What is the role of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner network for local business?
I asked its New Zealand Director 'what's next?' as she readies for her next move.
The One Commercial Partner platform was designed with the sole purpose of building capability amongst Microsoft’s SME partners. On from a 10-year tenure, it’s New Zealand Director Sarah Bowden will soon be leaving OCP for new adventures in Microsoft’s digital division. Many of us are curious – what might the role look like for its next contenders? I asked Sarah what the OCP actually does, what’s available to New Zealand’s business ecosystem with the assistance of Microsoft, and how she’s coped with the recent WFH lifestyle. Here’s our conversation.
Local industry advocate, Sarah Bowden, is current Director of Microsoft NZ’s One Commercial Partner Network.
What does Microsoft OCP mean at a practical level for local business owners?
The OCP is accountable for the Microsoft partner ecosystem here in New Zealand. It’s aimed at helping New Zealand’s diverse some 163,000 small and medium businesses, and building collaboration between its local and global customers. It includes our corporate stakeholders and their customers, the distributors that service our resellers, and our Systems Integrator Partners.
OCP is essentially a collaboration network that fosters great partnerships that reveal the strength of New Zealand’s business ecosystem. By understanding what our partners’ needs and wants are not only now but in the future, we build the capacity and capability that will meet those needs. It’s on both local and global scale – locally, the OCP team support partners in building a great solution for local customers, then globally, we help those local partners perform and transact in new international markets that they had never been able to before. Sometimes I feel we’re like a dating agency because of how many connections we make, helping each Kiwi business promote their unique selling points and solutions into new markets.
“Sometimes I feel we’re like a dating agency… helping each Kiwi business promote their unique selling points and solutions into new markets.”
We’ve enabled numerous kiwi businesses to be successful on the global scale stage, in Japan, in the US, in Europe. When I think about what companies like Plexure, Volpara, Merlot Aero, Tidy and others are doing, these partners are truly leveraging New Zealand within the global marketplace and we’re enabling them.
I recommend business owners look at our AppSource link that provides our partners with the ability to list their own solution offering on Microsoft’s marketplace. We carry a really broad range of excellent quality solutions that enable our partners to sell directly to end customers across the globe.
Tell us about the ins and outs of your role.
My role’s very broad, lots of different accountabilities and leading about 45 people here in New Zealand. I’ve been very lucky in my role to meet so many different people across New Zealand businesses – sometimes I feel I’m jumping from one extreme to the other.
This is the growth engine of the New Zealand economy. It’s a fast pace and it’s also very exciting because there’s just so much diversity and change. It’s certainly a role where you need to think on your feet.
In the leadership team, we’re undergoing a massive evolution in Microsoft’s partnership model. As our ecosystem has become richer, it has also become deeper. We’re at a very exciting point of growth right now, I think the future is looking very prosperous for New Zealand’s tech industry.
A quick look at your LinkedIn profile and it’s clear you’ve had some extensive professional development! Why do you see education as important alongside a career?
In my younger years I didn’t really like the rules and structure that school operated under, but as I’ve gotten older, I really appreciate learning and my love of learning is now one of my core strengths. Now I’m on that journey, I don’t think I’ll ever stop. For me it’s the love of learning and combining that with a solid plan.
As last year finished up, I set myself both short-term medium-term and long-term goals because it’s important for me to continue to challenge myself to learn new things and align to what I want my future vision of myself to be.
“it’s important for me to continue to challenge myself to learn new things and align to what I want my future vision of myself to be.”
When I select what I want to learn, I make sure I’m choosing courses that I’m interested in because if you’re not wholeheartedly in then it’s more a textbook tick box exercise and it’s not something that’s truly adding to your knowledge.
We need to ask questions of ourselves. Just stopping to think, what areas am I lacking in? Where are my learning opportunities? Who do I want to be in five years? How can I achieve this? This approach has helped me and I’m sure it will help others.
My belief also is that when we stop learning we end up limiting our options and I think in this fast-paced tech-driven world, if we keep-up-to date we can progress so much. If you think about what technology is… it’s in absolutely everything that we do. I think it’s so important that we all appreciate technology’s relevance. We see it in our personal lives and very much most recently with Covid-19. Everyone is using technology to connect and collaborate; it’s super important in our professional lives, in every industry.
What are the hallmarks of New Zealand businesses looking to succeed on the global stage?
I see three ingredients –
Entrepreneurial thinking. If you’ve got an amazing idea, that’s unique and differentiates you from your competition and you’ve got that entrepreneurial thinking, where you know there’s market need.
You need to be good at networking, and understanding business etiquette in the context you’re dealing in. In New Zealand, you’ve got two degrees of separation but take your products and solutions to the UK where you’ve got seven degrees of separation and it’s super tough. That’s why it’s key to lean on your network and learn from this and dive into what success looks like in those markets. Understanding different business cultures is an art form.
Resilience, that ability to bounce back when you’ve been knocked down. I think it’s very challenging and limiting for a lot of people who take things in the business world personally, they think that it’s a personal stab at them, but it’s not; it’s just business.
If you’re got those three key factors, I think the world’s your oyster.
What do you see as the future of Microsoft’s New Zealand’s Channel in 2020 and on the other side of Covid-19?
I think the last couple of weeks have been pretty full-on. It’s been tough and for many people and each of us have had different experiences over the past few weeks.
As we shift out of lockdown, I believe that people and businesses will realise the importance of technology as an enabler. While it’s physically removed us from situations, in other ways its clearly brought us closer together. We’ve leaned into technology and seen how powerful it is. And I think it’s really creating clarity for everyone about what’s important, in our lives, and what’s important in terms of what and where we’re spending our time at work? I think that’s the future. It’s going to be different, but I think it’s going to be a good different.
When I think up until now there’s been a perception among many of New Zealand’s SMEs that ‘it’s not going to happen to me’ or that business continuity plans need only evolve around an earthquake or fire… It’s clearer now more than ever about the need to establish the fundamentals of business continuity plans. This is imperative for kiwi businesses’ future.
“It’s clearer now more than ever about the need to establish the fundamentals of business continuity plans. This is imperative for kiwi businesses’ future.”
For a lot of New Zealand SMEs, Covid-19 has really accelerated their digital transformation, the way in which people are learning their working and collaborating and connected has been changed forever.
Finally, what inspires you every day?
I have a lot of energy. People often ask, where does your it come from? It’s about myself, the environment and the others around me.
One of my biggest drives is to achieve as much as I can in this lifetime and leave a legacy. My motivation comes from the loved ones I’ve lost along the way too. These life experiences motivate me to be a better person. I don’t want to waste time – and I think that inspiration comes from within.
I also know that your network can be a trigger point to help you get from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. I’m a great believer in surrounding yourself with people that are far more intelligent than yourself and encourage you to go harder. I’m so proud when I think about Microsoft’s global leaders, Satya Nadella, Bill Gates, too. These are amazing human beings, teachers and inspiring role models.
Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.