Following the success of the inaugural New Zealand Microsoft Partner Awards last year, the ceremony returned to the Auckland Museum in August 2008 for round two, with five Microsoft Gold Certified Partners – Auldhouse, Axon, Intergen, Kinetics Group, and Provoke – taking home awards two years in a row. Four new award categories were announced this year, including the ‘Microsoft Software + Services Solution of the Year’, ‘Application Platform Solution of the Year’, ‘Small Business Specialist of the Year’, and the ‘Rising Star of the Year’, the last of which was eligible to be won by an individual or a company.
Microsoft received 81 submissions from 35 different partners for this year’s awards and, unlike last year, every one of the 14 eligible category received entries. The category that received the highest number of entries, according to Nick Fletcher, Microsoft NZ’s Partner Group Manager – Marketing and Strategy, was the ‘Business Productivity Solution of the Year’, won this year by Datacom.
Feedback from this year’s judges showed that submissions were of a “far higher standard than last year, despite a world class standard even a year ago”. The strength of the 2008 submissions, coupled with a drop in the number of New Zealand submissions to this year’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Awards, is “evidence of partners seeing the local relevance and significance” of the local awards, said Fletcher.
“Certainly, if you look at the worldwide awards now, Australian partners are always finalists in categories,” explained Fletcher. “When you raise the standard locally of what you expect and what you do, you drive consistency. Kinetics [a finalist in the 2008 Microsoft WW Partner Awards] is an example of this standard being recognised. The focus we’ve had on the awards and broadening the categories, I would hope would give a clear example of our intent to support and recognise our channel partners’ success.”
Fletcher told The Channel that all of the solutions chosen as finalists this year emphasised focus and provided quality and a better experience. Six winners, across five award categories, are profiled here for a closer look at the solutions that lead to success.
PARTNERING AWARD OF THE YEAR: Axon Computer Systems Ltd & Enlighten Designs Ltd
After meeting at last year’s partner awards as finalists in the same category – ‘Infrastructure Solution of the Year’ – Axon and Enlighten have been teaming up to provide comprehensive, Microsoft-based solutions to customers that showcase their highly complementary skills. “Our infrastructure skills with application integrations blend nicely with their application integration and application development skills,” stated Scott Green, CEO of Axon. “Enlighten had SharePoint and tertiary knowledge and experience and Axon had great infrastructure experience,” agreed Damon Kelly, CEO of Enlighten Designs.
Axon and Enlighten were engaged by Te Wananga o Aotearoa to provide a showcase SharePoint-based intranet. Axon has provided this customer with a broad range of IT services and strategic advice since 2002, and over that time has established a close working relationship. The partnership between Axon and Enlighten provides Te Wananga o Aotearoa with a stronger value proposition than either company could offer on its own, and which together they believe to be considerably stronger than that of competing ICT organisations.
Richard Te Moananui and Lindsay Baxter, both of Te Wananga o Aotearoa, said that, “The pairing has worked with commitment to deliver hardware and software solutions to meet our varied needs. They have strived to understand our business and have presented an attractive and functional tool within budget. Based on our experience to date, it is expected that the excellent relationship will continue, and beyond initial pilot is anticipated that SharePoint will act as a solid core to our otherwise sprawling nation-wide organisation.”
Both Axon’s Green and Enlighten’s Kelly were quick to point out the award and solution itself is more about the customer, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, than it will ever be about Axon or Enlighten. Te Wananga o Aotearoa, with main offices located in Te Awamutu, is one of New Zealand’s largest tertiary providers, and as such, is one of the biggest IT spenders in the country.
Te Wananga o Aotearoa identified a need for a high quality portal to aid collaboration and business intelligence, which required development partners who could provide scoping, training, development and implementation of a robust enterprise level solution. Initial objectives of this project included the deployment of an enterprise level content management system and high-end research tool, with delivery of content based on roles in Active Directory allowing the portal and files to be accessed from home, aiding in the management of documents and projects.
While CorasWorks had been suggested by competitors as a possible solution technology, the chosen and completed project has delivered a robust Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2007 with enterprise search, workflows and document management. Microsoft Project Sever 2007 was also delivered and configured, along with both SharePoint and Project Web Access to allow external web access.
Te Wananga o Aotearoa has an operating environment that includes 5,000+ desktops and 80+ servers (including virtualised servers). The organisation required a portal solution that could aid collaboration, connect users quickly with needed information, deliver KPIs, provide electronic business forms to support processes, provide evidence of delivery to NZQA, manage staff and contact details, and be flexible enough to meet business requirements still being defined.
Axon and Enlighten met these challenges together by using SharePoint document management to support collaboration, deploying enterprise search with access based on AD groups, including KPI reporting and training, using InfoPath for the creation of business forms, implementing MS Project Web Access to manage projects and provide evidence of delivery, deploying Mysites for staff contact details and management, and employing an agile project development methodology that could flex and change as the project progressed.
Initially awarded a contract to supply Te Wananga o Aotearoa with SharePoint services as phase one of a three-year Strategic Performance Data project, Axon and Enlighten have subsequently been awarded a number of additional projects, including the further development and maintenance of a core custom application known as Rakaunui, and the development of a customer Pre-enrolment assessment tool to aid in the attraction and retention of students.
“Through this and other engagements, we have found a really comfortable partnering relationship,” stated Axon’s Green. “We share similar values and a high level of trust.”
What does the win mean to these organisations? Both Green and Kelly agree that the award recognition from Microsoft serves to better solidify their positions in the market. “We’re always looking for ways of positioning ourselves with customers when all else appears equal,” explained Green. “For a customer, it can be a difficult assessment to make. Awards of this nature say, all else being equal, that Axon and Enlighten have delivered outcomes considered by outsiders to be better than that of our competitors.”
In the last year, Axon and Enlighten have also partnered on successful projects for TrustPower, the Hamilton City Council and the Thames Coromandel District Council.
RISING STAR OF THE YEAR: Gareth Tucker of Complete Solutions
The ‘Rising Star of the Year’ award was a new category entered both by individuals and whole companies. “This category is about the way that they’ve grown over time. They are the people of the future,” said Microsoft’s Fletcher. According to Microsoft’s award description, “this individual or emerging business uses all the facets of its Microsoft relationship – technology, programs and people – to deliver exceptional customer satisfaction and drive strong growth for their partner business. An individual or company going places in the industry and one to watch!”.
Gareth Tucker, a CRM Solution Architect for Complete Solutions, was entered by his boss, Complete Solutions’ CEO John Biggs. Complete Solutions focuses on the implementation of Microsoft’s business application software, specifically Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Dynamics SL and SharePoint. Tucker’s work includes all of these products, with a primary focus on the design of rich CRM solutions.
Tucker led the implementation of a customised Microsoft CRM solution for customer Fonterra, delivering a rich, integrated and highly functional solution that exceeded Fonterra’s expectations. Since that time, several projects have built upon that base, extending the functionality of the solution, adding further integration points and rolling out functions to new users. Currently, Tucker is leading an extensive integration project building tight integration between Fonterra’s supplier portal ‘Fencepost’ and the Microsoft CRM solution, heavily leveraging CRM’s SOA layer.
Tucker sees the award as “recognition in terms of what we do”. “We made a commitment to focus on Microsoft CRM years ago, and this recognition shows we made the right choice.”
The solution consists of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM system integrated into an Avaya phone system, a legacy payment management system, a tanker scheduling solution, and a supplier web portal. Functionality includes call centre management with heavy use of CRM workflow to automate service flow and control notifications and escalations and pipeline management with call plan management, built around a core supplier relationship management system where complex supplier relationships are mapped and presented back to the user through a custom user interface.
“The Fonterra implementation started in mid-2006,” Tucker said. “Another six projects have gone on since then, as they’ve continued to extend the solution. Once the commitment to CRM was in place it made sense to extend that.”
According to the submission sent to Microsoft by Biggs, Gareth Tucker performed the role of Engagement Manager and Solution Architect across all six Fonterra CRM projects and performed the role of Project Manager across two of them. Tucker’s responsibilities included project scoping, high level design, project management, and detailed design. Tucker has been able to come up with creative, innovative solutions that are well outside the normal scope of the core Microsoft CRM product, but are still supported and future-proofed. On the back of this creative skill, he also manages to maintain solid relationships with his customers while ensuring projects are delivered on scope and on time.
“I first heard about this award earlier in the year,” said Biggs. “Gareth was a logical fit. He had delivered, to a number of people, world class solutions. It is on the back of Gareth’s reputation that we are finding customers requesting Complete Solutions and Gareth Tucker by name.”
Complete Solutions customers and business colleagues of Tucker’s wholeheartedly supported his nomination, with comments including, “His can do attitude, huge knowledge and willingness to listen to all our business requirements will and has taken him far. The one thing I like about Gareth is he never says anything is impossible and that is one of the big reasons why we have stuck with Dynamics SL and Complete Solutions for so long”.
Tucker is said to have driven the use and enhancement of Microsoft Technologies with Complete Solutions’ business, from pushing a rollout of Windows Vista and Office 2007 to the customisation of the in-house Dynamics CRM and SL solutions, the customisation and enrichment of the SharePoint-based business portal, and the development of productivity reports.
This award is as important to Complete Solutions as a company as it is to Tucker as an individual. “It highlights that we have a competitive edge in the marketplace. We often compete against much larger companies, but this award recognises that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to CRM,” stated Biggs.
BUSINESS PRODUCTIVITY SOLUTION OF THE YEAR: Datacom
Judges in the ‘Business Productivity Solution of the Year’ had a difficult task on their hands, with 10 strong entries – more than any other single category. Datacom beat other finalists Business Mechanix and Datasouth Business Solutions to take home the award.
“We were encouraged by our partner manager [John Wiltshire] to enter,” said James Tuckey, Account Manager for Datacom.
The Datacom team proposed SharePoint for the winning project, a Microsoft intranet product that was a strong match for the Department of Labour's broad range of requirements. While specifics of the project and the Department’s needs remain confidential, Tuckey told The Channel, that “from our previous experience with SharePoint, we knew that it had functionality very relevant to the Department’s needs”.
Following a very competitive tender process, the Department of Labour selected Datacom to implement MOSS 2007 as the basis for the new intranet. In addition to serving traditional web content, the new MOSS intranet has become a Department-wide platform for the provision of services to staff. Examples of services implemented so far include meeting room bookings (Exchange Server 2003 integration), phonebook search (interface to a bespoke application), library database front end (integration with another database), report viewer (integration with SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services), and an e-learning service using SharePoint Learning Kit. The intranet is expected to be the front end for other services within the Department on an ongoing basis.
The most interesting thing about the project, according to Tuckey, is the size and scale. “It is a large implementation for a large organisation,” he explained. “It’s one of the bigger SharePoint implementations in New Zealand to date, if not the largest, and it uses a lot of the functionality that MOSS has to offer.”
As an important internal communications tool, the intranet required improvement to become an effective supporting system for the organisation. A project was initiated to consolidate the Department’s three existing, separate intranets into a single site with consistent presentation. The solution meets the need to be based on an enterprise content management system to facilitate content updating processes without developer involvement by using the enterprise class content management capabilities of MOSS.
A key requirement of the solution was to maintain content in Word documents and allow content to be directly published to the intranet site via a workflow approval process. This presented a number of technical challenges, including the ability to publish 100+ page Word documents to the intranet and provide a useable web page for readers. Datacom’s technical solution was to use the content transformation framework Hyper.Net. Hyper.Net was integrated to document libraries within MOSS, which allowed the transformation of Office-based content into XML. By using XSLT and built-in business rules to transform the XML into a set of useable .aspx pages, the pages were then published to the intranet site, with an output that was searchable and appeared seamless and consistent from the website readers’ points of view.
According to Datacom’s submission entry, the intranet enables the Department, a large, geographically diverse organisation, to perform its official functions more efficiently by providing support for the management and publication of unstructured content across the whole organisation, and by providing the appropriate search and navigation mechanisms to allow users to more readily access the relevant information stored not only within the content repository, but also within Microsoft Word-based documents.
The Datacom team was very happy with the win. “It is a strong, independent statement as to Datacom’s capability in terms of implementing SharePoint, and it reflects the close and effective working relationship we have with the Department of Labour,” stated Tuckey.
PARTNER OF THE YEAR: Intergen
Unlike the other 14 award categories, ‘Partner of the Year’ was not submission-based. Instead, all candidates were nominated and judged by those within Microsoft New Zealand. The finalists in this category, which Microsoft’s Fletcher called the “ultimate award”, included Datacom Systems Ltd, Gen-i, Revera, and Intergen, the last of which took home the award.
According to John Bessey, overall Partner Group Director for Microsoft, “This is the highest accolade that Microsoft will grant to partners in the Microsoft community and is won through strong advocacy, breadth of capability and impactful solutions delivered to the New Zealand market. We believe it is important that we have grown our business together, and at an executive level we have engaged to drive significant impact with our joint customers.”
When asked which particular project over the last year may have inspired the nomination and win from Microsoft, Tony Stewart, Intergen’s Managing Director said: “We’ve worked on a lot of successful projects in the last year. What we have been doing more and more is working with our customers to implement a breadth of Microsoft solutions, such as Dynamics NAV, Dynamics CRM, SharePoint, MOSS, BI and WorkFlow. We might include all of these on a single customer solution.”
What Stewart explained is what Microsoft calls the ‘whole stack’. “It’s the whole suite of offerings, and it’s where we’re moving as a company,” Stewart continued. “Microsoft and Microsoft ISV partners are all we do.”
“This award was about much more than just a really great solution,” said Microsoft’s Fletcher. “Partnering is so multi-dimensional. The four keys we used in the selection process were growth (jointly), engagement (as in how does our partnership actually deliver what they said), advocacy (in terms of support and how well we represent each other when in the market together), and the quality of solutions delivered to market.”
Four senior management individuals at Microsoft formed the judging committee for ‘Partner of the Year’, and the decision for Intergen was unanimous, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. While partner account managers were invited to offer advice to their partner companies on their submissions, they were not given the opportunity to influence the judging process or outcome.
A big thing for Intergen, going into this award category as a finalist, was the way the company offers a broad selection of Microsoft technology, what Fletcher called “business value through an integrated Microsoft platform”. “Given that Microsoft has a large portfolio of products and technology, it can be difficult to position that with customers. In the last 12 months, Intergen has been doing that in a very compelling way, particularly with business application solutions,” he continued.
Intergen is growing rapidly, despite the current economy, and Stewart believes that this award will contribute to Intergen being recognised more frequently alongside brands people have long associated with Microsoft. “The pure Microsoft components of some of our major competitors are significantly smaller than we are,” he said.
With a staff of 200+ located in dedicated offices in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch, Intergen has the ability to take solutions to customers across the country in very specialised and impactful ways.
“Intergen has shown outstanding innovation and great customer satisfaction, while driving revenue back to the business,” said Fletcher. “This becomes the ultimate statement, it’s consistency and high quality over time, not just a one-off that went well.”
In addition to the happiness expressed with the ‘Partner of the Year’ win, Stewart exhibited pride at the ‘Software + Services Solution of the Year’ award handed out to ActionThis, a holding company owned by Intergen and staffed entirely by current or ex-Intergen employees. “We are really proud to have won,” he stated. “We’ve been a Microsoft exclusive partner since 1995 when we were Glazier Systems. It’s been fantastic to receive this recognition.”
SMALL BUSINESS SPECIALIST OF THE YEAR: Kinetics Group
A new category to the partner awards, the ‘Small Business Specialist of the Year’ is more about the partner than the size of the customer, Microsoft said. Of the finalists – CodeBlue, Datasouth Business Solutions, Softsource, and winner Kinetics – none would have more than 50 employees, yet all are Gold Certified Partners.
Finalists were chosen from those who entered the category directly and from any other entrants in separate categories whose solutions were designed for customers with 50 seats or less. Kinetics was a finalist in four categories at this year’s awards.
“All of Kinetics’ submissions were strong, but the one that we settled on was their partnership entry with Cogita and Interactive Systems. It was truly representative of a small business specialist,” said Microsoft’s Fletcher.
Kinetics, Cogita and Interactive Systems worked with customer Selecon, a New Zealand-based company with an unrivalled history as an innovator of optical systems and luminaires for over 20 years. Selecon’s Dutch users accessed the Vantage ERP system via a terminal server – a very slow and inefficient process. Operations that would take 30 minutes in New Zealand took up to three hours in Holland. The project’s aim was to provide the New Zealand base with a real-time global view of all business data while improving performance.
“It does exactly what it was intended to do. Holland users are now ecstatic; productivity has improved 100% in Holland,” said Stephen Fairweather, Selecon’s Operations Director.
According to the entry submission, the implementation on Microsoft servers’ robust directory structure in Europe provided a sound base for a world-first implementation of a Vantage database split and then replicated across time zones, moving line-of-business access into the European network and retaining consistent information across time zones. Microsoft servers’ secure external domain trust features were utilised to allow European-based support, while New Zealand retained ultimate control, introducing a strong base for expansion.
The largest technical challenge in the project was to overcome the obstacles of distance. “No Vantage ERP split of this kind had been attempted before,” reads the entry submission. Working together, the partner implemented a test environment between offices, deploying test servers across a VPN. Coordination of infrastructure deployment and cutover across half the globe required three New Zealand-based partners, each with their own particular skill sets to manage a diverse project with a European-based supplier.
Kinetics Group is riding high after a slate of recognition for its work as a Microsoft partner over the last year. After finishing as a finalist in the worldwide partner awards in July, a first for a New Zealand partner, the acknowledgement from Microsoft in the form of its’ NZ ‘Small Business Specialist of the Year’ award is hugely beneficial. “We can tell our customers we’re truly world class. If they ask us to prove it, we can,” said Andrew Hunt, Managing Director of Kinetics Group. “These awards, both this year and last year, encourage us that we’re heading in the right direction.”