Microsoft calls on partners to sell Office

Microsoft is making a significant push to leverage its partner community to promote customer upgrades and new sales of Office

Microsoft is making a significant push to leverage its partner community to promote customer upgrades and new sales of its Office productivity suite, a company executive said Friday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference 2005 in Minneapolis.

Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Information Worker (IW) Product Management Group, acknowledged that many customers are not upgrading their Office suite because they believe the older versions they currently run are sufficient to compete in the current business environment.

"We're a victim of our own success in that Office 97, Office XP [and other earlier versions] are products people like," Capossela said. "But to convince someone that the newer version is much better is harder because people are quite happy with their current product, and that product never expires. Software doesn't perish ever."

To drive upgrades to Office 2003, Microsoft plans to quadruple the number of partners selling and building software on top of Office, he said.

"We're on a mission to show people that the workplace has changed and the old tools aren't really good enough," Capossela said. "We're really focused on trying to expand the partner ecosystem."

Capossela said there are currently about 700 partners in the Information Worker (IW) competency of Microsoft's partner program, of which Office is a cornerstone product. "We think that number has to get far, far bigger," he said.

Meanwhile, across all of Microsoft's partners, about 1,700 work with Office in their offerings to customers, he said. Capossela would like to see that number grow to between 5,000 and 6,000.

Microsoft also aims to more than double the number of Microsoft salespeople who are focused on selling IW products, from about 450 now to more than 1,000 in fiscal-year 2006, he said. Microsoft started its new fiscal year July 1.

At the same time Microsoft is encouraging upgrades to Office 2003, the vendor also is squawking about the suite's next version, Office 12, and other new products in the IW business.

At the conference Friday, the vendor demonstrated Office 12, which is due in the second half of 2006, for the first time publicly. In particular, Microsoft showed off improved ability to fill out and send forms in Office using XML (Extensible Markup Language) and a browser. Microsoft last month made public that XML would be the standard file format for Office 12.

Microsoft also unveiled a new product in the IW unit, Small Business Accounting 2006, which will be available in September. The product allows small businesses to do accounting using the Office suite, he said.

Additionally, the vendor officially named a product that was formerly code-named Maestro. The new software, now called Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager, is business intelligence software that leverages Portal Server and SQL Server to enable customers to match business objectives with actual results.

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