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PHOENIX—One of the frustrations that Microsoft partners have with the general shift to the cloud is that not only does the company sell Office 365 direct, but the amount of money they can actually make selling it on behalf of Microsoft is somewhat limited. But at the Ingram Micro Cloud Summit 2016 conference here, Microsoft revealed that a new “Project Madeira” offering will be made available to customers only via its cloud service program.

Marko Perisic, general manager for Microsoft Dynamics, said Project Madeira makes it possible for Microsoft Office 365 users to invoke a range of business processes that otherwise would have required them to invoke a separate ERP application. The goal is to reduce the friction associated with, for example, creating or changing a purchase order within Microsoft Office 365, he said.

In general, Microsoft is attempting to reinvent productivity via Microsoft Office 365, Perisic said. Today many of the business processes are disjointed because end users are required to navigate multiple applications to complete a task. Project Madeira, available now as a technology preview, provides a means to fundamentally change the end-user experience, he added.

Arguably, Microsoft Office 365 has been the most disruptive force to hit the channel in memory. Many solution providers not only count on selling Microsoft Office licenses; they also count on installing and managing Microsoft Exchange servers.

While there are still plenty of instances of Microsoft Office and Exchange running on premise, the rate of adoption of Microsoft Office 365 would suggest that much of the installed base over the next few years will be migrating to Microsoft productivity applications in the cloud.

At the same time, however, Microsoft Office 365 often presents solution providers with a means to providing a more profitable end by integrating the office productivity suite with a broad swath of other applications. Of course, in the small- and midsize-business (SMB) sector, Microsoft is making it clear that it views Microsoft Office 365 as an application platform that over time will eliminate the need for many third-party applications.

Microsoft is focusing Project Madeira on SMBs. Microsoft notes that 90 percent of the companies in the world are SMBs served primarily by the channel. A full 60 percent of workers are employed by one of those organizations.

Depending on how Microsoft-centric any given partner may be, Project Madeira could be a good or a bad thing. However, one thing that is certain is that solution providers should be prepared for additional Microsoft Office 365 innovation that not only changes their business models, but just as significantly, continues to alter the way application software is actually consumed.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.