Lessons Learned In My First Year as a Microsoft IT Pro Tools Partner for Skype for Business

Matt Christopher, VP Customer Experience, Nectar

Looking Back

As I was on the 5 hour flight home from Orlando, digging out of my e-mail inbox after 3 days at Enterprise Connect, I began to reflect on the past year and what it has meant to Nectar and to the industry. My thoughts began to focus on being a Microsoft Skype for Business IT Pro Tools partner.  Enterprise Connect 2015 was a mile marker in our journey as an IT Pro Tool partner.  During that conference, the planning for the announcement with Microsoft began to pick up momentum.  Our products were in the certification labs and we were preparing for the first series of certification tests.

As I reflect at where we are today as an IT Pro Tools partner, I realize what a year it has been for Nectar, for Microsoft, and for planning, monitoring/diagnostics, troubleshooting and reporting/analytics for UC deployments. When I think about this past year, there are a series of adjectives that describe how I feel.

Honored

Being 1 of 3 partners that Microsoft approached in late 2014 to discuss the potential for the IT Pro Tools program was indeed an honor. Being a company that Microsoft recognized as a partner that could bring value not only as an IT Pro Tools provider, but as a partner that could be there as they shaped and evolved the program, was rewarding.

Validated

The fact that Microsoft even developed the IT Pro Tools Program is a validation for Nectar. It represents a confirmation from Microsoft that planning, monitoring/diagnostics, troubleshooting and reporting/analytics are a key part of any Lync or Skype for Business deployment; that you cannot just turn it on and let it run forever.  It is also a validation from Microsoft that there are a lot of tools out there and customers and partners need help understanding what tools they can trust to help them with the maintenance and operation of their Microsoft UC deployment.

Experienced

As an inaugural member of the IT Pro Tools program, we very near the tip of the spear in terms of this program. We learned a lot along the way as we worked with Microsoft to determine the best way to bring this program to market in a way that would bring value to IT Pros looking to deploy Lync and Skype for Business.  To be trusted to navigate the planning stages and growing pains, you have to be a trusted partner, a resilient partner, and a partner with a solution that is robust enough to mold to whatever the final test criteria are.  I feel a bit like an athlete at the end of a competitive game/match; a bit bruised, but victorious and excited to have been part of it.

Justified

Yes, I did just look up synonyms for “validated”. This is another form of validation, but I wanted to distinguish the two.

Over the past year, we have had several hundred partners and customers come to us because of our involvement in the IT Pro Tools program. 5 of the 9 tools that are certified across the 7 categories are Nectar solutions.  Of the partners that have been in the program since the beginning (Event Zero and Nectar), Nectar is the only tool listed in Network Assessment and Troubleshooting. Although this provides a convenient opportunity to brag, I am pointing this out because we find that Network Assessments and Troubleshooting (Diagnostics) are the two leading needs of customers searching us out for IT Pro Tools. Assessments and Diagnostics represent 32% and 35%, respectively, of all inquiries that originated from the Microsoft solutions catalog.  Customers want to ensure their network is ready before they deploy Microsoft UC.  Once they deploy Microsoft UC, they want real time analysis of the calls on the network so they can understand how and where the network may be impacting communications quality and the user experience.

Veteran

At this point, I feel a bit like an upper classman or wily veteran. There has been a lot of change in the first year of the IT Pro Tools Program.  We have had some players move on and some rookies have been called up.  With the growing momentum of Skype for Business Online and hybrid deployments, the nature of IT Pro Tools is going to change.  There is going to be a lot of transition.  With a year of understanding the rhythm of the program, creating best practices, and establishing “muscle memory”, we don’t have to worry about the fundamentals, we can focus on what’s coming and how best to bring value to our customers and partners in this market. I kind of want to put my arm around the new players and give them pointers on what is about to come and how to avoid some of the bumps and bruises. But then, that would rob them of the joy learning how to be an IT Pro Tools partner.

Grateful

We are honored, but we are also humbled and grateful that Microsoft considered Nectar as both a partner and a solution set worthy of the inaugural announcement of the IT Pro Tools Program. There are a lot of people within Microsoft that we have worked with to make this happen.  Having worked at Microsoft, on the voice incubation team and closely with the Lync/Skype groups in Redmond, I know that public acknowledgement or association with the opinions of a 3rd party can be “complex”.  So I will not make life complicated for any of my friends or colleagues within Microsoft by naming names.  Instead, in the spirit of awards show season, I will use the template of an Oscar winner’s blanket thank you:

To all of you within Microsoft, both in Redmond and in the field, who saw the value in Nectar as an IT Pro Tool and who helped us bring this program to fruition; you know who you are and you know we know who you are. We are eternally grateful.

Thank you.

@mc_on_uc