cuttings; having four regional CPMS as opposed to 50 MVP leads. You cannot really isolate these changes in every single program, whether that’s the MVP program or the MPN program without necessarily looking at what’s going on from a corporate level, or what’s been going on now four years in the mix.