Microsoft partner ecosystem takes on AI boom, program shifts

Microsoft Partner AI Program

Media: Tech Target

Microsoft Inspire 2023 saw the company relaunch its partner program to address the expected boom in AI. Partners discuss technology developments and partner program changes.

Microsoft this week recast its partner program for next-generation AI technology, which the company said could expand its partners’ total addressable market from $4 trillion to as much as $6.5 trillion.

Amid the potential for 50%-plus growth, the Redmond, Wash., company launched the Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program, which aims to help the Microsoft partner ecosystem build offerings on the company’s AI platform. The program change, announced at the Microsoft Inspire 2023 partner conference, is the second overhaul in nine months. In October 2022, Microsoft replaced its Microsoft Partner Network with the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program to reflect customers’ cloud-centric IT purchasing habits.

Partners navigating the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program shift said the changes have helped them differentiate their services. But going forward, they would like to see further investments in marketing and simplification of program requirements.

While the cloud program asked partners to achieve a particular capability score, the arrival of the Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program should present fewer transition challenges. Microsoft said current partners have been automatically enrolled in the new program, in which they keep their previous benefits and designations.

The AI opportunity

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, called the economic growth stemming from AI “a massive partner opportunity.”

Generative AI, along with the expectation that most enterprise applications will embed AI within the next couple of years, will significantly expand the partner ecosystem’s total addressable market (TAM), according to Microsoft. Such AI developments could add $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion to the ecosystem’s current TAM, which Nadella pegged at $4 trillion.

Partners, many of which are creating AI services, will be watching how Microsoft’s AI partnering strategy unfolds.

Sumeet Sabharwal, CEO at Netgain Technology, an MSP based in Minnetonka, Minn., said he’s keen to learn more about the Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program given his company’s plan to build a line of business focused on driving mid-market AI adoption. He is also interested in new solution partner designations around AI.

In addition, Sabharwal said he will be looking for further details regarding Microsoft’s $100 million expenditure on partner innovation support in analytics and AI. At Inspire, Microsoft unveiled Azure Innovate, which it described as a dedicated, incremental investment that targets the demand for analytics and AI surrounding Microsoft Fabric and the Azure OpenAI Service

Interest in Microsoft Copilot

Partners also expressed interest in Microsoft Copilot, the company’s generative AI-based assistant that is working its way into several offerings. At Inspire, Microsoft released Sales Copilot, which automates CRM tasks and is accessible through tools such as Dynamics 365 Sales.

“Microsoft has been talking a lot about Copilot, but there are lots of different Copilots,” noted Jared Cheney, vice president of services, North America, at SoftwareOne, a software and cloud solutions provider headquartered in Switzerland.

Differentiation among Copilots lets SoftwareOne focus on creating communities around workloads in areas such as productivity, he said. Sales Copilot, meanwhile, could potentially complement the company’s digital workplace team, which has been engaging with customers on interconnected sales and Dynamics workflow.

Cheney also finds Copilot for Power Platform intriguing.

“There’s always been that citizen developer platform that is low code/no code and now, with the Copilot attached to that, it becomes even lower code,” he said. Users can dictate what they are trying to accomplish to Copilot and the AI tool interprets that and provides guidance on how to do it, he noted.

Other partners cited Copilot technology and other generative AI developments as encouraging.

Pallab Chatterjee, senior director and enterprise solution architect at Movate, a technology consulting and customer experience company based in Plano, Texas, pointed to Sales Copilot and Power Virtual Agent. The latter, he said, augments Movate’s cognitive contact center offering, empowering customer service agents with AI.

In addition to those tools, Chatterjee said the Process Mining capabilities in Microsoft’s Power Automate will help its high-technology and retail consumer packaged goods clients optimize business processes and improve customer engagement.

Azure OpenAI Services and Llama 2 will strengthen Movate’s generative AI offerings and capabilities, he added.

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