The news from Microsoft came as a complete surprise to many of the 3.000 or so “Registered Refurbishers” (RRP) around the world: In June they were informed by email that their partner level would be canceled without replacement on October 1st (see “Microsoft is canceling refurbisher program «). They are only allowed to record used PCs with their remaining licenses until the end of the year, but then have to sell them by June 30, 2021 at the latest. In future, they will have to contact one of the almost 70 Authorized Refurbishers (MAR) as a “Third Party Refurbisher” (TPR) in order to continue to get the discounted licenses for the sale of their refurbished devices to educational institutions, authorities and non-profit organizations. So it's no wonder that the uncertainty is now great. Many refurbishers do not know how this cooperation should work and what additional hurdles and costs it entails.
As one of the first MARs worldwide, the German bb-net has now launched a comprehensive partner program in order to catch up with Registered Refurbishers. In an interview with CRN, founder and managing director Michael Bleicher explains how surprising the changes were for his company, what they mean for those affected and what advantages he offers the new partners with the »bb-net license program«(BLP) can offer. He is also looking at other upcoming changes such as the changeover digital Licenses at the turn of the year, which is still a headache for many partners.
CRN: Mr. Bleicher, the "Registered Refurbisher" (RRP) were caught off guard by Microsoft's announcement of changes to the Refurbisher program. How surprising was the step for bb-net as a major Authorized Refurbisher (MAR)?
Michael Bleicher: What should surprise me in the partnership with Microsoft? But yes, the changes came very unexpectedly and even we as Authorized Refurbishers had no knowledge of them in advance.
"Maybe not quite the right time"
CRN: Some of the previous RRPs reported to CRN that their business is currently doing very well due to the corona-related digitization surge. In your opinion, was that a good time to make the change?Bleacher: Especially at the time of Corona, when non-profit licenses and associated devices are needed more than ever, that might not be the right time. But now it is important for everyone involved to make the best of the new situation with full commitment.
CRN: To what extent has your company been able to adapt adequately to the new tasks that it is to take on as a supervisor for the previous RRPs from autumn?
Bleacher: In the many years and through the agile work here at bb-net, we have learned to react quickly to external influences. We have been MAR since 2012 and have been in the refurbishment business for 25 years - so we have a wealth of experience that we can access. In addition, we already have some so-called “Third Party Refurbisher” contracts (TPR) with former MARs and RRPs from the DACH region. This means that the corresponding processes, our own contracts and reporting are already a permanently installed and well-functioning process.
As soon as we were informed of the changes, we put together a project team to consider what we could do for the outgoing RRPs and how we could involve them with us. To this end, we pulled a long-planned project out of the drawer and thus launched our »bb-net license partner program« (BLP). This resulted in our new information page, which should give the RRPs an overview and pave the way for the change to bb-net as MAR.
CRN: Have there already been initial reports or contacts from registered refurbishers who are now looking for a MAR partner?
Bleacher: Shortly after the internal information from Microsoft to the RRPs, we had the first inquiries. That is certainly also due to our good reputation and awareness in the industry. In addition, some RRPs are already our customers and are actively marketing our tecXL products.
Conditions for TPRs
CRN: Are you ready to accept existing RRPs as new TPR partners in large numbers?
Bleacher: I would say yes, we are ready. Of course, accepting a large number of new customers in this area also presents us with challenges. It is not enough to just order licenses and then sell them. We will certainly continue to expand our program technically, in order to make the processes like this digital and to make it as simple as possible. The bb-net license partner program is just the beginning and I can well imagine that we will continue to implement benefits for the partners in order to create a solid and attractive program for refurbishers. I compare that with our tecXL partner program: It has also grown continuously and has become a professional system for more than 600 dealers.
CRN: Under the new conditions, will the effort involved in looking after the RRP partners be comparable with previous practice - and is it worth it?
Bleacher: The effort is of course significantly higher due to the different sizes of the partners, the IT infrastructure found in the company, but also the different wishes. What must not be forgotten is that Microsoft is completely breaking away from the RRPs. In other words, we will be your contractual partner in the future and, as a result, we will also have to assume full technical support and responsibility for the partners. Especially with regard to the required reporting of the licenses, we have to ensure that our colleagues do not misuse the licenses and adhere to the provisions of a TPR.
There is certainly not much to earn here for us, but that's in the background for now. Due to our size and as an innovator for the refurbisher market, we almost see it as an obligation to offer solutions.
CRN: Can you counter the fears of the RRPs regarding an increase in the price of licenses with specific conditions?
Bleacher: Currently I can say that a former RRP receives the same conditions as in the direct partnership with Microsoft. But we don't yet know which changes Microsoft will be introducing before the launch - even if I, like the partners concerned, would of course much prefer that.
CRN: As you know, Microsoft has been working on major changes in the Refurbisher program for some time. Are the MARs next?
Bleacher: You can see from the global decision how quickly programs change or are discontinued. Of course, we at MAR are also thinking about this. But since we are in a very close partnership with Microsoft, are doing a really good job and have grown to a significant size in the market, I see ourselves as bb-net armed for future changes, even if these affect the MAR program.
The current change is definitely also an opportunity for us and shows that the homework we did in the past is now having a positive effect for us. As always, the market for used and reconditioned devices remains exciting and I look forward to further developments.
Microsoft is switching to digital licenses
CRN: At the turn of the year, the switch to digital licenses in the Microsoft world begins. Is your company already adequately prepared for this?
Bleacher: We are well positioned here. Microsoft rolled out a pilot project two years ago and we were on board from the start. However, the applications made available to us by the group were not sufficient to be able to map the needs of a refurbisher and the imponderables in a manufacturing process. Through our in-house DevOps team, we have therefore developed our own pieces of software and interfaces to address the issue digital To be able to map the license in full.
It took us a good 6 months to implement a smooth process. In the meantime we have carried out well over 100.000 installations on the new basis, so this has become business as usual. Incidentally, as of today, we are the only MAR in the DACH region that can map this and carry it out in practice. According to my information, there are only six companies worldwide. This again shows the enormous competence we have in-house and what pioneering position we take here in innovative new things.
In the end, I have to admit that the integration of digital product keys was also a blessing. As a result, our manufacturing processes have become leaner and faster and possible human-machine errors have been reduced even further.
CRN: In your opinion, can smaller providers even cope with this effort and how can bb-net help them if necessary?
Bleacher: This is where the crux of the change comes. Strategically, Microsoft has chosen a good time for itself. Small MARs or RRPs digital Changing licenses requires a lot of support and brings problems to light. And I think the group is also aware that many are not even able to pass on the change. Microsoft is shifting work to the MARs and solving many problems in one fell swoop.
This infrastructure, as it can be found with us, is not to be expected from the possible new partner. But we are already investigating which possibilities we can create to make the life of the new partner as easy as possible. Here we rely on our own software development, which is to be based on Microsoft tools in order to make further refurbishing possible even after the "sticker" era.
But I don't want to reveal too much at this point, but I am in good spirits that we will manage it. Also and especially with regard to the developments still to come, every RRP should therefore carefully consider with whom to enter into a contract; this also applies to existing TPR or MAR that work together with another MAR.
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