Microsoft's channel building programme proves the firm is trying to rectify its mistakes.
You have to hand it to Microsoft. Whatever its faults, it isn't the kind of company that continues to follow the wrong strategy. Microsoft can, and does, learn from its mistakes. It ditched its plans to develop its own proprietary network technology and has fully embraced the Internet.
Microsoft may seem arrogant, which is all the more irritating because it knows that it can get away with just about anything. But at the end of the day, it knows the customer matters. It appears the company is swinging its channel strategy so it can deliver what the customer wants.
The latest channel Net Results announcement is a long way from Microsoft's position a few years ago, when resellers were something dirty that the company's distributors dealt with, and the further it could distance itself from them, the better.
To date, Microsoft has a mature channel structure which it takes a closer interest in developing, and it listens more closely to what its resellers and partners are saying. Some would say it still has further to go in both areas, but at least it is now focused on delivering what customers want. That's good news for all.
It is unclear what the existing partners think about their ranks being trebled, but one can only imagine. No one likes their exclusivity being reduced and their special status diluted. But Microsoft is not going to let the displeasure of a few third parties - however essential they are - prevent it forging a path towards its goals.
It is crucial to Microsoft that it keeps up and accelerates the momentum of corporates moving from Unix and proprietary operating systems to NT.
NT has weathered the storms of early critics and sceptics, and is by all accounts, fast becoming the mid-systems operating system of choice.
In a very short time, Unix and the rest of the non-Microsoft camp will be marginalised to the point where they are only used if there is a very good reason why NT cannot be implemented, and those reasons will be few and far between. Estimates vary, but according to one report, sales for 1996 will be between eight million and 10 million copies, rising to 25 million in 1997.
Seen in that perspective, the rise from 30 to 100 UK solution providers is not going to be too damaging to the existing solution providers. The cake will be bigger so everyone's slice will be relatively larger.
Reassuringly, the new channel programme is founded on a bedrock of training requirements and accreditation milestones. Skills are what resellers need and the current shortage of the right skills is causing a vacuum which is creating an updraught of salaries rising.
A programme like Net Results can mean that each reseller business has the skills it needs without paying the extortionate recruitment or consultancy fees they often have to cough up.
Some resellers, including existing solution providers and partners, express reservations about Microsoft's ability to provide the necessary channel support. They are right. There is no doubt about it - Microsoft is utterly unable to support the kind of channel it is constructing.
The company believes the combined resources of CHS Electronics, Frontline, Ingram, Merisel and Metrologie will provide resellers with the support they need, which might appear somewhat far-fetched. None of those names are particularly renowned for their superior value-added services to the channel.
But Net Results may be just the jolt the distributors need to upgrade their reseller and Var support services. Distributors will have to provide high-calibre training and accreditation, and the gearing up which they will have to go through will have a knock-on effect that will benefit all the resellers they deal with.
Furthermore, the Net Results programme indicates that at last someone at Microsoft seems to have taken on board two important points. First, resellers are only going to get ahead when they take an active role in helping their customers get the best out of the technology they are supplying.
Second, the technology is only going to be widely accepted when it is simple enough for granny to use.
Microsoft at least realises that Windows does not, in itself, satisfy either of those requirements. It will take a well-trained and highly motivated channel to do that.
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