Microsoft Corp.’s plans for the solutions provider channel started to become clearer last night, during sessions previewing some of the announcements Microsoft will make today and later in the week about its major new programs and services.
Heading the list is Microsoft’s take on software as a service (SaaS), which it defines as “software and services” – a combination that relies on Microsoft server-based applications such as Exchange, SQL Server, customer resource management (CRM) and other applications on the back end, talking to Office applications on the front end.
Microsoft is calling the approach Office Business Applications (OBA), which Microsoft execs pronounce “obuh.” They are encouraging solutions providers to begin building new applications using OBA, and use the approach to complete existing contracts for customers.
The idea is that end users can stick with their familiar Office application interfaces, but access all the functions of line-of-business applications, according to Brian Hall, general manager of the Windows Live commercial group at Microsoft.
With an SAP/Microsoft Live mashup that SAP offers under the tag Duet, employees could list their vacations in their own Outlook calendars and have SAP’s human resources application pick up that information and register the vacation along with the employee’s pay and benefits data.
“Software and service” extends beyond OBA applications, though. Microsoft plans to roll out a full menu of business-functions and infrastructure services along with the training and certifications to help solutions providers build their expertise and sell the back-end services, according to Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s information worker business division, which is responsible for Office.
Microsoft will provide back-end services for voice-over-IP (labeled as “unified communications”), business intelligence, search, enterprise content management, and collaboration.
The services will rely on existing Microsoft applications, including Exchange, Sharepoint, and Office Communications Server.
Two new products, one new program
A new product called Office Performance Point Server will offer performance management for any process-oriented applications. It will allow clients to collect performance data in Office applications or via any other method, and run the performance monitor on their own site, or use Microsoft’s hosted version. It will be available in the fall.
Microsoft will also deliver a set of applications called the Windows Live Suite that make it easier for solutions providers to package OBA applications and Windows Live services for customers, according to Hall. Beta versions are available to Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference attendees, but will be available online to other partners as well.
To help solutions providers get up to speed, Microsoft will also ofer a multimillion-dollar training-and-marketing program called OBA OnRamp, details of which are available online.
Microsoft will also distribute 10,000 copies of the OBA Quickstart Kit to attendees at the partner conference, Capossela said.
Microsoft will offer a total of nine new competency certifications for solutions providers wanting to build OBA applications and sell Microsoft Live services.
The new certifications are:
enterprise content management and forms,
Office solutions development,
enterprise project management,
and portals and collaboration.
Many solutions providers said they’re interested in the new services, but have serious questions about the prices and margins that will be available to those building or reselling them; see Barbara Darrow’s story on SearchITChannel.com for details.