by Ron Grattopp…..Well, I’m hoping that all of you already know that Microsoft made/is making some pretty sweeping changes to what you used to know as the “Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP)”; in fact, one of the changes was the name, it’s now the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).  I’ve recently had the opportunity to do some partner and distributor briefings around these changes, and as a result of that I wanted to do this post.  I found that, even after doing some online training and reviewing resources on the MPN Portal, not everyone fully understood some of the more significant changes.  To that end, I wanted to cover a couple of the key changes that I found were still not always well understood in hopes to clarify as well as inform.  BTW, although these changes were announced at WPC 2010 (in July), October 2010 is really the big cut-over date; and it’s beginning to draw near.

First, and foremost, the idea of a partner “level” has gone away – there’s no more Gold or Certified Partners, or even Registered for that matter. Henceforth, you will ALL be “Microsoft partners”.  This was one of the areas that I found some lingering confusion on, especially since we’ve kept the designation “Gold”, although that now applies only to a competency level, not the actual partner company’s status or level.  So going forward the differentiator isn’t the partner status or level of the company, but the breadth and level of the competencies that a partner company has attained.  Unlike the prior program where a partner typically attained Gold status by accumulating points which were garnered thru attaining competencies (and thru other means), in the MPN, any partner who meets the criterion can achieve one of the new Gold competencies and focus on that single area of expertise if that suits their business model.  Of course, this also means there’ll be no more need for Partner Points either, so those are history.  I’m certain that everyone affected already knows, but thought I’d mention it.

Now, about the competencies.  There will be 2 levels of those: Silver and Gold.  Gold competency is a brand new level (launching in Oct) and has nothing to do with a partners’ previous partner program level (e.g previous Gold partners do not automatically qualify for Gold level competencies) nor, in fact, does it confer any special status in MPN other than its obvious indication of the solution expertise of the partner company. Again, forget the Certified and Gold levels as you knew them; as I alluded to above, I found there was still some potential confusion here since we did retain the Gold nomenclature.  The competencies have been tweaked (read simplified, as in no more specializations) and also aligned with “solutions” to try and help customers match partner strengths with their business computing needs.  Although the new Silver level competency retains the same requirement for 2 MCPs as the former competencies, understand that these are new competencies and other criterion (e.g. required exams) have changed, so partners need to refer to the Competency Tool to see what’s required to transition or upgrade from an existing competency to one of the new competencies.  Note, that those Certified/Gold partners with existing competencies will initially be placed (grandfathered, if you will) into the corresponding Silver competency membership until their next re-enrollment.  If you haven’t already, please review the following documents and resources: the MPN Transition Checklist, including the Value of Earning a Microsoft Competency, the MPN FAQs, and also visit the Prepare for the Change to the MPN page.  Here’s a shot of the Competency Tool.

Competency Tool screenshot

One of the things that you should know about is that, to achieve the new competencies, partners will need to pass exams based on the latest Microsoft product version in the market – so many partners may well need to have their MCPs update their certs.  If your MCPs need to get “current” on exams please review my blog of 8/20 where I detail the new Certification Packs which can reduce the cost of this.  Another point of possible confusion is that, instead of the old Certified/Gold Partner fee, the Silver and Gold competencies now have fees associated with them; however, note that even though the Competency Membership Fee is listed as a commitment for each individual competency, it is a one-time annual fee and only applies to the first competency that a partner achieves.  In the same vein, you should know that the Gold Competency Membership fee is higher than the Silver fee, but a partner who has already has a Silver competency will usually only pay the difference.  Probably the biggest point that isn’t always well understood, besides getting used to the fact that the old “levels” no longer apply, is that the new Gold competencies will require 4 unique MCPs.   This means if you want to have 2 Gold competencies, you will need at least 8 MCPs (4 each with the appropriate certs for the respective competencies) – this is a major change as you likely know.  You cannot “double book” MCPs on multiple Gold competencies.  However, that restriction does not apply to the Silver level competencies, which means that a partner can earn as many Silver competencies as they wish with as few as 2 MCPs, providing the MCPs have the appropriate certifications.  And there is no limit to the number of Gold competencies that a partner org attains as long as they can meet the 4 unique MCP criterion for each one.  Lastly, I should point out that there are also new benefits and that these are attached to competency level not the partner status (which doesn’t exist any more remember <grin>).  The first Silver (or Gold) competency that a partner attains garners for them something known as a “core” benefits package.  Like the fee, this is a one-time (renewable) set of benefits.  There may also be competency specific benefits that are additive to the core benefits.  And the Gold competency level, as you would expect, includes a higher order set of core benefits than Silver competency.  As far as the licensing benefits, I won’t go into any detail on that but will instead point you to the licensing calculator that you can use to determine what your software rights are.

Before wrapping up, I should mention that there have also been changes to the Action Pack program, including one key new benefit, but generally I found these are pretty intuitive, so I’m not going to address those here.  Also, the Small Business Specialist program remains, essentially intact, and there will be focus on the SMB space and those partners who serve it (as evidenced by the new Small/Medium Business & Distribution org that TS2 is now a part of), so you Registered folks should do some investigation to see where and how the new MPN can best work for you.

In closing, let me point out (remind you) that this was not intended to be a comprehensive review of the changes in the MPN but rather a discussion of some of the changes that I’ve found are perhaps not as clear or easily understood as others based on my in-person trainings with partner audiences around this.  I hope this perhaps has clarified one of more of these changes for you.  And, if you have not already started getting familiar with and ready for the changes, I hope this will encourage to do so – October is right around the corner now.  And, remember, if you have any questions about your partner status or anything related to your involvement in MPN, please contact your Regional Service Center at 1-800-765-7768 or email msppna@microosft.com (there is also a new MPN Expert team that you can email with specific MPN questions at msppexp@microsoft.com).

Cheers,

Ron