Lessons from Microsoft's NSI Partners

Thirty-three partners have earned a special relationship with Microsoft, giving them dedicated partner managers and high-level relationships in Redmond. The U.S. National Systems Integrator (NSI) engagement model grants chosen partners with greater access to Microsoft resources than most partners can even imagine. We've written about the benefits to NSIs before (see "Microsoft Partners, Meet the NSIs"), but there's a deeper story as well.

What is the value of the NSI engagement model to the channel? What can the rest of the channel learn from NSIs?

Important to understanding the value of the NSIs to the channel is to establish what they are not. They're not global companies like Accenture, built on massive accounting or consulting corporations. Nothing against Accenture, but it's hard for a partner with 25 employees to put into practice any lessons learned from the consulting behemoths.

NSIs, for the most part, are partners who started out small and made it work. Many NSIs were 25 strong not very many years ago. Their journey and accomplishments are achievable for any partner ... and full of valuable lessons.

Early Adopters

When you think about it from a practical standpoint, it's pretty hard to justify gearing up your team to support Windows 8 when most of your clients are running Office 2003 on Windows XP. But that's what NSIs do.

One of the many reasons NSIs earn the title is that they work with Microsoft to help clients adopt technology early in the cycle. Partners with proven delivery best practices are more likely to overcome the inevitable challenges of projects that test the functionality and limits of new technologies.

NSIs have been at the forefront of Microsoft's cloud rollout. "NSI partners are embracing the cloud," notes Microsoft Vice President, U.S. Partner Group, Jenni Flinders. "NSIs are taking the lead in how they're positioning themselves to their customers and developing solutions to help customers easily make the transition to the cloud."

Tampa, Fla.-based Tribridge is a good example of that cloud adoption. Tribridge's private-label Concerto Cloud Services represents significant investment and commitment to the cloud. Greg Pierce, cloud strategy officer for Tribridge, says, "We engaged early in the cloud and built out our own private cloud infrastructure. We provide many of the same software packages that we've deployed on-premises over the years. But now we use the cloud as an operating model and our customers love it. We've gone further into the cloud than other partners."

As an NSI, Tribridge is unique in delivering Microsoft Dynamics solutions as well as the platform. "We don't have the hard, fast lines between Dynamics and platform," Pierce says. "When we look to engage with a customer we're implementing technologies that span both platform and Dynamics. The lines blur. We're a good canary in the coal mine to see how both sides work as a whole."