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Katrina Leaves Lasting Impression

Although it certainly had a devastating impact on residents and businesses, Hurricane Katrina may also leave a more positive legacy in the Microsoft partner community.

"Katrina really focused us," says Bill Breslin, U.S. president of the International Assoc-iation of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP), the largest independent Microsoft partner group. "There's a sense of commitment across our 32 chapters that as an organization, we need to stand for something more than our partners and our businesses."

During a mid-October IAMCP President's Council meeting, the second since Katrina hit, Breslin says he received "overwhelming support" for the idea that each U.S. IAMCP chapter hold a fundraising or community service event of their choice each year. "It speaks to the mood of the community, that we're members of a community first and we're businesspeople and partners second."

The same community spirit shone through in the days immediately after Katrina, which struck the central Gulf Coast in late August, flooding New Orleans, killing 1,200 people and causing at least $200 billion in damages. Three IAMCP chapters in Texas donated as much as $10,000 to the newly formed Louisiana chapter. Various IAMCP chapters also held fundraising events with the proceeds going to the American Red Cross, including $7,400 from Breslin's own Houston chapter. (He is also a director with Insource Technology Corp. in Houston.)

Jamie Armanini, president of the Louisiana IAMCP Chapter, says about half that money has been spent to help various small companies with expenses such as temporary housing costs for employees and their families. One beneficiary was Richard Curtis, who works for COE Solutions in Metairie, La. Curtis, who has a wife and small child, was stationed with the National Guard's High Water Rescue Team in St. Bernard Parish, La., when Katrina hit. He lost his home and vehicles in the flood.

While some businesses, including Microsoft partner companies, are back on their feet, Armanini says, "others are really struggling and worried that a month out, they're not going to be able to make payroll and sustain themselves."

Armanini is also vice president of business development with the training and consulting firm Momentum, which is based in Baton Rouge, La., but has a New Orleans office across the street from the Louisiana Superdome. She toured the city with some Microsoft folks in mid-October. "It's devastating," she says. "Big sections of New Orleans are going to be out of commission for a long time."

That includes Momentum's own office. Although it is housed on the 18th floor, about 10 feet of water sat in the building for two weeks, sending contaminants through the elevator shaft to the floors above. "The whole building has to be decontaminated," Armanini says. "We don't have a shot at being up and running till sometime in spring."

Even if the New Orleans location could be up and running tomorrow, half of her employees have no place to live. Several have moved out of state to stay with relatives or friends. And there's no business to be had in the city anyway.

That has Armanini looking elsewhere for business, including Texas and Arkansas. "Although we've got a pretty successful business in Baton Rouge, New Orleans was the bulk of what we did," she says. "So we've got to find another customer base where people are ready to spend money."

Microsoft, meanwhile, is listening to its partners in the affected areas. Charlie Ramirez, a partner community manager for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, says the company hosted a partner town hall meeting in Louisiana in mid-October where at least 50 partners aired their "complaints, feedback and stories." As of press time, Microsoft was still formulating its response, but said it expected to be able to provide some assistance.

The company has already announced that it is offering temporary rights to software for organizations in affected areas that already had active Microsoft Volume Licensing agreements in place. The company is encouraging partners to help their customers secure the temporary licenses, which are good through Feb. 28, 2006, for commercial organizations and through June 30, 2006, for academic institutions, to cover the academic year.

As of early September, Microsoft and its employees had donated $4 million in cash to various relief organizations, and an additional $5 million in software and support.

About the Author

Paul Desmond, the founding editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine, is president of the IT publishing firm PDEdit in Southborough, Mass. Reach him at paul@pdedit.com.

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