Monday, November 14, 2005

brand-new playground for microsoft partners!

microsoft's partner program version 2.0 finally went live this weekend. besides the obvious color switch from blue to orange, there are quite a few other, more substantial changes.

it is much easier to manage people associated with your partner account now. besides the ability to add multiple folks at a time, you can also have those folks pre-approved. i'm sure the uber-gigantic partner shops, or anyone who swaps a lot of contractors in and out, will appreciate this.

most of the changes seem to be centered around competencies and competency management.

a whole host of new competencies have been introduced, including:
  • business process and integration
  • data management solutions
  • licensing solutions
  • mobility solutions
  • security solutions
some existing competencies have had specialization tracks added to them. if you already held one of those competencies, you still hold it, sans specializations. but those trying to newly earn those competencies will have meet at least one of that competency's specializations as well.

competency management has been streamlined in several ways. you can now check your organization's status toward earning any given competency quickly and easily, using a new and improved competency summary view. this view shows any requirement for a given competency that your company has already completed, so you can immediately see what competencies are closest to being earned, and focus your efforts on those.

along those same lines, you can now reassign a customer reference from one competency to another, ostensibly to help your organization spread those references around, and qualify for more competencies.

some issues i noticed:

you may find that a tiered hierarchy has been implemented, starting with an upper-level organization that can include multiple locations, even if your company currently has only a single location. i found this a bit disconcerting, and discovered that as primary program contact, i did not have any administrative rights to the new upper-level organization, no matter what i did. also, the organization level will have a new, different partner id assigned to it, even tho the primary, or hq, location should have your existing partner id assigned.

besides the status of "customer approved" for competency references, there is now a "microsoft approved" status. no idea if this is a permanent addition...this may have just been applied to all submitted references so they weren't dumped during the data migration. however, it looks as tho this new status assigns partner points, just like "customer approved" does. something to keep in mind, if in fact you need to "ration" your submitted references to keep your company at a certain given partner level.

the points model has changed as well. be aware that your first two competencies each grant the same number of points...30...which works out to a net loss of 15 points as opposed to the old model. this also means that instead of your first competency immediately granting the 50 points needed to become a certified partner, you will need to either qualify for a second competency, or earn 20 more points another way.

one of the best ways to get those extra 20 points, at least in this happyfunboy's opinion, would be to complete the small business specialist designation. however, the 25 points for completing sbsc are still delayed until early january. so even if you earn sbsc tomorrow, the points won't actually show up on your partner account until then. if your re-up date in the partner program happens to fall before then, you won't be able to re-up at a higher level. i noticed that my firm's re-up date was actually moved back nearly an entire month, from january 4, 2006 to january 31, 2006...which i'm assuming may have been done to assure the sbsc points were fully awarded and active before we re-upped.

several things about the submission process for customer references have been improved, most significantly that it is now only a 4 screen process, rather than the 7 or 8 it was under the old system. unfortunately, i could find no way to save a reference in progress. this, in my opinion, is a big step backward, as i often liked to begin a reference, and then have the primary consultant on a given project or client fill in the project details. the save option also made it easy to get the reference "paperwork" entered, then have it held until you decided to submit it...in case you, say, hadn't yet had a chance to catch up with the client to get their permission to submit the reference.

in fact, while working through a test reference, the reference may have "finished" without showing me a preview i requested of the e-mail that would be sent to the client. also, the newly submitted reference did not show up anywhere in the customer reference section. i'm betting it did not go through, and that perhaps references are just a bit horked right now. i'd prolly hold off trying to enter or submit any new references for a short while.

at different times this weekend, while trying to access the new partner membership center, your friendly neighborhood happyfunboy found that, many times, his login was not being recognized as having administrative rights to the partner account. clearing the browser cache and cookies, however, and then logging back in fixed this issue.

i plan to contact the regional service center about these issues, but will take pains to be a very nicepoliteboy, since i expect them to be swamped tomorrow morning about the changes...and, if past experience with the rsc holds true...the frontline staff may not be trained much on the new changes yet.

all in all...a pretty solid rollout tho. definitely some improvements, as promised now for quite a while. a few things to watch out for...some of which, honestly, you would have know about if you have been active in the partner program anyway.

so...your friendly neighborhood happyfunboy recommends checking your partner account tomorrow morning. make sure stuff works like it should, and that everything...your associated individuals, references, competencies, points, etc. ...shows up like it should.

otherwise, put in a call to rsc, and get them to clean it up.

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