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Channel Zone has learned that, as part of the ongoing transition from the Microsoft Business Solutions partners program (mostly SMB VARs) to the Microsoft Partner Program, Microsoft Corp. on Thursday will be making several changes in its channel programs for former Microsoft Business Solutions partners.

On May 4, Microsoft announced the new opportunities for MBS (Microsoft Business Solutions) partners through integration into the Microsoft Partner Program, the launch of the MBS Competency and the offering of a new reseller agreement called the SPA (Solution Provider Agreement).

Starting July 1, all of the changes noted in the May 4 announcement to partners will take effect. These include that MBS Partners can begin enrolling in the MBS Competency, they can access and sign the SPA, and they can begin ordering new Microsoft Business Solutions Services plans.

With the SPA, partners secure the authorized channel model as a standard partner model within Microsoft for the delivery of MBS core ERP (enterprise resource planning) software licenses. The SPA is available to MBS partners to review and adopt as their reseller terms and conditions with Microsoft, to deliver core MBS ERP software licenses and obtain discounts (aka margins).

Current partners will have from July 1, 2004, to July 31, 2005, to adopt the SPA as their reseller terms and conditions for MBS SPA solutions. After July 31, 2005, MBS partners must have signed the SPA to order MBS software licenses for the software covered by the SPA.

Partners will have a 13-month period to transition to the SPA. Whether the SPA is immediately preferable to their current agreement will vary depending on many factors, including partners’ business models, range of offerings and sales history. When partners sign the SPA, it will replace their existing MBS reseller agreements for solutions covered by the SPA. Partners should note that the SPA term locks them into longer contract terms, up to 23 months, rather than the current three to 12 months.

Still, there is no fee associated with signing the SPA. Partners who choose to wait before signing the SPA will continue to operate under their existing MBS reseller agreements.

Not sure what you want to do yet? The current discount schedules for customers in North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean will remain in place in fiscal year 2005 for both those partners who sign the SPA and those who do not.

In addition, Microsoft will be offering the MBS Competency to recognize partners who specialize in delivering business applications software and related services.

Partners who specialize in delivering business applications software and related services will be able to enroll for the MBS Competency beginning July 1. The new competency is part of the overall Microsoft Partner Program framework and marks a key milestone in the integration of MBS partners into the Microsoft Partner Program. MBS partners will now have access to all of the additional resources provided to Microsoft partners enrolled in the Microsoft Partner Program.

As part of this program, Microsoft will be introducing Microsoft Partner Program Pre-approval. The pre-approval process grandfathers MBS partners into program levels and three different competencies, including the MBS Competency, the ISV Competency and the Learning Solutions Competency. Partner pre-approval and enrollment details will be communicated directly to partners via e-mail on or around July 1.

To take advantage of their pre-approval privileges, however, partners must enroll in the Microsoft Partner Program and the associated pre-approval status by Sept. 30. After that date, partners must meet the typical program level and competency requirements to enroll.

On the flip side, MBS services—technical support, online training and consulting—will be available to partners for purchase on a package or a la carte basis, enabling partners to purchase what they need, when they need it.

Microsoft believes that, in general, partners who invest in training and development of their solution expertise will benefit from the removal of mandatory annual fees and the implementation of a new services plan cost structure that rewards training and self-help. But, at the same time, the plan raises the cost of technical support call incidents.

That said, beginning July 1, partners will have a transition grace period in fiscal year 2005 during which they will continue to receive unlimited technical support in some regions. The length of these transition periods in which unlimited call support will be offered will vary by geography and product to some extent based on current partner agreements and country practices.

In addition to the new opportunities for MBS partners, Microsoft will also launch three new benefits to all Microsoft partners . These enhancements are being communicated to partners Thursday, and they’ll be discussed in detail at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto taking place July 11 through 13.

These will include access to a Customer Satisfaction Index, which will provide Microsoft Partner Program members with the means to confidentially survey and measure customer satisfaction. In addition, Microsoft will be offering an improved online directory, Microsoft Resource Directory, which will enable customers to easily find solution providers that fit their technology needs. Finally, Microsoft will offer a Logo Builder tool for Microsoft Gold and Certified partners to create a customized logo for their marketing materials.

These moves come on the heels of Microsoft’s reorganization of MBS. In this reorganization, division chief Doug Burgum, former CEO of Great Plains, reports directly to CEO Steve Ballmer and Orlando Ayala becomes division chief operating officer. These moves have been made because MBS’ financials have been disappointing in recent quarters. Microsoft clearly hopes that both the management and program reorganizations will help MBS’ bottom line.