The productivity takeaways from Microsoft’s partner update

Microsoft made changes to its partner program this week that should lead to a better match between skills and needs.

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Martyn Williams/IDG

Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.

Microsoft presented some major changes to its partner program this week, such as eliminating the old badging system (Silver, Gold, etc.) and replacing it with classifications tied to product verticals. This reminds me a lot of the way we measure progress in multi-player games, where levels are tied to skills. We know gamification, when done right, can increase productivity by establishing clear goals and a specific process tied to achieving them.

In addition, while watching the presentation on Microsoft Teams, I noticed a feature that these collaboration/conferencing products need, but do not yet have — one that would be easy to create and could be a game changer for people who must present on tools like Teams.

Gamifying a partner program

I am a big fan of LitRPG fiction. This is where an author uses game progression to describe how a protagonist and other characters move though a story. Even when I’m not playing, I’m thinking about where your level of powers, skills, and your character progress through a game, or as a hero progresses through a LitRPG story. Gamification is being increasingly used to motivate employees by providing similar mechanisms to help those employees decide how to advance in their company and careers.

What Microsoft announced was a defined-leveling program for partners. The three levels are: Entry, Solutions Provider, and Expert Specialist. While less complex than the levels of actual games, these three are applied to six areas of expertise: Infrastructure, Data & AI, Digital and Applied Innovation with Azure, Business Applications, Modern Work, and Security.

When a client is looking for a project, if they understand their own skill level (which they often don’t) they can pick the focus area for that project and then the skill level they need. For instance, if they are already expert and just need someone to facilitate the relationship with Microsoft, they’d pick a basic partner; if they are knowledgeable about the technology but don’t understand how to integrate it or need a lot of help with the product, they’d pick someone in the solutions class; and if they just want to move more aggressively with the technology — but are new to all aspects of it — they’d pick an expert level partner. Given that each partnership level comes with an increase in cost, the partners are financially motivated to advance up the hierarchy of titles, much like a someone in the past would  advance from novice to journeyman to expert.

In short, this change helps Microsoft and its customers and partners by creating a clear hierarchy of capabilities tightly tied to defined classes of skills, and it helps all three groups better match those skills to individual projects. This should result in a higher-quality outcome while keeping costs in check  because you don’t pay for skills you don’t need, and the skill level you acquire (assuming you choose wisely) will properly match your specific need.

I expect the application of game-progression elements to a partner program will be successful.

About that Teams observation...

During the presentation, I noticed a missing feature in Teams that I have not seen in any other video conferencing/collaboration product yet: an automatic prompter. The moderator for the event was well rehearsed and very talented, but frequently she had to reach forward to advance her laptop screen which contained her talk. This was distracting to both her and her audience.

But given we can do speech-to-text with high accuracy now, we should be able to advance the prompter by automatically matching words in the script to what the speaker is saying. By putting the script in the system, you could also show it to the audience so they could read and reference it in real time. People who both hear and read something better retain it, and for those of us taking notes, we can better keep up with a talk if the words are available to read, copy and paste.

An integrated feature that used scripts would make the speakers come across more naturally, like an experienced news caster (I trained to be a TV and radio anchor), and significantly improve comprehension and retention of the content.

By using game elements and critically looking at how tools are used, companies can improve products over time — as I again learned at this week’s Microsoft partner event.

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