No upside to Microsoft's decision to kill Dynamics GP exams

I'll tell you up front that I'm not a fan of Microsoft's recent decision to kill the exam requirements for much of its Dynamics line of products. The announcement came as a surprise because we'd been hearing from inside Microsoft that they were going to move in the other direction. We had been told that Microsoft would require a higher level of certification from resellers by year-end. I'd even done some work on a related project to help consultants get certified. Then one day, poof, certification is gone.

As I thought about this and read through Microsoft's announcement, three key items stood out:

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About Mark Polino

Mark Polino is a Microsoft MVP for Dynamics GP and the Director of Client Services for Fastpath. He is author or coauthor of five books on Microsoft Dynamics GP. Mark has been working with Dynamics GP and its predecessors since 1999. He is a Florida licensed CPA and holds an MBA from Rollins College.

Building Dashboards with Microsoft Dynamics GP 2013 and Excel 2013Mark's new book, Building Dashboards with Microsoft Dynamics GP 2013 and Excel 2013, is available now.

 

 

 

 

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SMB Exam elimination

Thanks for the feedback Mark. This was not a decision we took lightly. I did want to respond to a couple of your points:
- On the shift to the Cloud - We are not saying it is Azure/O365 in place of GP, we are saying GP AND Azure/O365. The integrated solution provides true value to customers and differentiation for our partners. Issues like use tax, approval workflow and cash flow projections are absolutely critical, and they are improved by the use of GP working together with O365.
- On your statement that the Dynamics team does not own the expense of their exams. We certainly wish this was the case, but it was not. We had complete budgetary and P&L responsibility for all the exams we created. As stated, we looked at our budget and the current skills and needs in the channel and decided more training, available online, covering more of the integrated Microsoft solution, was a better use of our budget and would have a more positive impact on both our Partners' business and customer success.

With the expansion of the solution, I would argue it is not easier to become a partner.... We did try to make it cheaper by dropping the cost of unlimited online training from $6,000 to $1,000. As far as a flood of new, untrained entrants, we instituted a requirement for a business plan and proof of investment for any partner signing up. This must be approved by the US Partner Director. New partners coming into the eco-system have dropped by 70% over the last two years, as was our intent. The new partners that do get in offer unique value and are committed to training their people to deliver value to customers.

Thanks again for the dialog.

Jeff Edwards
Dynamics Partner Strategy
Microsoft

Bud the Server Builder

@Jeff: From a partner marketing perspective, selling the certifications is/was a differentiator. Now that the exams (and presumably the certifications) are gone, then historically ERP partners can sell the product, but then Bud the Server Builder can say "me too".

As remarked in another related article on this site, the onus now shifts heavily to the customer to put in the extra effort required to vet Partners. Mark makes a salient point that the certification was (on paper at least) evidence that a particular person is at least competent enough to pass a standard exam. At least that would serve as the differentiator between the historically ERP Partner and Bud. As things stand currently, if the customer fails to put in the vetting work - as so often is the case for growing customers moving from QB (for example) to Dynamics and who have no idea how to go about procuring an ERP system - that customer is going to make a decision on other factors. I just don't see how the historically GP Partner can effectively compete with Bud for that new business without a clear differentiator available to guide the customer. An even scarier thought is that going forward, the customer will have no assurance that Bud even knows the differences between the Dynamics products and which would best suit that customer. I am going to take a wild guess that Bud will recommend the product with the highest margin...

I would like to think all the FUD is an overreaction, but Microsoft's thought process remains shrouded. What, exactly, is the end game here? Right now, there is far too much speculation going on in the wake of this sudden abandonment of what was (for better or for worse) seen as a pillar to thousands of consulting lives and at least paper proof of the Dynamics skillset. [Insert exam flaw argument here][Insert the counter argument that ALL exams - from SAT to CPA and beyond - are inherently flawed here]. No exam is a predictor of performance. That is a given.

Now, we are all Buds, and all Buds are Dynamics consultants.

As long as more product moves, let the customers sort it all out, right? What could possibly go wrong... :)

No, but really...what IS the end game? It is clearly not "nothing to see here, so please move along" as per the responses we are getting. Microsoft recently reported astounding SMB performance and has an obscene cash position. We are mostly CPAs and other finance experts and we ain't buying the budget constraint and other deflective arguments being peddled in the wake of this sudden move.

Is Microsoft moving to a NetSuite implementation/support model? Is SPA going away in favor of SPLA? [Insert other speculations here] Let us in. We promise not to tell anyone else. :)

Response on Bud the Server Builder

Lots of questions in there. A shot at a couple of answers:
- I do not think Bud the Server Builder will enter our channel in any meaningful way. We have mechanisms that keep this from happening. It would be very difficult for a new entrant with no ERP references or experience to win deals over established partners. Low volume partners get discounts from Microsoft that are less than half of those of our larger partners, so price cutting does not work. Such a partner would be unmanaged and without MPN Gold/Silver brands. Do you really think they can beat you head-to-head? I believe in you more than you believe in you :)
- The clear differentiator for current partners is reference customers. This is the most powerful differentiator by far. We are also expecting partners to deliver the combination of integrated Microsoft technologies - GP/O365/Azure + vertical, which provides extremely strong differentiation
- Everyone has a budget and attempts to allocate a given budget to have the best chance at meeting business objectives. We decided that exams did not give us the best ROI, plain and simple. Microsoft's "obscene" cash position was gained by extremely diligent budget management :)
- End game - 1) continue to effectively sell GP in on-premise, SPA models - this is the bulk of our current business and channel and critically important to us.
2) Simultaneously strive to expand our partners' offerings into areas valued by clients - Cloud-based deployments, vertical expertise, integration with Office/Azure. Our channel is our most strategic competitive advantage. We want to ensure they address emerging opportunities and beat emerging competitors.

Thanks again for your passion and commitment to Dynamics.
Jeff Edwards
Dynamics Partner Strategy

Tugging on your cape

I do appreciate your responses. Yes, I/we are VERY passionate and wholly committed to Dynamics. It is more than just a "product" to us "lifers". It is the air we breathe. In addition, Dynamics pays for the dates, the wedding, the pampers, the universities, and a whole lot in between. I hear it also works for alimony, but I hope I will never be able to confirm that. :) For those reason, perhaps, the FUD Force runs strong when abrupt announcements such as no more certs are made.

I agree that the well-established Partners should be relatively unaffected. Their sheer size and number of references can be leveraged to great effect in their marketing efforts. We are a little guy. We have great references and customers who would smack their own mama if she were to say differently. However, our skill sets are both a blessing and a curse. Nowadays its more-so Pricing over Personality. We are not masters of sales and yet we find ourselves in mortal combat (often without knowing) with the NutSuits - our colorful disparaging name for that outfit of patched-together solutions who outright lie (convincingly) about our GPrecious to make a sale. Saying we are "certified x years and counting" and the NutSuits are not sometimes makes a difference. We lost that. Of course, we will move forward undaunted.

I've done some reading up and video watching recently and we do plan on taking advantage of Partner sales support services going forward. We can get the leads and handle the rear just fine, but we need some of your 300 up-front from the outset because we are finding out who we are in battle with too late to do much about it (Hello, "AJ"!). I don't want to go too far off topic, so let me reel myself back in a little:

A lot of us (if I may be so bold) will endure the coming changes. Some changes we see as lemons and some changes we see as honey. I think the biggest change for us small guys who do not enjoy the benefit of dedicated sales teams is all about how to sell. We are a bunch of career geeks and beancounters going up against "born and baptized in sales" salespeople. AJ did a wonderful job of laying out what we are really up against - and quite frankly, we are going to need a lot more sales support. Something like: we find the lead, and then your 300 close it for us, and then we take it from there.

I know this is a bit off topic, but it is far more near and dear to our competitiveness than a piece of paper. I've read or viewed seemingly all the new paradigm sales tips and pointers offered to date and we are great at coming in 2nd place (ha!). Competing and consistently winning against the NutSuits takes sales talent the likes of which we small guys do not have in-house. Care to comment on what REAL support other than more tips and pointers is in the pipe to help us close vs the NutSuits?

Much obliged!

another well thought out decision

The flavor of this recent shift to me is a bit too much like other impulsive moves by Microsoft related to their love to force-feed growth of one product into integration with their other products. Take SharePoint. It's a great product, but Microsoft shows that they themselves don't really know how to use it properly. Business Portal had to be built on top of SharePoint, even though it really doesn't use any SP functionality... just to push SP in front of everyone. Dynamics GP workflow had to be built on top of SharePoint, and look how well that turned out... they fully rebuilt it a few years later and removed SP from the mix.

Microsoft loves to force-feed their growing products into the other ones, the illusion being customer benefit, but the reality being an internal priority to maximize use of Office 365. Many Dynamics ERP customers don't want their data in the cloud, many rely on internal on premise deployments with certain customization or database-tier configurations that will not work on the cloud... yet Microsoft picks a short-sighted target and fires away again.

Also what do application-specific certifications have to do with migration to the cloud? Sure the non-application components will change somewhat.... instead of Windows server, SQL and IIS details, there will be "how to use Azure and Office 365" details. But the GP application is the same. When it changes, change the exam... but removing it is kind of weird and unnecessary. If anything they should have long ago separated the exams to have core functional and core infrastructure tests...

Master VAR Program

Doesn't this do away with the Master VAR program?

minivan