Bonus Post: Google Has a Lot of Partners. It Wants a Lot More.

If attendance equals success for tech conferences, then last week’s Google Cloud Next show in Las Vegas was a triumph. The event drew 30,000 people (roughly double last year’s attendance), including 6,000 there to attend the event-within-an-event Google Partner Summit.

“We’re seeing a 2-3x number of partners at this event than we’ve ever experienced at Next before,” says Colleen Kapase (pictured), who became vice president of channels and partner programs at Google Cloud last December. Training enrollments and certifications are up an even better 3-4x, she adds.

Needless to say, Google’s cloud (which, while gaining share in recent years, still trails market leaders AWS and Microsoft by a wide margin) isn’t producing that momentum so much as you know what.

“We see this as a transformational moment,” Kapase says. “It’s the era of AI now.”

Kapase’s job is to seize that moment while generative AI is young and partners are still placing bets for the future. The company she’s joined brings considerable assets to that task, including an R&D team that invented the technology responsible for the “T” in OpenAI’s GPT platform plus a massive cloud infrastructure packed with Tensor Processing Units, the specialized, custom-designed chips Google has been using to accelerate AI workloads since 2015.

More recently, Gemini, Google’s answer to GPT, has helped the company regain some of the respect and mindshare it lost when OpenAI, Anthropic, and others left it flat footed at GenAI’s birth. Gemini’s also adding powerful new capabilities to Google Workspace, a productivity suite with some 3 billion users, deep footholds in the public sector market, and widespread popularity among digital natives who grew up using it at school.

“It can take notes for you. It can summarize documents for you. It can give you a snapshot of what’s in a 70-page contract,” Kapase says of Gemini for Google Workspace. “If you’re getting a hundred emails a day, it can give you a summary of all your emails, and you can begin to teach it what’s urgent for you versus junk mail.” Starting soon, we learned last week, it’ll even produce videos for you.

What Kapase really has going for her, though, is timing. GenAI is exploding into the channel precisely as recent changes to its partner program and cloud sales model have left a lot of once faithful partners less than delighted with Microsoft. Kapase knows it too.

“We are definitely seeing an onslaught of partners that maybe aren’t happy with some of their existing relationships exploring Google for the first time and getting much more serious about us,” she says. Many of those partners, Kapase adds in a more direct reference to her biggest AI competitor, are looking to diversify rather than switch their allegiances.

“I am hearing directly from Microsoft partners that they want choice,” she says.

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An SMB play

Google is eager to add those partners and others like it to its channel. Enticements

unveiled during Next include a new Generative AI Services Specialization and the Delivery Navigator, a knowledge hub offering access to statements of work, solution architectures, and other assets produced by Google’s in-house consulting team.

“It’s all of our professional services organization’s special sauce, if you will,” Kapase explains.

Both announcements tilt in the direction of enterprise partners. Kapase describes the AI specialization, for example, as a “400-level” credential targeted at sophisticated IT providers; Accenture, Capgemini, and Deloitte are all among the short list of companies that have earned the new designation already.

Google very much wants to bring smaller partners into its fold as well, however, and Kapase calls reselling the newly AI-augmented Workspace suite a great place for them to get started.

“That is very much an SMB play,” she says.

A new and somewhat controversial compensation scheme for Workspace underscores just how serious Google is about enrolling new partners and end users alike at this pivotal moment in AI’s evolution. Starting this month, resellers pocket 40% of first-year subscription revenue on sales to net new buyers, and make 12% on renewals thereafter.

The first number is higher than before. The latter one is lower (and hence the controversy). Together though, Kapase insists, both figures are “a pretty meaty proposition.” Which rings true, given estimates shared by Canalys analyst Jay McBain on a forthcoming episode of the MSP Chat podcast (due this Friday) that SaaS vendors are paying more like 3% on average these days.

Services versus speeds and feeds

In addition to licensing revenue, partners can make services money on new Workspace accounts from onboarding and training, Kapase notes, before eventually moving into advanced solutions in areas like analytics, marketing, and supply chain management.

There’s recurring revenue to be collected as well, she continues, noting that it’s typically not IT departments driving AI investments. “It’s marketing departments, it’s product departments, it’s legal departments,” Kapase says. “They don’t want to deal with the speeds and feeds.” That gives MSPs an opening to provide hands-off managed AI services complete with security, backup, and support.

“We’re looking at building out an AI MSP program and a SecOps MSP program to support partners as they’re moving into those offerings, because I think that’s very much a piece of the future,” Kapase says. Both offerings could arrive this year, she adds.

If they do, they’ll have been designed by someone with extended partner-facing stints at Snowflake, VMware, and Citrix in her past. “I’m new to Google, but I’m not new to partnering,” Kapase says. “I’ve been partnering my whole career.”

Which presumably is why Google has hired her at an especially critical time for itself and its channel. “It’s a huge opportunity for partners in terms of driving innovation, driving solutions, being trusted advisors, and bringing industry expertise in,” Kapase says. “That’s very much what I’m here to propagate.”