The Partner Role Cluster includes a broad collection of IT partners, service suppliers, and outsource vendors who work as virtual members of the IT staff in providing hardware, software, networking, hosting, and support services. The degree to which an IT organization uses partner services varies widely from business to business depending on the size, location, industry type, and the strategic goals of the business. Looking ahead as e-business evolves, external partners will be the primary owners and suppliers of technologies. Internet e-businesses, for example, will focus on their core competencies of building and running e-commerce sites, while choosing to outsource their customer service, product fulfillment, and hardware support functions-as well as possible other functions.

In the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) Team Model, the Partner Role Cluster represents the external business partnerships involved in delivering a service. The exact type and nature of the relationship with this partner can take on a variety of forms and perspectives; however, the importance of the partner in an efficient operations team structure cannot be understated. The management of the partner relationship within the company depends on the kind of partner and what services are being provided; so for simplicity, the internal "relationship manager" will be referred to as the partner account manager.

Service level agreements (SLAs) are an integral component in the management of high-quality services obtained through vendors, suppliers, outsourcers, or any other type of third-party provider. The partner account manager is responsible for defining the terms of these agreements, costs, and ongoing operational details involved in getting both the partner provider and the customer recipient to meet their commitments to the agreement.

Maintenance contracts are a prime example of an ongoing third-party SLA. Microsoft, for example, outsources its internal IT help desk function to a company whose core competency is providing service desk functions and managing the help desk staff. A Microsoft IT group employee is the account manager responsible for managing the relationship with the help desk vendor. The objective is to continually assess service levels and to make whatever modifications are necessary to improve service to the internal end users while balancing the costs of running the help desk.

Knowledge management tools are especially important for managing partner and supplier roles. As e-businesses and virtual corporations are becoming an ever-increasing presence in companies of all sizes, electronic communication and collaboration tools are vital to their success. Virtual meeting tools and instant messenger technologies are some of the tools that can be used to encourage and enhance the partnership and virtual team communication process. Analyst reports indicate that collaboration tools, although still in relatively early stages of development and usage, already have improved workflow, lowered costs, and increased overall efficiency of problem solving and brainstorming within teams.


Key responsibilities of the Partner Role Cluster include:

  • Providing account and relationship management for IT vendor and outsource partners such as hosting, network, support, and IT maintenance services.
  • Managing the contractual and service level agreements between providers and consumers and defining roles and responsibilities.
  • Defining the processes and procedures for interaction between the provider and consumer.
  • Creating and maintaining SLAs with suppliers.
  • Evaluating third-party alternatives.
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of provider services.
  • Negotiating and managing costs associated with partnerships.
  • Managing IT procurement and purchasing functions.


The competencies of the Partner Role Cluster will vary widely depending on the organization's utilization of partner services and the nature of the goods and/or services provided. Nevertheless, the essential competencies with the Partner Role Cluster should align with those in the other MOF role clusters.