Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Five Best Decisions I've Made In My Business: #3

Looking back on the Five Best Decisions I've Made In My Business over the last fifteen years . . .

The Five Best Decisions I've Made In My Business: #5: Zenith Infotech and RMM tools generally.

The Five Best Decisions I've Made In My Business: #4: Autotask and PSA systems generally.

Now for the third best decision I've made. This one is sometimes a mixed bag. Some days I think it's good and some days bad. But overall, according to my criteria, it has been a great decision . . .

#3 Best Decision I've Made In My Business: Aligning My Business With Microsoft

For a little extra perspective here, see my article from two years ago on Grading the Microsoft Relationship. Not much has really changed in that time.

But what you'll see there is that the relationship is complicated. As are all good relationships. After all, I don't have any relationship at all with APC, Symantec, Watchguard, and many other vendors. I buy their stuff. I sell their stuff. But there is no relationship there.

I have a relationship with Microsoft. Among other things, our companies touch on several points:

- Blogging (Outbound and Inbound)
- Certification (individual)
- Certified Partner Program
- Channel Relationship
- Licensing
- Marketing
- MVP Program (affects us because we have so many friends who are MVPs)
- OEM / System Builder Program
- PAL Program
- Local Engagement Team
- PAM - Partner Account Manager
- Partner Program Research Panel
- People
- Products (including delivery, pricing, quality, perceptions)
- SBSC Program
- Support . . . Which we rarely use
- Privacy
- TechNet
- Training
- TS2 or whatever they're doing these days


I started my computing adventures on Commodores (Vic 20 and C64). That led me to Basic programming, and therefore to CP/M. At the University of Michigan I learned both DOS, MacIntosh, and their UM mainframe system at the same time. Clearly, CP/M is the superior operating system from among all these, but it didn't win the day.

By the late 1980's Microsoft dominated every technology I actually touched and used every day. I went on to learn additional languages and operating systems, including HP MPE/MPEx for the HP 3000, HP-UX, and a variety of Unix flavors. And obviously I supported Windows 3.1 when it came out.

But Windows NT changed everything. With NT I moved from my past life into the life of a technical consultant.

My first certification was on Windows 3.1 (not 3.11, not windows for workgroups). After I got that little badge I worked hard to keep up on certifications. Eventually I got my MCSE. Now, of course, that designation is only technically relevant since the entire certification process has been in a food blender for a few years.

When I founded KPEnterprises in 1995, it was a no-brainer to align with Microsoft. They were obviously on every desktop in America. And more and more they were growing to take over the back office as well.

Once I engaged with Microsoft, I started connecting more, and more, and more. The alignment allowed me to educate myself, and eventually my staff. There was a time when the certifications meant something and we pushed those pretty strongly. As we engaged in marketing programs, we grew our company. Eventually, I got to know human beings within Microsoft and continued to make more connections.

At times the Microsoft relationship is really frustrating. It's a big, massive company where one office doesn't talk to another. No one gets the big picture. Goals are tied to dates and numbers. So, like any large organization, if good ideas and common sense don't get attached to someone's metrics, then they just don't happen.


The Microsoft relationship has been extremely valuable for my company because it directly affects the core drivers of our success:

- They create great products
- They provide great training
- They help us with marketing
- They provide a framework for looking into the future of technology

In other words, the core things we do with Microsoft all contribute to our bottom line.

The greatest thing Microsoft has done in the last five years is the SBSC program (Small Business Specialist Community). This program led to a huge engagement with the broader consulting community and turned a lot of "fans" into raving fans, engaged at a new level, and eager to take on a level of professionalism that didn't exist before.

The SBS Team is, interestingly enough, very aloof from the consultants who know, love, sell, and support the product. I know most of the members of this team and I've been on a recently-concluded advisory panel for the next generation of SBS. The team is very focused on the product and they have come up with some truly amazing stuff.

The SBSC team is a little different. I've also met most of them and sat on the SBSC advisory panel. They are totally focused on communication and engagement with the consulting community. This division of labor makes perfect sense once you see the big picture.

Dominance Fading

This should be a separate blog post, but Microsoft's dominance in the I.T. consulting community is fading. It can't be blamed on Unix/Linux. I used several flavors of Unix before Windows existed. It can't be blamed on Google or cloud computing. Microsoft does apps. Microsoft built a cloud system at the same time as Google and Amazon.

Microsoft's dominance is fading because they're slowly losing touch. Maybe they're too big. Maybe Steve Ballmer needs to go do something he's good at. Maybe they're getting old. Maybe they've lost focus.

If I had to make the decision today, I would still engage as I have with Microsoft:

- Certification required for every technician
- Certified Partner Program
- SBSC Program
- Training
- TechNet
- Windows / NT / MS Office based offerings

But I have heard more than one person tell me that they are not going to renew their Microsoft Certifications personally or renew their Certified Partner membership. They don't see the value. They don't feel like they need to engage Microsoft any more than they do APC, Symantec, or Watchguard.

In our own company we have installed Linux servers, sold Amazon Web Services, sold alternative email services, and examined other non-Microsoft alternatives. We're still raving fans, but we need to always focus on what's best for our clients. And Microsoft always has the first opportunity to be the choice. But recently they haven't been winning 100% of the time.

Again, it's a relationship. Relationships sometimes come and go. You're closer for awhile and then it fades a bit. Then you re-engage and get closer again. Ebbs and flows. Microsoft has been one of the key partners for our company over the last fifteen years (ten as a Certified Partner). And we certainly have other vendors with whom we have close relations (e.g., Diskeeper, SonicWall), but Microsoft is Partner Number One for us.

We are committed to making this relationship work. And that's why we continue to engage them at many levels.

Oh, and we make money with them.

- - - - -


Microsoft is far more than a "vendor" supplying product. They are a strategic partner for our company.

We make money in many different ways with Microsoft, including saving money by using their online resources.

If we had to choose a partner today, Microsoft would still be #1 on the list of companies to partner with. The training and other resources have had a profound effect on how we operate.

Comments welcome.


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