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Top Newsmaker: Microsoft Canada’s Lora Gernon

Microsoft Canada's channel director is focused on deeper engagement rnwith the partner community

Lora Gernon says engaging with partners has been Microsoft Canada’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) focus for 2008, with substantial investments made by the vendor in building the capacity and the skill sets in its channel to bring Microsoft’s offerings to market.

Gernon is responsible for the overall Canadian partner ecosystem as the partner lead for Microsoft Canada. And, as a 100 per cent channel company, Microsoft relies on its partners for its success.

Looking back on 2008, Gernon says one of the things Microsoft had a great focus on was around how it was engaging with its partners through the Microsoft Partner Program. Some of the initiatives included enhancing partner readiness training with a focus on the quality of the training being provided and increased demand generation to help partners to build their pipelines and increase sales. She adds Microsoft has also streamlined its engagement internally with respect to sales engagement.

“Overall, we’ve really spent a lot of our time focused on partner engagement and helping our partners increase profitability,” says Gernon. “It’s really been a year of increasing partner profitability.”

At a more granular level, that has meant an enhanced learning centre in terms of the quantity and the quality of the resources and recordings for partners, as well as tools that give partners a better view of what courses and certifications their employees have taken. With that information in hand, there are also tools to help partners create development plans for their employees. The overall partner portal has also been enhanced to give partners a fuller view of all the learning, revenue and competency opportunities and resources available.

“It’s a real 360-degree view of all the engagement-points that partners have with Microsoft,” says Gernon.

With an eye to streamlining licensing for partners, she adds Microsoft also launched several new tools including Select Plus, which rolled-out to customers in October.

“At the highest level, Select Plus is a new Volume Licensing program designed for companies with multiple business units that have decentralized purchasing, but would like the advantages of centralized purchasing – advantages such as visibility into all the organization’s volume licenses – as well as discounts based on the true purchasing volume,” says Gernon.On the technology front, 2008 was a year where Microsoft went heavily into the on-demand software arena with its Software Plus Services strategy, flushing-out the strategy with a number of initiatives designed to ease channel adoption.

Among the changes, the vendor added two suites of subscription services with their own partner pricing models and an incentive program onto the software plus services offerings. Under the Microsoft Online Services product line, the two suites are called Deskless Worker and Information Worker, and both packages have the option of accessing Exchange and Sharepoint over the Web or as stand-alone products.

“It’s all about choice; choice for the customer and for the partner,” says Gernon. “Channel readiness is the goal for us. As partners continue to get the information and start to engage, our focus will be to make sure they have the training that will enable partners to take this to market.”

All kinds of partners have been expressing a keen interest in the Software Plus Services strategy, says Gernon, with many engaging today and others looking to the future and how they can integrate the strategy into their own business models.

In all, says Gernon, it’s been a very busy year, with product releases in areas such as virtualization also fueling growth. She adds what she has particularly enjoyed about watching and communicating with Microsoft’s partners is the focus and clarity they’ve shown in terms of their business, and how strategic they’ve become in their approach to profitability.

“All the partners I’ve had the opportunity to speak with have been able to articulate very clearly what their business is, how it’s going to grow, and how they’re going to partner with other partners to enhance their growth and make money,” says Gernon.

In 2009 Microsoft will have a number of key product milestones, including a new version of Internet Explorer. Gernon says new offerings around business productivity and online services are already generating significant interest.

“Microsoft is focused on three key things: how do we help our partners take lower costs for client businesses, get more profitability from the products their clients already have, and how do we create new and creative business opportunities for our partners,” says Gernon. “Our partners are the key success factors to making that happen, and we’re working together to respond to our partner needs.”