Just days ahead of Lenovo Accelerate 2016, the vendor’s channel partner forum, held May 9 to 11 in Orlando, Fla., the Beijing, China-based company announced the launch of the Lenovo Capital and Incubator Group that’s making a $500 million initial investment to foster innovation both inside and outside the company in cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics and Internet services.
Just prior to that, Lenovo’s Enterprise Business Group became the Data Center Group (DCG) with Gerry Smith at the helm. As of April 1, Smith, president of DCG, put together a team of three senior executives and four senior vice presidents. “We’ve built a very dedicated team with a full time focus on this area, spending a lot of time on innovation, and making supply chain a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” said Smith.
Closer to home, at the Accelerate event, company executives sent a clear message that Lenovo has its eyes set on the data center.
With midyear just a few weeks away, here’s a rundown of the key channel market trends that have emerged thus far in 2016:
Differentiation via intellectual property
At one point, just offering managed services versus reselling products was a point of differentiation. But today, most channel partners have made the MSP transition. That shift compels MSPs to seek out other forms of differentiation. The same theme holds true for channel partners reselling public cloud services — they need to find a way to rise above rivals serving up the same cloud offerings. The creation of intellectual property (IP) is one way channel companies are differentiating their services. IP can take the form of software. For example, a cloud service provider might develop a specialized app that ties into a particular public cloud platform (Salesforce, for instance). Or an MSP might create an IT monitoring tool for its customers. In some cases, IP can be a “productized” service — a branded cloud migration methodology.
Differentiation via expanded service lines
Channel companies can also add new services to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. An MSP focusing on server monitoring may add IT security to the mix, for example. Or a company already offering IT security — managed firewalls, let’s say — may offer more sophisticated services such as identity and access management. Smaller channel partners may find adding services challenging and expensive. They may also find this approach hard to sustain, since they need to cover more ground with a limited number of employees. The struggle to broaden service portfolios has triggered another channel trend: Partnering among partners. In this approach, a channel company partners with a peer to offer a particular service.
MSPs or VARs looking to get into the IT security space may find it difficult to hire the right people to offer such services. Vendors offering security-as-service, however, can help channel partners add security services without having to build a security practice. Security-as-a-service vendors basically help channel partners make the MSP-to-managed-security-services-provider transition. Channel partners that already sell some, perhaps rudimentary, security services can supplement their offerings through a partnership with a security-as-a-service vendor.
RMM technology shift
Remote monitoring and management (RMM) technology has long been the MSPs’ cornerstone application for delivering services to customers. But the technology has been around for 15 years and vendors are now working through significant product revisions. The main trends include improved integration between RMM and other MSP business applications such as professional services automation. There is also an effort to streamline RMM to make it easier for MSPs to bring on new customers and add new services to their portfolios. RMM vendors, as they update their wares, face challenges from hybrid cloud monitoring tools and may eventually bump up against robotic process automation. As a consequence, channel partners will have more tooling options than ever before.
IT services: Remote monitoring and management to get boost in 2016
Partner opportunity: Midmarket email migrations to cloud (scroll down to Autotask, AVG Business unveil MSP tools)
Distributors have long served as the main source of products for channel partners lacking direct relationships with hardware and software vendors. The rise of cloud computing, however, is pushing distributors into a different direction. As channel partner customers purchase less on-premise gear, distributors now place a greater emphasis on services including cloud-based services. Distributors offer cloud marketplaces through which channel partners can select among various cloud offerings and sell them to their end clients. Distributors also offer assistance with branding/marketing, IT asset disposition and government sales.
Cloud-based disaster recovery
Disaster recovery (DR) in the cloud — also known as DR as a service (DRaaS) — has become an important data protection opportunity for channel partners. Traditionally, smaller businesses have lacked the financial resources to build and equip an off-site DR facility. DRaaS, however, has transformed DR into a subscription-based cloud offering that eliminates upfront capital expenses. As the concept catches on, channel partners can offer DR to customers who could not previously afford it. Channel partners have the option of creating their own DRaaS capability or partnering with one of several DRaaS providers in the market.
Today’s regulatory environment calls for channel market companies to support customers dealing with compliance issues related to data security and privacy. But partners that want to move in that direction will need to acquire expertise in a particular industry’s regulatory setting — HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) expertise in healthcare or PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry-Data Security Standard) expertise in retail, for instance. This transition will be easiest for channel firms that already focus on the business requirements of particular vertical markets. The rewards for delivering compliance support include greater competitive differentiation and higher valuations from a merger and acquisition standpoint. Partners, however, must be wary of the downside risk in compliance work and should consider purchasing professional liability insurance.
Pete Koliopoulos, is a well-seasoned IT executive with more than 30 years of experience in marketing, sales and channel programs who recently — March according to his LinkedIn profile — took the reins as vice president of global software channels and alliances at Dell Systems and Information Management (SIM) Group. In this new role at Dell, Koliopoulos works as a peer to Cheryl Cook, vice president of global channels and alliances at Dell since November 2013.
With the announcement of Dell’s acquisition of EMC in October 2015, the question is: how many chief cooks — yes, pun intended — and bottle washers does the vendor need? (On another interesting note, Koliopoulos has a work history that includes stints at Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, VCE Corp. and EMC).
Here at EMC Global Partner Summit 2016/EMC World 2016, there isn’t a partner in the house who isn’t wondering what role the channel will play in the new Dell Technologies — the name the merged company will have after the acquisition is finalized. Specificity is scarce.
So why the Koliopoulos appointment and should partners care?
According to Dell, Koliopoulos will be responsible for the strategy and execution of the Dell SIM “Channel Partner First” approach that gives partners end-to-end solutions to open the door to new business opportunities with existing customers and new customers.
He will build a worldwide partner program with the goal of going deeper with existing partners rather than seek out new partners. “I look to expand partner revenue through services and renewals as well as give partners a deeper dive look on SIM solution areas so they understand the growth opportunity,” Koliopoulos said in an emailed statement.
SIM is a recently reorganized group at Dell. Dell Software Group (DSG) was started in 2012 when the company decided to bring multiple acquisitions together in a single business. In November 2015, the vendor transformed DSG around three technology domains — Security, Information Management, and Systems Management — in an effort to change the way it designs, markets and sells products. This led them to an organization encompassing four business units: Systems and Information Management (SIM), Security Solutions, Boomi and StatSoft.
Koliopoulous reports to Tom Joyce, general manager, system and information management software. Joyce, who while in his prior role for 11 months as senior vice president of global corporate development at HP with responsibility for mergers and acquisitions, jumped ship to Dell prior to the HP split. Joyce worked at HP since 2009.
Also on Koliopoulous’ team are Jeff McCullough, Americas, Chris Miller, EMEA and Mary Woo, AJP.
When asked about the timing of Koliopoulous’ appointment and Dell’s SIM strategy just ahead of the Dell-EMC merger, the company said the following:
With the right thoughtfulness and leadership this combination of heavily seasoned professionals can continue to build a truly unique and powerful channel ecosystem. One that can drive differentiation in the market and gain significant market share from the wide array of competitors.
So back to wondering about Dell’s strategy to bring on another top channel executive. It’s public knowledge that Dell plans to sell a number of the company’s assets to both raise money for the EMC acquisition and rid itself of non-core assets, i.e. Dell IT Services, formerly Perot Systems, as well as SonicWall and Quest. Is SIM on the chopping block too? An unnamed source suggested that in all likelihood Dell intends to sell SIM.
One thing is sure going forward: In 2017, partners of Dell Technologies can expect to see a single, unified partner program, according to Gregg Ambulos, senior vice president of global channel sales at EMC. What we don’t know is when the two separate channel programs come together, who is going to run it? That’s the next shoe to drop.
It’s no wonder that channel partners of both Dell and EMC are on the edge of their seats.
At a quick glance, the flat growth prediction by Techaisle LLC for IT spending in the small and medium-size business (SMB) market in 2016 may seem to contradict the often-heard flaunting of this market segment as rich with opportunity for channel firms. B-r-e-a-t-h-e — it still is. You just have to know where to look.
Was he surprised? Yes and No. Continued »
Indeed, cloud-based methods such as DRaaS have put DR within the reach of smaller customers, a development that has opened a largely untapped market for channel partners. DR was once something only larger enterprises could think about doing. The cost of duplicating in-house IT infrastructure in a DR facility was simply beyond the resources of many, if not most, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). But DRaaS has changed the economics of data protection. A business pays a monthly fee to get the job done, rather than make a sizeable upfront investment in hardware, software licenses and facilities. Continued »
Scott Lindars, a former Citrix senior alliance marketing manager and now director of technology markets at Merit Mile, an interactive agency in Boca Raton, Fla., outlined MSP marketing tactics at the MSPWorld conference this week in Orlando.
Here are his top five tips:
Optimize your website for mobile devices
Lindars emphasized the date April 21, 2015. That’s when Google Search ramped up the importance of mobile-friendly websites in its page-ranking formula. By October of last year, more than half of Google searches were conducted from mobile devices. Lindars implored MSPs to optimize for mobile if they hadn’t already, noting the availability of tools and web specialist companies that can help update websites.
“There’s no excuse for having an outdated website,” he said.
Deliver only the essential content
Lindars said an MSP’s “why” — messaging that tells prospective customers why the company is different — must be front and center on its website. He advised MSPs to audit their web presence, trim and focus. For example, if an MSP offers 50 services but only 10 are critical, it should focus on those 10 services rather than describe the entire portfolio. Good content is still king, he added, noting MSPs should aim to emphasize quality over quantity. Examples of possible content include whitepapers, surveys and reports, thought leadership pieces, trends and predictions, emotional customer stories, how-to articles, infographics, and top-10 lists.
“Video is a must-have,” Lindars said, noting that business executives watch work-related videos at least weekly. He described three types of videos that companies should include in their MSP marketing approach:
- How it helps — Such videos describe how the MSP solves a particular problem, trend or demand in the marketplace.
- Lifestyle solutions — These videos show how the MSP’s services help customers in the real world.
- How it works — In this type of video, the MSP sets forth the technical basics of how its offering works.
Lindars suggested MSPs keep videos short, noting the top-performing Facebook videos are less than two minutes long. He also recommended using strong, compelling visuals.
Use social media to drive sales leads
Lindars pointed to research that suggests MSPs using social media can increase revenue, reduce marketing costs and close more leads. But Lindars cautioned companies to refrain from targeting every social media platform with an MSP marketing campaign. He said the social media landscape continues to evolve, advising MSPs to stick with the outlets their buyers are most likely to use. And social media messages should be designed to elicit audience action.
“Get them to bite,” he said.
Do email the right way
Nurturing leads via email works, according to Lindars, but getting sales-ready leads via email requires MSPs to have a strategy. The emails dispatched in a given campaign should work together and offer a consistent look and feel. The email list should be up to date and segmented (targeted toward a particular IT customer audience). The email copy should be clean, simple and focused, Lindars said.
Today’s news that Brocade Communications Systems Inc. has made a $1.2 billion bid for Ruckus Wireless will impact channel partners of both companies, but don’t expect details until the deal closes sometime in Brocade’s third fiscal quarter of 2016.
This latest acquisition for Brocade will add Wi-Fi infrastructure products to the company’s portfolio.
“From our perspective, the [Brocade and Ruckus] technologies compliment each other. They don’t overlap,” said Pete Peterson, vice president of global channel sales at Brocade. “We have a strong channel ecosystem, as does Ruckus, and not a lot of overlap in the channel, so we think there’s an opportunity for our existing partners to sell more Ruckus solutions and for Ruckus partners to sell more Brocade solutions. And more importantly, the combined partner ecosystem will have the ability to fulfill the new digital networking capability that nobody in our particular network space has on their line card today.”
For now, partners should expect business as usual, according to the Brocade channel chief. When the acquisition is completed, partners will be able to sell from the data center to the wireless network edge.
While some Brocade partners may have been delivering this network capability by combining multiple vendors’ products (including Ruckus technology), channel partners can soon deliver it through a single vendor brand.
“We’ve been partnering with other vendors, including Ruckus, for quite some time, and it has worked out well for us. Even after the acquisition, we’ll continue to build on our open standards-based portfolio and continue to work with other networking vendors,” Peterson said.
The Ruckus Wireless acquisition won’t be Brocade’s first time combining vendor channel organizations, which has been part and parcel of acquisitions it has made over the years. In 2015, Brocade acquired the Steel App business unit from Riverbed Technology, as well as Evolved Packet Core specialist Connectem. The previous year, Brocade purchased Vistapointe, and, in 2012, acquired Vyatta. Back in 2008, Brocade acquired Foundry Networks.
Ruckus Wireless will operate as a wholly owned wireless network business unit led by Ruckus CEO Selina Lo, who will report to Brocade CEO Lloyd Carney.
Verizon today announced the appointment of Janet Schijns as vice president of global channels for Verizon Enterprise Solutions. Schijns, who has worked for Verizon since November 2010, replaces Adam Famularo who is leaving the company on April 1. Famularo held his channel post since September 2014.
In her new position, Schijns is responsible for overseeing Verizon’s indirect enterprise distribution channels, i.e. partners, value-added resellers and systems integrators, in the U.S., EMEA and Asia-Pacific. Continued »
For several years now, former Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Tiffani Bova cautioned that customers, not technology, are the most disruptive aspect of business today. More than a year ago, in an interview with SearchITChannel, Bova said, “No longer are technology providers in control of the buyer’s journey, which means neither is the indirect channel.” This shifts the way in which the channel sells, communicates and engages, with the customer becoming the new “competitive battleground,” she added.
Here’s a mixed message for channel partners: IT managers view security as a cloud advantage, but they still have some reservations when it comes to moving data off premises to a cloud infrastructure.
That’s a key takeaway of a recent study from Clutch, a business-to-business market researcher based in Washington, D.C. Part one of the study, published in February, cited security as the primary benefit of cloud infrastructure, based on a survey of 300 IT professionals. The results overturn earlier thinking on cloud computing; security concerns ranked among the top cloud adoption obstacles a decade ago.
Part two of that study, released in March, sheds more light on the cloud security angle. According to Clutch, 64% of enterprises “consider cloud infrastructure a more secure alternative to legacy systems.”
Other market researchers have also noted a general shift in cloud perception. Continued »