Microsoft (MSFT) has upgraded the Office 365 Partner Admin Center -- which includes "new and enhanced tools" for VARs and cloud integrators to more easily manage customer settings. The improvements sound promising but some partners are still sorting through Microsoft's Office 365 channel incentive changes, which start Jan. 25.

Adam Jung, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft, told Talkin' Cloud that the admin center addresses four partner needs. Partners can:

  1. View customers for which they have delegated admin privileges—all in one place.
  2. Find, select, and perform administrative tasks on behalf of customers.
  3. View customers’ Office 365 service health status and details.
  4. Create, edit, and view service requests on behalf of the partners' customers.

The new Partner Admin Center is rolling out worldwide today in all the languages Office 365 currently supports. "Partners are gaining a clear visibility into their customers' Office 365 environments," said Jung.

Ironically, Microsoft in some ways is competing with a growing ecosystem of Office 365 management tools vendors. One example is 365 Command, a management tool that Kaseya acquired in 2013. Also, the Microsoft enhancements come only a few weeks after the Google Apps Reseller team offered more flexible financial models for partners.

Meanwhile, partners should keep a close eye on how Microsoft builds out its Office 365, Windows Azure and Windows Intune cloud management dashboards. While the technology giant has not made any official announcements, I think it's safe to say that Microsoft  -- over time -- wants to give partners a single dashboard for managing all of its cloud services (IaaS, SaaS, IT management, and more).

Office 365 Partner Momentum, Questions

No doubt, Office 365 is catching on with a growing number of partners. More than 60 percent of the world's top 501 MSPs now offer or support Office 365 for customers, according to the seventh-annual MSPmentor 501 report, which debuts Feb. 27, 2014.

Still, some partners have lingering concerns about slim margins and Microsoft's potentially evolving compensation program. In some cases, Office 365 profit opportunities sound like they're dropping 40 to 50 percent, according to CRN, but Microsoft has been assuring partners that the Office 365 partner program and related services remain lucrative.