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After the Storm

While still recovering from last year's disaster, Gulf Coast partners redouble their efforts to help their hometowns.

One year after Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast still bears the storm's marks. The same holds true for the region's Microsoft partner community.

Partners' customer lists have shifted and, in some cases, shrunk. Some partners have left the still-struggling New Orleans area, while others have found new opportunities. Yet perhaps the most significant change is the new emphasis on charitable work both by individual companies and local chapters of the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP).

A post-Katrina aid initiative funded by Microsoft and administered by partners provided a financial jumpstart for customers hurt by the disaster. Some partners offered free or reduced-cost services to help their customers return to business. And individual IAMCP chapters, generous in their giving immediately after the disaster, now make charitable work part of their regular agendas.

"Katrina opened our eyes a bit to the fact that, as a business organization, we can do more. It's not just about business and ourselves anymore," says Bill Breslin, U.S. president of the IAMCP.

Hurricane Katrina came ashore in the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, ultimately killing more than 1,200 people and causing more than $200 billion in damages. Among the organizations hard hit by the storm was the Louisiana chapter of the IAMCP.

Chapter President Jamie Armanini says that, before the hurricane, the group had 40 members. Today, membership is half that number-a fact in line with statistics indicating that 40 percent of New Orleans companies haven't returned to business. "Some of the smaller mom-and-pop shops in application development didn't survive or moved," she says.

Armanini, vice president of business development for the Baton Rouge-based Momentum training and consulting firm, witnessed the same effects on her own company, a Gold Certified Partner. Momentum's New Orleans office, located across the street from the Louisiana Superdome, employed 20 people before the storm. Today, there are just six. Meanwhile, the company has shifted its emphasis from training programs to on-site consulting services to meet the new needs of customers struggling to rebuild with smaller staffs.
The Microsoft community provided two types of aid to partners and customers in storm-ravaged areas. IAMCP chapters in Texas and elsewhere donated $25,000 to the Louisiana chapter, funding everything from temporary space rental to emergency food and water supplies.

In addition, a Microsoft program offering $400,000 worth of assistance, discounts and replacement software helped get businesses rolling again. As part of that effort, Microsoft partners nominated affected customers for individual $4,000 grants.

By the Numbers: MSPP Growth

The Microsoft Partner Program has grown dramatically in the past year, according to these figures recently released by Microsoft:

Partner Level July 2005 July 2006 Change
Gold Certified 4,600 8,000 +74%
Certified 28,000 22,000 -21%
Registered Member 266,000 350,000 +32%
Total 298,600 380,000 +27%

Individual partners offered assistance as well. One example is AdvancedMD Software Inc., a Salt Lake City-based Certified Partner that helped customers such as the Hancock Women's Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

After that obstetrical-gynecological clinic lost nearly all its medical and billing records to flooding, AdvancedMD offered its SQL Server-based hosting services, deferring set-up costs for six months and waiving subscription fees for the same period.

"Within a few weeks of the disaster, the clinic got power and set up shop with our product," says Lane Peterson, AdvancedMD's vice president of marketing.
Such immediate aid programs have ended as the region struggles to return to normal.

But an enduring result is partners' continuing fundraising for local charities.
For instance, the IAMCP's Houston chapter donated $12,000 to relief efforts in the months following Katrina. Since then, the 75-member group's new community-service committee has collected toys for local kids and organized a charity golf tournament to raise money for a shelter for abused and neglected children.

About the Author

Fred Bayles, a Boston-based freelance journalist, writes regularly about customer service and other business issues. He is a former national reporter for The Associated Press and USA Today.

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