July 14, 2014, 9:04 AM — Microsoft shifts its attention cross-country this week, from its Washington state headquarters, overcast with uncertainty, to Washington, D.C., where company leaders will try to make sunny optimism shine at its annual partner conference.
The Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), which runs through Thursday, focuses on five areas: cloud computing, big data, mobility and devices, enterprise social software, and sales and marketing.
"Partners are core to our success and growth," said John Case, corporate vice president in Microsoft's Office division. In particular, partners will drive Microsoft customers to the cloud, he said.
However, making sure that at the end of the conference partners head home with a broad smile on their faces might be a tougher job than in previous years.
A moment of transition for Microsoft and its partners
Microsoft is at a critical juncture in its years-long transformation. It's getting reshaped by a new CEO intent on putting his own stamp on the company. It's in the midst of integrating Nokia's massive smartphone business. And, most critically, it's still morphing from a provider of on premises software to a provider of cloud computing services and hardware devices.
That Microsoft will make this transition successfully is far from a given, and this can be unsettling to resellers, system integrators, independent software vendors, hardware makers and distributors that have hitched their businesses -- partly or fully -- to the company's fortunes.
While Microsoft has made big strides in its transformation, its approach to cloud and mobile in the not too distant past has been blasted by critics as contradictory, reticent and erratic.
Case acknowledges the message to partners wasn't always clear. "When we first went to the cloud, I think there was some confusion over what our company's position was on the partner channel," he said, adding that, from Microsoft's perspective, this hasn't been an issue for the past two years.
With a strategy that's gotten much clearer, in particular since Satya Nadella took over as CEO in February, Microsoft hopes to now refine its partner programs so they are more aligned with its "cloud first, mobile first" philosophy.
What Microsoft will announce on day one of WPC
Specifically, Microsoft has recognized it needs to give partners more control over the cloud services they resell, so on Monday, the company plans to announce the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program. It will grant partners reselling Office 365 and Windows Intune control of billing, provisioning, support and sales of complementary tools, products and services.