Windows 2000 is nearly upon us, 17 February to be precise. The operating system was to be released at the end of last year, but true to form Microsoft has claimed that the delay is for the good of the industry.
The launch has ensured a hive of activity within the channel, as the market gears itself and its customers up for what Microsoft has unashamedly declared to be its "biggest and best launch".
Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsoft's platform's division, said Windows 2000 will also be the "most widely tested product in the history of Windows product development".
How Microsoft has supported the channel
Rather than lumping distribution, resellers and mail order together,Microsoft has set up various programmes for different levels of the community. These are the Partner Rapid Deployment Programme (PRDP), the Service Launch Programme (SLP) and the Partner Enterprise Beta Evaluation Kit (Pebek).
The PRDP Programme
Resellers attend Microsoft's monthly training and business management project sessions, and can gain hands-on experience of Windows 20000 with a customer who wants to become an early adopter. Only 12 partners have been selected to join this programme, including corporate resellers such as Computacenter, Compel, Morse, Data General and OSI.
The SLP Programme
This programme offers resellers a series of seminars and presentations on Windows 2000. Again they are encouraged to find a customer who wants to be an early adopter of the technology. Some 35 resellers have been enrolled on this programme, including Action, Basilica, Parity, Sanderson IT Services and Lynx Technology.
The Pebek Programme
This is the third stage of the programme and has been in place since thebeginning of last year. Partners were sent beta kits of Windows 2000, which meant that they could study the code as it has evolved.
These programmes are in addition to Microsoft's other channel schemes which include the Microsoft Solution Provider Programme, Direct Access Programme and Inside Track Programme. Partners will also have access to Microsoft's Technet, and a CD directory linking the partners is in the pipeline.
Like the resellers, distributors such as Computer 2000, Ingram Micro and Gem have also been catered for by Microsoft."In October, distributors were given information about who to sell, promote and launch the product to. We even talked about pricing to help them plan their own agenda around Windows 2000," said Adele Knox-Roberts, distribution sales and marketing manager in Microsoft's small and medium-sized business division.
"The product has already been shipped to our distributors, so Windows 2000 will be on the shelves on the day of the launch."
In turn, each distributor has given Microsoft draft plans which outline how each will market the operating system.
Pre-install companies such as Ideal Hardware and Datrontech have had similarsupport. For the last six months, Microsoft's Windows 2000 project team has helped original equipment manufacturers and value-added partners.
Since the summer of last year, the reseller has been running a series of seminars for its customers, which look at the impact Windows 2000 will have on businesses. A training programme has also been put in place to promote internal awareness among the company's sales teams.
Thirty personnel provide the breadth of support that is already given for Windows NT 4. A Microsoft staff member will be based at Computacenter to ensure that any questions are answered.
Customer awareness is being built up through Computacenter's website. However, most marketing will be carried out through on-site customer-specific workshops. A 40-page guide to Windows 2000 will be given to customers on the operating system's launch date. Information about the guide can be found on Computacenter's website.
Training of Compel's consultants started more than a year ago. In December, the company held a seminar in London aimed at internal consultants, and is planning another one for Scotland. Peter McCartney, Compel's centre of excellencedirector, said that 100 per cent of the company's 75 consultants have been fullytrained up for Windows 2000.
"Microsoft helped financially as did some hardware vendors, but the investment we have put in ourselves into the launch is significant," he said.
A programme has also been started to enable account managers to spotcustomers that would benefit from Windows 2000 - that activity was mainly carried out towards the back end of last year, so the company is in a prime position for understanding the type of customers it has out there and what they will be looking for in W2000.
Support for customers once they adopt the technology is also in place. There are traditional helpdesks with telephone support, and any technical queries which Compel cannot answer go straight to Microsoft's developers. There is also on-site support, and two labs work on integration and migration services.
The company has produced Windows 2000 guides. Advertising in web format is also underway.
Internal training of Windows 2000 has been in place since November 1998. As part of the PRDP programme, the company has also been working with early adopters and building up the knowledge, training, skills and education of its sales team.
Morse is training its helpdesk to deal with Windows 2000 support. The company also has 25 MCSE-certified consultants and a number of Microsoft grade consultants.
Advertising campaigns are beginning to take shape and will appear on the company's website. Plans are afoot for a number of white papers, and a series of seminars will be held for customers from 7 March. Mailshots will be carried out through Morse's Compaq division.
C2000 has ensured all of its staff from sales to technical consultants have allbeen fully trained on W2000.
Some preliminary support will be given by C2000, but the majority will comefrom resellers and Microsoft itself.
The company has set up a reseller site on its website, which is Windows 2000 specific. Other routes to resellers include their various publications. It has also carried out a telemarketing campaign to find out what resellers perceive will be the barriers to Windows 2000 adoption.
Technical engineers have been training with Microsoft, and pre-sales staff,sales teams and support teams have all been working with Windows 2000 beta copies.
Same standard of support will be offered by the company.
The distributor is offering various deals on Windows 2000 to get customers in the mood for its launch. A mailshot campaign is also underway and will last for a period of three weeks. The company has also teamed up with six vendors to put together specific offers for customers.
All staff have been trained with Microsoft and have attended seminars aimed specifically at the software giant's pre-install partners.
Marketing will take the form of the usual fax mailers. Web-based promotions are planned, as well as reseller programmes, which may be off the back of Compaq and Siemens products. There will also be marketing based around other vendors products in conjunction with Microsoft.
There is particular emphasis on the internal training of staff. Some 150 telesales staff have been receiving Windows 2000 preliminary training since December. Training is well underway for the company's specialists, and over the last few weeks these have become more intensive. Technical courses for Ingram's sales staff also began in December.
The company's marketing initiatives have been integrated into the programmesthat Microsoft has in place already. A number of offers will be rolled out soon after the launch, which will include a number of bundling initiatives.
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