Microsoft will invest an extra $200m in its partners in its 2005 financial year as it seeks to bolster its indirect channel, redirecting marketing funds from direct sales operations and offering partners additional training.
The software giant said the increased financial investment in partners - up from $1.5bn to $1.7bn - will cover additional field specialists, training, sales and marketing support, and services.
Microsoft is also adding 200 technical specialists - 35 per cent of them specialising in Microsoft Business Solutions - to work closely with Microsoft partners.
"We reached the economic turning point in 2003; now we have to capture that incredible opportunity. Customers are demanding increased partner expertise and they will get it," said Allison Watson, vice president of Microsoft's worldwide partner sales.
Two new modules - licensing and software management - have been added to the company's core competency programme, with more likely to follow.
All Gold partners are required to have at least one core competency by the end of the year.
Training will be addressed via more webcasts and online learning programmes. For $500, partners will be able to get training materials for 40 of their staff, a huge saving on current rates.
"Nine months ago I launched a new partner programme; now it's about building velocity," said Watson.
She identified three key competitors: IBM, open source and users of ageing Microsoft software.
IBM was trying to switch into software services and would need to be beaten on core technology, she said.
Open source software is to be targeted by aggressive marketing, while Microsoft customers using NT4 and Windows 98 will be encouraged to upgrade.
Security was also identified as a key battleground, with promises made to improve reporting and analysis.
Microsoft is now using automated security scanning software to identify vulnerabilities in its code, and is still training staff to be more security minded.
The additional funding for field specialists will be allocated primarily to system builders, independent software vendors and partners that focus on Microsoft Business Solutions.
In addition, each of Microsoft's global subsidiaries will allocate a total of 35 per cent of global marketing funds - previously earmarked for direct customer marketing - to help partners build their businesses through joint marketing efforts with Microsoft.
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