We tend to think that we can’t possibly get deep enough in any of the ecosystems we are working with. The key question that we need to pose is to what extent we need to understand the inner workings of an ecosystem and how to turn this knowledge into effective execution. I am a true believer that to gain success, one has to invest time and money to learn the market, the players and the dynamics within it. I do not believe there is a shortcut to become skilled in anything that you do, you just have to spend time and talk to people and attend conferences. That is exactly what I have done.
Microsoft partners are feeling a tremendous pressure to move their solution offerings to the cloud and I see many reasons for this. The first and biggest reason is that customers are asking for cloud solutions. I have witnessed that during the last 6 months. If you look at the lead flow, most of the new leads have to do with Office 365. The second reason to be interested in the cloud is that if you do not, you become obsolete in the long run. It does not mean that on-premises solutions are going to disappear overnight, they will be here for years to come and if you are a smaller ISV or service provider, there will still be plenty to sell to. If you are a Microsoft partner, you should also align yourself with Microsoft priorities if you want help from the field in your solution sales or service deliveries.
My recommendation to any Microsoft partner is to start using cloud solutions internally. If you want to be believable in your sales motion and do not run yourself a cloud solution, you won’t be able to discuss about the experiences that you have had when using the cloud. Both the good and the bad. In our case, I have even gone an extra mile to learn how to develop things in both Dynamics CRM 2013 Online as well as SharePoint 2013 Online (as part of our Office 365 E3 package) to run our internal solutions/business processes. This has given me the perspective of what can be done in the cloud, what the best practices are and what the potential limitations might be.
What I am seeing now in the marketplace is a new regained excitement as many partners are recognizing that there are opportunities to build new generation solutions that have nothing to do with the past ways of doing things. I see this trend clearly when dealing with Microsoft partners and their business models. The most important lesson that partners need to keep in mind is to really identify that core value proposition and the customer jobs they are trying to solve with their solution and making sure to define a customer segment that is “tight enough” to be able to build something that resonates with the users. Also, partners should not try to replicate what they have in the past, but to try to innovate something that is new and provides competitive edge going forward. It is sometimes too easy to stick to the old ways and assume that the good times will continue. Unfortunately I have seen too many of those cases during the past few years.
Do not limit yourself by thinking that the technology is not there yet. There are always companies that will identify how to overcome technical issues and these companies will get market share. A good example is Office 365 development from ISV perspective. It is true that not everything can be done to be in parity with on-premise SharePoint, but you will figure out a “middle ground” that will get you to offer solutions in the Office 365 market and when the platform matures, you are already much further down the road when compared with your competition. Make sure you identify the opportunities to bind your Office 365 development with Microsoft Azure as that is they way to go when building apps/solutions for Office 365.
In my discussions with SharePoint partners, it is important to understand that SharePoint on-premise environment will not go away anytime soon whereby ISVs need to be able to support this environment years to come. However, if you have not started your journey to Office 365, my strong recommendation is that you need to start that journey immediately. I know lots of solutions that work beautifully in Office 365 environment so companies are doing it and it is your choice to be part of that journey and ensure that you current status and solution stack will stay current and thrive also in the future.