#MicrosoftEDU, what the channel transformation means for education partners.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tom O'Neil, a public sector and channel veteran to discuss Microsoft's U.S. Education business transformation.

Tom currently leads sales strategy for small and medium-sized education customers in the US, and is helping partners transform to the cloud in that space.

Tom has focused on the public sector space his entire career. He spent 17 years at Accenture managing business strategy and large scale system implementation projects for a wide variety of governmental and academic organizations. For the past 9 years Tom has been developing robust partner channels for Microsoft in the public sector with SIs, ISVs, and Channel Resellers.

In our podcast we discuss the importance of education to Microsoft as CEO Satya Nadella has called out education as one of Microsoft's top 6 company-wide priorities. This also dovetails with Microsoft's mission to "Empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more".

Many of our partner listeners might remember that U.S. Education VP, Margo Day, was once the US Channel Chief at Microsoft. Tom and I discussed her priorities around the business around three core priority areas and the opportunity for partners, they are:

  • Cloud Services at Scale - Partners can help deploy and run managed cloud services at scale such as: security, communications, collaboration, identity and device management. Cloud services help virtualize the scarce services humans provide at scale - i.e. identity management. You don't need to be in this business and I can help you.
  • 21st Century Learning - Development and delivery of new methods of learning as well as curriculum and content. Static textbooks are moving to more dynamic learning and there are both traditional as well as new content providers emerging. Microsoft is a platform and also provides classroom support tools like OneNote. Minecraft is becoming a Learning Platform that is both interactive and stimulating. Partners can be developers or facilitators of the content as Cloud Services brokers.
  • BI (Business Intelligence) & Analytics - The collection of "big data" is being used to support greater insights and decisions in areas such as student development and personalized learning. Tom speaks to the strong upside opportunity here for partners in developing applications that providing insights to student development and learning.

Our conversation moved to the overall channel evolution from selling traditional "widgets" - devices and software licenses - to the innovative delivery of services models and learning how to monetize them.

I asked Tom, "what has fundamentally changed for partners in education with Microsoft's transformation?". Tom's response was the business model is shifting moving from a "gross margin on transaction" or "revenue from delivery of professional services" model to "how to get the right margin from delivering cloud services".

Commitment from partners is key to success with Microsoft, in each of my interviews there has been a reoccurring theme here that "partners need to take the long-view, commit to the new business and monetization models being offered."

We discussed scaling the business in Education and mentioned the role of Service Agencies such as BOCES as a way for partners to scale and reach large groups of K12 customers in education.

AESA is the National Trade Organization for all of the Service Agencies its a great place to see how big this business is and what some of the business trends are for these organizations. Also, www.coloradoboces.org is the Colorado version and a good example of what these organizations do.

Partners interested in Education can join the US Education Partner Community for Partner Readiness and training here. This has information about current readiness opportunities and was part of the conversation as well.

How to Contact Tom? His email is: tloneil@microsoft.com. Tom mentioned another partner seller in US Education, Cynthia Hanna who can also help with engaging partners with the US Education Team Site on Yammer - her contact information is Cynthia Hanna – cyhanna@microsoft.com.

As I do in each of my interviews, Tom and I explore his personal and professional journey. I asked Tom what he would tell his 30 year old self and his response was, "take more risk". He explained that when the dotcom boom was happening he stayed at Accenture rather than pursuing a riskier situation. It might not have been successful, but at least he would have learned from it.

Tom's most referenced or gifted book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Steven Covey. This is one of my all-time favorites for many of the same reasons Tom cites on the podcast.

His best piece of career advice - "Invent yourself on a regular basis and develop the confidence to propose "big ideas" that have the most impact on the business".

Please check out this episode on iTunes or on my website. I hope you enjoy this episode and you can also follow me on Facebook and my personal Twitter account. 

Thank you for reading and listening.

Vince Menzione