Softchoice, Microsoft Expand AI Partnership

Software-focused solution provider Softchoice Friday unveiled a new strategic partnership framework agreement with Microsoft aimed at expanding its ability to bring Microsoft’s cloud and digital workplace AI and security solutions to its U.S. and Canadian customer base.

Softchoice is unveiling a joint investment with Microsoft through a strategic partner framework aimed at building on the 30 years of experience that the two already have, said Chris Woodin, senior vice president of solutions and alliances for the Toronto-based company.

“We’re building for the next phase of growth driven through AI solutions in cloud and workplace,” he said.

[Related: Softchoice Closes IPO, Moves To Cement Status As Largest Microsoft Cloud Partner]

That investment is happening in a couple of areas, Woodin said.

The first is a joint investment in developing new capabilities, including in engineers to develop repeatable capabilities that can show up in reference architectures or package offers to help customers utilize these new Microsoft technologies, he said.ADVERTISEMENT

The second is investing in the capacity required to actually configure and deliver those solutions to customers, including investments in pre-sales resources, Woodin said.

“Think about Microsoft Copilot,” he said. “Right now, there’s a huge amount of interest from customers to learn how Copilot can benefit their business. We need a lot of people who can help consult customers on those answers.”

Softchoice and Microsoft are also investing in demand generation, Woodin said.

“And that’s all about raising awareness of where these AI solutions in particular can create new value for different types of businesses,” he said.

Woodin said a lot of the Copilot expertise that Softchoice, ranked No. 31 in CRN’s 2023 Solution Provider 500, brings to the market is somewhat of a mirror image of what Softchoice already does internally.

The focus of the new joint investment is on AI including generative AI, Woodin said.

“This includes solutions that are used in Microsoft 365 via Copilot, as well as AI for Microsoft security products inclusive of Copilot for security, as well as building AI-enabled applications on Azure,” he said.

In Softchoice’s view, customers should not be looking at AI or Copilot for Microsoft 365 as a simple transaction or a services project, Woodin said. Instead, he said, it needs to be looked at as a long-term journey as part of a business transformation program.

That journey, Woodin said, typically has multiple stages:

  • The first stage is to identify the potential use cases that will create meaningful change in value for the business and justifies the case for change.
  • The second is to assess the environment to make sure that existing applications, business processes, and data can be integrated effectively into this AI solution.
  • The third is to implement the AI solution, with a focus on integration with enterprise data.
  • The fourth is to move into continuous management and end user adoption of the AI solution so that the customer realizes the actual benefits, whether it’s increasing employee productivity or transforming the way they work with their customers.

Softchoice is unique in that it has been developing a lot of the capabilities needed for that journey for many years, Woodin said.

“We’ve already been doing business consulting to translate business goals to technology solutions,” he said. “We deliver thousands of Microsoft-based assessments every year to help customers bridge their current state to future state. We have a robust M365 end application and data practice. And then we have many years helping customers to manage Microsoft 365 environments and deliver adoption and change management services.”

Copilot adds some unique needs that weren’t in the market before, including new use cases for Microsoft 365, Woodin said.

“There are things that Copilot for Microsoft 365 can do that no other solution would have made available before,” he said. “So now we have to augment those repeatable use cases, by business processes or vertical, that we can help customers to envision. When you move into the technical services, what’s most important now is the ability to integrate Copilot into your enterprise data so that you can take your business’s most important asset—your data, your proprietary information on your customers and your market—and have that generate the types of output that really transform the business. But that requires a lot of data integration capability with a focus on security and governance. Those are some of the capabilities that we’re augmenting with the joint investment from Microsoft.”

To make this happen, Softchoice will be hiring new pre-sales specialists who can help customers understand how these AI solutions will solve their needs, Woodin said. It will also be hiring business consultants with the ability to use the software methodology for translating business objectives to technology solutions, and engineering talent with the experience to integrate such AI solutions into customer’s existing environments, he said.

“We want to hire talent that exists in the market that already possesses knowledge of data analytics and integration into other applications and business processes,” he said. “What they may not possess is the experience of applying that specifically to Copilot for Microsoft 365. That’s why one of the other investments that we’ve made with Microsoft is a robust training and development program to manufacture new expertise that simply did not exist anywhere in the market because Copilot is so novel.”

Microsoft is bringing its own expertise to the new relationship to help develop those new capabilities and translate it to customers, as well as support for demand generation, Woodin said.

“They’re also bringing a lot of support in how we bring the solution to market,” he said. “So we have, I would say, tighter integration with Microsoft’s field sales and specialist teams than we’ve ever had. And how that’s showing up in the area of Copilot right now is, when a Microsoft account manager identifies a potential opportunity, they’re engaging Softchoice to come in to help qualify and guide the customer through the journey of adopting it.”

Microsoft is also investing funding into its expanded relationship with Softchoice, Woodin said, although he declined to discuss the amount of that funding.

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