Venkat Krishnan, Executive Director - Global Partner Solutions, Microsoft India
Venkat Krishnan, Executive Director - Global Partner Solutions, Microsoft India

Microsoft and its partners share a common goal and this is completely integrated into the company’s mission statement for helping every organization and every person on the planet to achieve more.

“We look at security as a fundamental design tenet in everything that we do. From our cloud offering perspective, our belief is security should not be just an add-on layer.”

Venkat Krishnan, Executive Director – Global Partner Solutions, Microsoft India 

The Pandemic has forced businesses to shift to online operations and there has been a massive migration to the cloud. This has thrown open the wider gates of opportunities for Cloud Vendors as well as Distributors. As we usher into 2023, it’s time to look back and take stock of the channel performance of leading cloud vendors and distributors, and their key channel achievements. More than this, it’s pivotal to get a hang of the key cloud predictions for the Channel Market for the year 2023.

While the industry is agog over to know what all technologies would majorly impact the cloud market, we would take you through the cloudscape to listen directly from the horse’s mouth as to what the top vendors and distributors are thinking and reflecting, what are their premonitions about the shape of things to come in 2023 and their plans to turbocharge the Partner ecosystem.

In a series of interactions with the poster-boys of the cloud industry, SME Channels embarks upon understanding the cloud dynamics; what drives the cloud growth engine; the key milestones for 2023 set from the channel perspective; key mega trends in the cloud market in 2023, predictions for the New Year; direction for channel partners and the growth roadmap of the cloud players for 2023.

We spoke to leading cloud player Microsoft India to get a sneak peek into its performance in the cloud Industry. Here, Venkat Krishnan, Executive Director – Global Partner Solutions, Microsoft India, reveals his company’s key Cloud Predictions for 2023, major achievements and the unique matrixes that design his seminal vision for the Partner Ecosystem. Edited Excerpts:

When it comes to partner growth and promoting and propelling partner benefit, Microsoft had always been at the front seat. As a top vendor which believes doing more with less, how does Microsoft been designing the metrics of partner ecosystem to drive sustainable growth?

First and foremost, Microsoft and its partners share a common goal. This is completely integrated and aligned into our mission statement for helping every organization and every person on the planet to achieve more. And that’s where we, along with our partners, with a very clear understanding of this common goal to help our customers, scale, innovate, deliver solutions. We are on this journey which is about really looking at what technology can do for our customers in terms of solving some of their business problems. We focus on how technology can help them innovate, enable differentiation for our customers in their marketplace, drive business success and eventually lead to the real business impact coming from digital transformation. And to do that, the foundation for us is the Microsoft cloud. And with that foundation, we have a very, very clear objective of engaging with our partners in a way where we really want to be the best partner for our partners. This means that we’re going to get all aspects of our technology and all the innovation that we are doing on the cloud to our partners so that they, in turn, can develop the deep capabilities that are required to go and deliver these solutions to our customers and, thus, enabling their success.

And the way we do that today with our customers, with our partners, sorry. We are helping our customers scale innovate newer solutions and together with an ecosystem of close to about 17,000 partners across India, which is split across the different types of partners, ranging from product companies or isps, as we call them to a solution provider, to system integrator, to a distributor, to the advisories to the resellers. We are engaged with all type of partners to really enable the cloud transformation, journey and business outcome for our customers.

In recent times, there had been a significant uptick in demand for the cloud solutions. How has Microsoft, as a top vendor, been leading the pack in encashing the opportunity?

We are partnering with governments and organizations in every industry to accelerate the digital transformation journey. And I think what the Pandemic did is just accelerate the entire journey that our customers have already started. Many of them were a little ahead, many of them had just started. The acceleration was felt across the different segments of the industry, including the commons. So that’s where we are, where we think our main purpose, which is aligned to our mission is to really help our customers to accelerate this digital transformation journey. And the way we are doing that is through the comprehensive Microsoft Cloud. For us, the Microsoft Cloud truly represents different aspects of technology coming together to solve different areas of business challenges that customers have by bringing in an end-to-end, integrated, always on highly secured, flexible cloud platform that basically offers our customers the right solution for the different type of requirements that they have to help them power innovation as well as grow across the industries and sectors. And to us, our partner ecosystem has been at the center of how we bring those technologies and innovation to our customers in India and around the world. And this continues to be a driving force for us in our overall mission to help every customer and every organization achieve more.

So at the end of the day, the strength of the Microsoft cloud and the expertise of our partners are completely aligned to helping our customers achieve their goals through our unique offerings and the business impact that we are able to jointly deliver.

Because of the prevalent hybrid work culture, there had also been a significant widening of the area of exposure for cyberattacks. So, the security issue has taken the front seat. How do you instruct your partners to remain ready to allay the fears of cybersecurity concerns?

We look at security as a fundamental design tenet in everything that we do. From our cloud offering perspective, our belief is security should not be an add-on layer. It should not be something that you add on to a solution, it should be something that should be inherently available when you have a technology solution going on to a customer. So for us, the security is built in rather than bolt on. That’s the approach that we have. The other approach that we have is that for a customer, it can become extremely challenging if they have to really get security delivered through multiple vendors who keep on adding point solutions on top of every other aspect of the entire It infrastructure that they run, be it from the endpoint devices to the what is running in their core to the application to have the data and all that. So to us, it’s about looking at security end to end, right from the edge onto the cloud and everything that comes in between that. And that’s the way the Microsoft Cloud is designed. It is designed with security that is built in and integrated across all the aspects of the Microsoft Cloud —  from the data and AI portion of the business, to the infrastructure, to the app and innovation, to our business applications, to our entire modern work productivity. We have security built into every aspect of the Microsoft Cloud. To our partners, the real benefit of having something like this is to really look at developing capabilities to take the power of all the things that Microsoft is doing from the design of the cloud itself.

Two, also, the additional things that we bring in because of so many signals that we pick up because of Microsoft as a corporation, the type of traffic that we get through the different aspects where we touch millions and millions of customers and consumers, we have a lot of intelligence that is available to us and we make it available to both our customers and our partners.

If you take this whole thing comprehensively, the partners need to actually then build that additional layer of expertise in helping our customers.

And that is what we do through a program, where we not only certify our partners when it comes to security capabilities, but we have advanced certifications and advanced workload type of a focus so that they could become the real best when it comes to supporting our customers on that journey.

So, it’s a combination of design and how we build it in the cloud itself and how we are using the rest of the intelligence that we are picking up through different signals and sharing it with our customers and building deep capabilities in our partners to go and deliver that as a service for our customers. So, that’s how we really look at the overall security posture.

Cloud solutions have become very tech-intensive now-a-days, which again calls for a lot of capacity building on the part of the partners. What Microsoft has been doing for Up-skilling its partners to deliver effective cloud solutions?

For us, Up-skilling is a priority, very important priority. And when it comes to skilling for our partners, I am very happy to share that 80% of our high growth partners are investing in talent which means that we have to keep on working on newer ways to give our partners easier and quicker access to the Microsoft support on demand to help them solve challenges and meet the customer needs. For instance, Microsoft learned. Microsoft learned, basically simplifies and centralizes the entire training and development offerings for our partners so that they can easily strengthen their skills. They can explore the newer technologies in the market, opportunities that they are seeing and they can track the progress towards completing industry recognized Microsoft certifications as well as the individual task modules.

We empower and advise our partners with practical, on-the-ground support and powerful development tools and virtual testing environments to help them build their own innovative solutions as a part of this. The most important thing that we do is really looking at what we are now terming as a Microsoft Cloud partner program, this is our new way in which we are getting our partners to really deliver and be ready not only with capacity but also the required capability for every solution area that sits within the Microsoft Cloud.

So, for all the solution areas that we’ve got, which is across our Azure infrastructure or core, which is around our data and AI, which is around our apps innovation, which is around our business apps, which is around our modern work as well as our security, we’ve got specific programs and certifications available for each of them. And at the same time for all of them and partners have two levels to which they can go ahead.

One is the cloud competency certification that they can bring in and then they can even go for advanced certification. These certifications help them position their unique capability in front of customers.

In terms of the additional capability that they can bring in based on the expertise that they have developed through the different trainings that Microsoft has done and for us, the aspect of capability building is not just limit it to just certification, but it is in terms of how we are building the deep technical capabilities across a partner to really look at the Microsoft specific cloud solution and how are they really doing the right set of deployment to deliver success as is viewed by the customer, which we called as customer success.

So, that’s the way we are really progressing from an overall skilling perspective —   not stopping at certification but making that certification real for the party.

To provide them for differentiation at the same time making it very, very valuable for the customer to really start measuring it in terms of the customer success of the investment that the customers are making with the partners.

Are you planning any major investment to expand your partner ecosystem in India? Would you shed some light on the nature and the type of investment you have already made or are going to make in order to get a future-ready workforce?

Yes, we continue to make investments into our partner ecosystem and that investment is around multiple areas of driving growth for the partner as well as enabling the customer success measured from a business impact perspective, both are equally important to us.

So, I spoke about skilling that’s one part of the investment. There are other investments that we make and these investments are aligned to how we really focus on helping our partners see the new and emerging opportunities that we are able to look at. Hence, building that right capability that is required to leverage the new growth opportunity and at the same time, coming up with programs and rebates that reward partners for delivering high on those aspects of growth.

So, you could call it as a capability build as well as a growth-linked investment that we are making which basically helps our partners increase their share of wallet or the total addressable market opportunity for them and also rewards them for doing splendid work in some of these great new growth areas. That’s the way we balance our investments across the complete value chain of our partners request.

What is your budget spend on revamping the partner ecosystem in 2022? What percentage of your budget is being spent to propel the partner ecosystem?

Wouldn’t be able to share specific numbers, because, you know, we are part of the larger Microsoft Corp organization and these budgets are determined at a top level, but it would be good to look at how we are really driving growth in the market.  If you look at our growth, we have been growing on double digits on a significant base in terms of how we are helping our customers transfer to the cloud across every segment of the business that we play in.

So, when we look at the headlines with respect to the percentage growth that we are seeing, these are all high double digit growth that we’re seeing across our largest of the enterprise customers to our mid-market customers, to our small and medium customers.

And for us, the entire motion that we have in the country where we are predominantly in indirect market, meaning all the business that we do in the country is through partners. So, that’s a good measure of how we are trying up the growth opportunities with the capability built and our partners realizing the growth that they see along with Microsoft in the old journey.

It’s time to know what partners are doing for Microsoft. On the other side of the story, how are they responsible for the overall growth that you have achieved so far in the cloud vertical?

As I mentioned, we are predominantly a Partner-centric organization. Nearly, 95% of our business is partner-led business for us. Hence, we don’t look at our partners as anything different from Microsoft. In fact, we don’t have this terminology. For us, something the partner does is something that Microsoft does. In fact, we have a terminology called as Co-sell. That means we sell together with our partners.

There are very clear areas in which the partners play a significant role, especially in the small and medium businesses. The partners play a significant role, especially in the small and medium business part of the business where our entire scale motion of reaching every customer across every PIN code in the country is done by the investments that our partners are making, both in terms of the field force, as well as, leveraging some of the scale programs at Microsoft has, as well as leveraging the demand generation engine and the digital signals.

So, it’s a combination of all this that is really making that the music come alive at an end-customer perspective. Our objective is that we want to reach across every SMB, every organization in the country and help those customers in their digital transformation journey and that can be done only when we have partners who are present, who have the ability to engage with our customers who have the ability to go and deploy these solutions and lead that to our customer success.

So hence it’s is something that is literally tied at the hip. It’s an umbilical chord relationship that we share with our partners.

What would be your growth outlook for 2023?

We reported our first quarter results late October this year and happy to share that we’ve had a solid start to our financial year and the results are driven by strong execution in a dynamic environment and it is in line with our expectation.

We continue to look at the market with a lot of optimism. Because, our entire objective, as we work with our customers, is to take complexity out of technology and out of most of the legacy investments that they have made, and help them modernize and get more value.

So our entire focus now is to help our customers do more with less. Hence we feel that in the current environment, both across the microeconomic as well as the macroeconomic environment. We are very well positioned to actually help our customers do more with less through this technology.

When it comes to the total number of partners, which vertical is responsible for or accounts for the largest number of partners that you have?

We have partners who are of multiple types. Like I mentioned, we’ve got partners, ranging from ISV’s or solution providers to our large software solution providers to our resellers, to our distributors, to telcos.

We’ve got all type of partner types. When you have an expansive offering, like what Microsoft has, you need a massive partner scale to touch every customer requirement that may be coming in. So, the way we look at partners from a perspective of differentiation is based on the partner type, whether they are a product company, whether they are a system integrator, whether they’re resellers and the most important aspect that we have just introduced this year is to really run the Microsoft Cloud program partner program where we are able to very clearly call out.

These are the set of partners who actually have certification. A cloud certification for this part of the cloud like I had mentioned, we’ve got different solution areas within the Microsoft Cloud.

So, one partner could be a cloud partner for Azure Core, another partner could be a Microsoft Cloud partner for data and AI 1/3 partner could be a Microsoft Cloud partner for modern work and so on. So, that is the way we make that differentiation possible, because that differentiation is completely aligned to the key capabilities that they have and the customer success that you’re driving for that particular customer for that particular Microsoft Cloud. We encourage our partners to go beyond that and to make sure that they are developing the capabilities across the other part of the Microsoft Cloud, because that is exactly how you provide a bigger economic opportunity for the same partner who has already built particular expertise, let’s say, on Azure Portal and if we work with them to make sure that we are building capabilities on data and AI on app and innovation.

And once they get to a certain level, and they meet those criteria, they get the certification for the other Microsoft Cloud offering as well, and in that way, they then expand their capability to go and serve a much larger market, both within the same customer as well as across the larger customer base.

So that’s how we build the entire motion, which is around increasing the economic opportunity for our partners, at the same time, making sure that each and every one of them have the necessary capability to show up in front of our customers and deliver on the promise and the potential of the solution that has been sold to them.

In my interaction with a number of cloud players, including Oracle, AWS and today, of course, with Microsoft, I have got to understand that different partners at different points of time had been fulfilling the cloud requirements of their clients by packing up solutions from different vendors. As a top cloud vendor, how do you look at this cloud promiscuity on the part of the partners?

I think the first and foremost thing to acknowledge is that the customer has a choice. And, hence, it becomes very important when Microsoft looks at that and say how can Microsoft be the best partner for that customer to meet that particular requirement.

We play in multiple solution areas, some of the names that you mentioned don’t play in all the solution areas that we have across the Microsoft Cloud.

So, we’ve got a far bigger access to the market from our time perspective and hence our ability to really bring together the entire Microsoft cloud integrated to the customer and hence the ability for a customer looking at a Microsoft cloud versus somebody else who’s stitching together four different parts of the solution and offering to a customer — both would have their own set of pros and cons.

But I think where we will differentiate is the overall value that we are able to deliver to the customer because all these are integrated at the design stage, and they are not loosely tied. So, we have a complete view of the entire Microsoft Cloud that is running in a Microsoft customer environment and all the components of that are deeply integrated at the design stage. We take full ownership and provide far better customer outcome versus somebody who’s trying to stitch 4 things together. So, I think that is the single biggest differentiator because the customers know that they can trust on this company called Microsoft and the partner who’s servicing that Microsoft Cloud rather than being in a situation where they need to actually have an escalation, where they wonder who from the four is supposed to solve for that problem.

When you talk about security, we’ve seen our customers being significantly challenged despite investing in multiple security products. But when the crunch time comes, it becomes very difficult for somebody to own our ownership,  because it is, by design across the entire Microsoft Stack is with Microsoft and our partners.

So that to me is one big value. The second big value occurs when our customers have decided to take the journey with us on the comprehensiveness of the Microsoft Cloud. Over and above, the full comprehensive solution what they’ve also seen is that we are able to do more with less.

We’re able to take cost out from many aspects of the integration that would be required when you put four or five components which are desperate to.

So, for a customer there is also value in going up with the Microsoft Cloud, because not only does it provide a comprehensive integrated, fully secured solution, but it also delivers more value and it actually helps them do more with less.

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