Channel Marker

May 18, 2018  1:29 AM

Apple Authorized Service Provider program: ComputerCare’s story

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Apple, Apple iOS, Channel, Channel partners, computer repair, Support services

What’s life like in the Apple Authorized Service Provider program?

The example of ComputerCare, a computer repair and IT consulting firm with offices in Santa Clara, Calif. and Seattle, sheds some light on that topic. ComputerCare has been an Apple Authorized Service Provider, or AASP, since 2008. The company also provides warranty service and repair for Lenovo, Toshiba and HP products.

Company president Georgia Rittenberg said the scope of ComputerCare’s Apple repair business extends to all of the company’s products, including the iPhone. In 2017, Apple chose ComputerCare for a program that lets it manage iPhone repairs and calibration at the AASP’s location. Typically, such repairs would take place in an Apple Store. But customers can walk into ComputerCare’s office for an iPhone fix, rather than making an appointment with an Apple Store’s Genius Bar.

“We’ve had an additional influx of customers because of our ability to have faster turnaround time for iPhone repairs,” Rittenberg said.

Consumer and business services

The iPhone/iOS business has generated consumer walk-in traffic, but businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle are also looking to get iOS devices repaired.

“We have seen an increase in those corporate accounts providing mobile devices to employees as part of the onboarding process, so we have seen an increase in corporate business,” Rittenberg said.

For business clients, ComputerCare offers free pickup and delivery for Apple devices and the other hardware brands it services. That’s no small consideration in the Apple world.

“So, instead of the IT person having to take five laptops and make five different appointments at the Genius Bar, we send a driver to pick up the equipment,” she said.

In addition to supporting laptop repairs, the pickup service also makes life easier for businesses that need to repair iMac all-in-ones or Thunderbolt displays, which they would otherwise have to lug into an Apple Store.

“People really appreciate that,” Rittenberg said.

ComputerCare’s Apple repair service has carved a niche among midsize companies that haven’t hit the purchase threshold at which Apple will provide an onsite warranty solution. “There’s not a ton of options for those mid-level companies, she said, noting such business either take their equipment to an Apple Store for service or ship their gear to an Apple depot for repair.

Rittenberg estimated about half of the company’s Apple support customers fall in the mid-sized business category.

Apple Authorized Service Provider program levels 

A look at the Apple Authorized Service Provider program structure places ComputerCare in a broader context. AASPs, in general, are companies that provide repair services to consumers and businesses. Companies with full AASP status are authorized to repair Apple gear for any customer. Limited Service Providers, however, are restricted with regard to the products they may service and customers they serve.

Apple Premium Service Providers, meanwhile, occupy the top tier of the AASP program.  Companies must meet Apple’s requirements from both a technical and customer service standpoint to become a Premium Service Provider. To document their adherence to those requirements, program participants survey customers on subjects such as how well technicians carry out repairs, how quickly those repairs are made and the technicians’ ability to answer customer questions.

ComputerCare maintained Apple Premium Service Provider status for 2016 and 2017, narrowly missing out in 2018. Rittenberg said the company has “set some goals to work toward … to qualify for next year.”

Filling the gap

Apple, working with companies within the Apple Authorized Service Provider program, has been able to expand the availability of repair services to business and consumer customers. Rittenberg said Apple is making its customers aware that service providers are available as an alternative to a Genius Bar appointment.

“There are limited ways to get service on your device and sending [customers] every time to the Apple Store isn’t a solution,” Rittenberg said. “I really value the way Apple has partnered with their service providers. They really do view them as a partner and understand service providers are very important to the market and filling that gap.”

April 27, 2018  7:55 PM

IBM business partners see incentives for storage systems, software

Spencer Smith Spencer Smith Profile: Spencer Smith
Channel partners, IBM, Storage Market

IBM is spurring partners to win more deals in the storage market, specifically around its software-defined storage and all-flash array products.

The company this week introduced a new set of sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs) for its storage systems and software portfolio. IBM said the incentives are the latest move in the transformation of its channel strategy and partner program. Earlier this year, IBM overhauled its incentives programs for hardware and software.

“As we all know in the competitive, demanding space around storage, as a lot of [IBM partners] and a lot of our clients continue to focus in on the cloud and the migration to the cloud, storage is a huge piece of that business model,” said John Teltsch, general manager of global business partners at IBM.

He described the new SPIFs as part of “the rolling thunder” of IBM’s “incremental incentive changes to our partner channel.”

The incentive program provides eligible partner sellers and system engineers with up to $100,000 in SPIFs that they can earn annually.

  • New clients: Partner reps can earn 3% of the deal size, up to $30,000 per rep, per deal with a new client.
  • All-flash arrays: Reps can earn 1% of the deal size, up to $10,000 per deal, split between reps.
  • IBM storage hardware and Spectrum software: Up to $20,000 per deal based on deal size, split between reps.
  • New deal registrations: For registering an opportunity of $100,000 or more, reps can receive $500, split between reps.

IBM added that the storage SPIFs are stackable, which lets partners bundle multiple incentives on each deal for greater financial payout.

According to Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer of worldwide storage channels at IBM, the global market for external storage systems and software, while about $40 billion in size, is relatively flat. However, he noted software-defined storage and all-flash arrays are growing market segments.

“Certain markets are shrinking: hard drive arrays, hybrid arrays, management software for devices,” Herzog said. “While we do offer those, our focus is on flash arrays and software-defined storage. Those are growth markets, and we’ve wrapped these incentives around those market engines.”

The SPIF program will run until the end of the calendar year and are open to all IBM business partners, regardless of their program tier levels, in North America, Western Europe and Latin America. IBM said it will roll out storage incentives in other geographies, adapted to countries’ local laws and customs, later this quarter.

April 25, 2018  7:56 PM

MSP tools: Virteva consolidates monitoring for better visibility

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Automation, Channel, IT monitoring, MSP

MSP tools play a pivotal role in a managed service provider’s business. 

A mix of off-the-shelf and home-grown tools help MSPs deliver services to their customers. Using automated tools to remotely monitor and manage clients’ IT assets is really the essence of what an MSP does. The MSP industry couldn’t exist without MSP tools.

And with the growth of the managed service customer base, the need for automation only intensifies. A recent Datto survey on MSP marketing and business issues showed more than 40% of the 2,300 MSPs polled have more than 100 clients, compared with only 27% reporting that customer volume in 2017. MSPs rely on software tools to support that number of customers capably and profitably.

But one can have too much of a good thing and that holds true for MSP tools. Virteva, an MSP based in Minneapolis, had been using four different tools to monitor its customers. That collection of monitoring products added complexity and expense and also made it difficult for Virteva to obtain a complete picture of its customers’ IT infrastructures.

Steve Griffiths, COO at Virteva, said the company decided to replace its mixture of monitoring wares with a single platform from LogicMonitor. That vendor’s monitoring technology is now part of an application stack that sits on top of ServiceNow, which Virteva adopted a few years ago to serve as the backbone of its operations.

“It was a nice consolidation play,” Griffiths said, referring to the shift from multiple MSP monitoring tools to a single source.

Consolidating MSP tools improves visibility

Griffiths said such consolidation moves streamline a company’s operations and usually reduces costs. But the greatest advantage of adopting LogicMonitor has been unified monitoring and the improved visibility that it provides.

“The big one is when you can see everything under one roof,” he said. “You get the benefit of connecting the dots across customers … and breaking down the silos of data.”

LogicMonitor’s ability to centralize monitoring paid off when a major hack emerged and Virteva needed to check for patches across its customers’ IT systems. Matt Kerfoot, infrastructure technician at Virteva, said the company created a custom DataSource for LogicMonitor that scanned clients’ systems and flagged those missing the patch. He said the scanning task took one hour using the DataSource, which is a LogicMonitor template that determines what data to collect and what values should trigger alerts.

“I really like the custom DataSources,” Kerfoot said. “We monitor so much stuff that doesn’t get monitored out of the box.”

Avoiding extinction

The ability to sniff out potential problems before they affect customers is in line with Virteva’s overarching philosophy, Griffiths suggested. He said CIOs face the challenge of dealing with security threats and the day-to-day grind of addressing problems that crop up throughout the IT infrastructure. Virteva’s approach, he said, is to prevent trouble from ever happening in the first place.

“We believe that the old way of being an MSP is going the way of the dodo,” Griffiths said. “No longer can somebody … outsource, say service desk or infrastructure management, and just say, ‘You guys take it and you handle my mess for less money.’ ”

Griffiths said that way of doing business leads to labor arbitrage, which he termed a losing proposition. The alternative approach Griffiths endorses is proactive management and continuous improvement.

“That best support experience one can have is not to have one at all,” he said.

March 28, 2018  8:33 PM

Applying AI: Accenture exec cites customer opportunities

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Artificial intelligence, Business Agility

The task of applying AI, digital thread and augmented reality to here-and-now business challenges is much on the mind of Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive at Accenture Digital. Sutcliff discussed those technologies with SearchITChannel in a recent email interview. Here are some excerpts from that interview with Sutcliff, who spoke on AI and digital transformation at last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona:

What are the top three real-world issues companies are trying to solve by applying AI? Where is the opportunity for Accenture in those areas?

Mike Sutcliff: We [saw] a lot of interest from clients in discussing applied [AI] with us at Mobile Word Congress. The first thing the companies we talk to want to know is: How can AI help my business deliver more compelling customer experiences? This is where we have been seeing very good results. For example, by using machine learning to process huge amounts of customer data, we’re able to provide customers and business buyers with more enriching interactions and experiences. Applying AI to data can help connect an online customer with the right insurance product in real time or enable pharmaceutical sales representatives to approach healthcare providers with the right solution for their patients.

The second thing our clients typically are interested in is using AI to enhance the employee experience, drive productivity, increase engagement and empower their people to make better decisions.

Finally, they want to learn about how AI can influence business models. This is a longer-term undertaking that requires an examination of how existing operating models can be reconstituted around the customer using automation. Continued »

March 6, 2018  9:16 PM

Ease the MSP talent acquisition process with these tips

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Managed Services, recruitment, Staffing

For Eric Hobbs, the key to the talent acquisition process is to recruit prospective employees early and often.

Hobbs is CEO at Technology Associates, a managed service provider (MSP) in Cary, North Carolina. Finding qualified candidates to fill MSP slots is a chore in virtually any part of the country, but Technology Associates has the added challenge of hiring in the Raleigh-Durham area, home to companies such as Red Hat, SAS and IBM.

The task of finding the right candidates for managed services provider jobs can take months, even under the best of circumstances, and, potentially, years. Hobbs noted Technology Associates, at one point, took two-and-a-half years to find and hire a virtual CIO.

The way to avoid seemingly interminable candidate searches is to make the talent acquisition process an ongoing, day in and day out regimen.

“You can’t wait until you need somebody to start looking,” Hobbs said, speaking this week at MSPWorld 2018. The conference, held March 5 through 6 in New Orleans, featured a discussion on cybersecurity.

Technology Associates has turned talent acquisition into a regular activity. “We post all of our positions every month, whether we are hiring or not,” Hobbs said, noting the company uses job boards on such sites as Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn to do so.

The frequent posting gives Technology Associates a jump on the talent-finding and resume-review process, enabling the company to “build a bench” of qualified job candidates, Hobbs said.

Even top performers may unexpectedly leave a firm, so it’s important to maintain a bench for all positions. Posting every job also eliminates the guessing game in which employees assess a single job posting and try to determine which employee is on the cusp of dismissal — that could lead to a rather Hobbesian workplace.

The talent acquisition process doesn’t end with full bench, of course. The entire process from resume collection to the job offer needs to be defined and documented for the sake of consistency. The roles and responsibilities for each job must be clearly described. And once the managed services provider jobs are filled, a company must have an employee assessment and feedback process in place.

Hobbs has a couple of other talent acquisition tips for MSPs. He advises companies to use an automated applicant tracking system and not try to build their own. Technology Associates uses ApplicantStack, which costs $95 per month, he said.

In addition, MSPs posting openings should make sure jobs titles are actually what applicants are searching for. For example, Technology Associates didn’t get much of a response when posting an opening for an InSight engineer. InSight is the company’s service brand, but job seekers “didn’t know what it was,” Hobbs said. “They are not looking for your verbiage.”

February 27, 2018  9:20 PM

TeamViewer partner program update reveals shift in strategy

Spencer Smith Spencer Smith Profile: Spencer Smith
remote support

TeamViewer, a newcomer to the channel, is on a mission to grow its presence among partners.

The software provider only began its push into the channel about a year-and-a-half ago when it launched its inaugural TeamViewer partner program, featuring four tiers — Registered, Silver, Gold and Platinum — as well as deal registration, training and marketing support. Last week, TeamViewer updated the program with added deal registration benefits, a revised partner portal and an expanded channel team to assist partners. TeamViewer has also opened partner access to its ITbrain portfolio of IT management performance products.

“TeamViewer only started engaging with the channel about 18 months ago. … Before that, we pretty much ignored the channel. There was no program. There was no activity whatsoever,” said Konstantin Ebert, vice president of sales, EMEA, APAC and global channels at TeamViewer. Since launching the program, however, partners have contributed “a nice percentage number to our overall revenues,” he said.

Of the TeamViewer partner program enhancements, Ebert said they are nothing that hasn’t been done before, but “it’s a good solid step forward and it follows the growth that we have with the channel.”

While TeamViewer has a global presence, the company is looking to widen channel coverage. “Today we are doing business in more than 200 countries, and we do not have a full-blown channel set up in each of those countries,” he said.

North and Latin American markets are geographies in which the company is looking for growth, said Finn Faldi, president, Americas, at TeamViewer. He noted that as TeamViewer invests its Americas channel expansion, the vendor recognizes the sensitivities of each specific market. “We have to break [the Americas] into every market. The Canadian market works differently than the Colombian market, [which] works differently than the Argentinian market, [which] works differently than the Mexican market,” Faldi said.

Many customers haven’t recognized the benefits of a full-fledged remote support product, Ebert said. “If you look at the remote-support space, there is a huge amount of customers out there that do remote support somehow.” He pointed to some software companies’ built-in technologies and to “mediocre products” that a customer can obtain for free as examples. One of the biggest partner opportunities, he said, is to target customers that don’t understand what they would gain by having remote support technology like TeamViewer’s.

Ebert noted that one of the appeals of TeamViewer for partners is that its technology is easy to add to their selling motions. Additionally, Ebert sees a partner opportunity around TeamViewer’s IoT portfolio, which is “giving a lot of value for partners to use TeamViewer in solutions-building and adding a lot of services around that.”

February 9, 2018  4:52 PM

Digital transformation initiatives engulf businesses, partners

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Business, Business Agility, Managed Services

The enterprise struggle with digital transformation initiatives isn’t limited to the organizations seeking change. It’s the channel partners’ fight as well.

Market research reports consistently depict digitalization as difficult to achieve. Recent evidence comes from a report released by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in conjunction with DxC Technology, a Tysons, Va., IT services provider.  About a third of the 376 business leaders polled for the report, “Winning through Change in the Digital Economy,” said their organizations aren’t very digital. That is, less than a quarter of those organizations’ products, operations and business models “depend on their ability to exploit digital information and technologies,” according to DxC.

In addition, nearly 80% of the respondents said their organizations face extensive or substantial change to become “more digital” over the next five years, the report noted. Continued »

January 26, 2018  12:32 AM

Cisco HyperFlex update may open partner opportunities

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Cisco, converged

Cisco has updated its hyper-converged infrastructure offering, Cisco HyperFlex, which the company said expands sales opportunities for channel partners.

The networking vendor rolled out its version 3.0 software release for Cisco HyperFlex, which now includes support for Microsoft Hyper-V and the ability to expand hyper-converged clusters to 64 nodes. The product also includes support for multi-cloud environments, a growing area of focus for IT service providers.

From the multi-cloud perspective, the software upgrade includes AppDynamics with HyperFlex, which lets customers monitor the performance of hybrid applications running on HyperFlex and across multiple clouds, according to Cisco. Other software elements include CloudCenter for HyperFlex, which provides workload lifecycle management for customers spanning private and public clouds. Continued »

January 19, 2018  9:49 PM

Citrix Summit 2018 underscores vendor’s ‘focused innovation’

John Moore John Moore Profile: John Moore
Citrix, cloud, Virtualization

The recently concluded Citrix Summit 2018 underscored two important trends: a continued concentration on the vendor’s core technology stack and an emphasis on cloud-based business.

The refocusing has actually been going on for a while. In 2015, the company began discontinuing products deemed no longer central to its strategic objectives. VDI-in-a-Box was one early product to be cut. TechTarget’s BrianMadden site provided the details on a more recent round of product line restructuring in Oct. 2017.

The Citrix partner community has been largely onboard with the refocusing on core technologies. Nancy Pautsch, president of Envision IT, a Citrix partner in Madison, Wis., attended Citrix Summit 2018 and called the vendor’s “focused innovation” one of the notable themes at the conference.  Continued »

January 2, 2018  7:58 PM

2017 in review: Top stories highlight IT industry trends

Spencer Smith Spencer Smith Profile: Spencer Smith

Before embarking on a new year of reporting on IT industry trends in the channel, we wanted to take a moment to review some of our 2017 coverage that struck a chord with readers. Not surprisingly, stories about some of the industry’s most recognizable vendors received attention. The majority of these stories focused on vendors engaged in self-reinventions as they strive to remain dominant in the modern IT landscape. Other popular stories deal with digital transformation — a trend that every vendor and partner had to grapple with to some degree last year.

Revisit some the highlights that made 2017 an important year for channel partners:

Facebook makes channel strides

We saw Facebook last year wade deeper into the enterprise space with Facebook Workplace, its collaboration platform. Although still in its early stages, Facebook Workplace scored some significant customer wins (i.e. Walmart) and attracted interest from channel firms. Facebook has been busily expanding its channel ecosystem while the tool gains traction, as this update by senior site editor John Moore demonstrated. In a feature article about Facebook’s channel strategy, contributor Paul Korzeniowski underscored some of Facebook’s main challenges for courting enterprise decision makers.

Microsoft reveals shifts in partner strategy

Microsoft’s ambitions in the digital transformation marketplace led the company to alter some of the ways it sells with partners last year. Reporting from Microsoft’s 2017 Inspire event, John Moore described the changes that Microsoft unveiled to conference attendees, including a new consumption-based compensation scheme for its field sales. Partners responded positively to Microsoft’s moves, noting that Microsoft aligned more tightly with its digital transformation vision and partners alike. Review our Inspire conference guide for additional insight into how Microsoft strengthened its partner ties in 2017.

Vendor grapple with disruptive trends

There is no denying that top IT vendors are amid striking reinventions of their organizations. Our 360 Guide published last year sought to capture these transformations in a series of comprehensive vendor portraits. We looked at the major industry trends they are contending with, including cloud computing, shifts in consumption patterns, and the emergence of AI, big data and other newfangled technologies, to shed light on their changing focuses and partner engagement strategies. Review our guide to learn about how IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Citrix are trying to retain market dominance.

Dell EMC debuts a unified partner program

After Dell grabbed headlines with its dramatic acquisition of EMC, the post-merger Dell EMC company faced the difficult task of integrating their legacy channel communities. Partners eagerly awaited details about a new unified partner program, which Dell EMC executives said would have “the best of the best” elements of their past channel offerings. In this article published in February, I covered the integrated program’s rollout and Dell EMC’s thinking behind the program’s design. Our 2017 coverage of Dell EMC also included the vendor’s ramping up its focus on the midrange storage market and renewal of its alliance with distributor Ingram Micro.

Getting to know digital consulting firms

Digital transformation emerged as one of the most important IT industry trends in 2017. In this feature article, we discuss how digital transformation has paved the way for a growing category of nontraditional channel firms. While they describe themselves under various labels, such as “digital consulting firm” or “digital solution integrator,” the common thread tying these companies together is helping customers with their digital transformation initiatives and strategies. These companies also stand at odds with traditional partner models in some ways.

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