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 »
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.”
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.”
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
Taking a step back may shed some light on what’s ahead next year for IT channel partners.
A look at the top Channel Marker blog posts of 2017 — as measured by page views — reveals reader interest in next-generation networking, IT security, the internet of things (IoT), data management, marketing techniques and vendor programs for IT channel partners.
Here’s a rundown of the top blogs and what they might hint about the future:
The digital transformation business often focuses on the front end of the enterprise: customer-facing applications and, in general, initiatives geared to improving the customer experience.
But behind the scenes, enterprises rely on a number of back-office systems that may need their own bit of transformation. Those systems represent an opportunity for IT consultants and integrators. And among those typically unsung applications, procurement systems stand out as a technology category the digital era has largely neglected.
Kristin Ruehle, managing director at Accenture, said the level of investment and focus organizations have placed on the front office has left procurement systems behind. A recently released Accenture report, however, points the way toward a future of digital procurement. Continued »
In conjunction with last week’s IT Nation 2017 conference, hosted by PSA vendor ConnectWise, numerous vendors in the MSP software space launched integrations with the ConnectWise platform.
The integrations support ConnectWise’s vision of building an expansive ecosystem of third-party integrations with its professional services automation (PSA) tools. At the conference, the company revealed plans to release ConnectWise Developer Kit, a means for vendors and partners to easily integrate products with ConnectWise products. Developer Kit is slated for availability in the second quarter of 2018. In the meantime, ConnectWise has accumulated more than 200 vendor integrations available through the ConnectWise Marketplace. That number is set to increase significantly, ConnectWise executives said.
On the security front, AlienVault integrated its unified security management product, USM Anywhere, with ConnectWise Manage PSA software. A security monitoring platform, USM Anywhere provides asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, intrusion detection, behavioral monitoring, and security information and event management capabilities. Using USM Anywhere within ConnectWise Manage, partners can offer customers security services that include threat detection, incident response and compliance management for cloud and on-premises environments, AlienVault said. USM Anywhere is available as a monthly subscription.
AppRiver, a provider of cloud-based security and productivity services, also revealed a ConnectWise integration. According to the company, which works with managed services providers (MSPs), the new integration lets partners automate updates to their ConnectWise agreements for any usage changes initiated via the AppRiver Partner Portal. Additionally, MSPs can now access automated support of prorated charges and detailed auditing of billing-related events, among other features, the vendor said.
IT Nation 2017 attendees saw a new integration with Arctic Wolf Networks’ security operations center as a service offering, AWN CyberSOC. Arctic Wolf said the AWN CyberSOC-ConnectWise combination enables the ability to automate notifications and assignments of ticketed security incidents to ConnectWise Manage.
Apart from security, ConnectWise expanded the backup and disaster recovery offerings available in the ConnectWise Marketplace. In a new partnership with Infrascale, a disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) vendor, MSPs that provide Infrascale DRaaS can access ticketing support, invoicing and billing, and inventory and reporting capabilities within ConnectWise Manage.
Additionally, Barracuda MSP linked its Intronis Backup product to Connectwise’s remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform, ConnectWise Automate. The integration simplifies Intronis Backup deployment and management, according to Chris Crellin, senior director of product management at Barracuda MSP, in a blog post.
On the distribution side, value-added cloud distributor Pax8 augmented its integration with ConnectWise Manage, creating what the company described as more seamless capabilities for placing orders, managing seat counts and adding vendor licenses through the ConnectWise platform. Pax8 said it also introduced capabilities to support billing and provisioning of consumption-based offerings, including Microsoft Azure and ProfitBricks.
Ryan Walsh, chief channel officer at Pax8, said the distributor last year introduced its first ConnectWise integration that synced the respective platforms. Partners, however, said they wanted to access Pax8’s platform without having to “swivel chair” from ConnectWise software. The new integration enables partners to do that.
“This [new integration] creates a completely different experience,” Walsh said. “Partners are saying … ‘This is seamless. … This really saves me time.’ And that’s golden to us.”
Finally, in the RMM space, IT management platform provider Kaseya said it will bolster its PSA connector for ConnectWise Manage. The Kaseya PSA Connector plugin lets MSPs integrate ConnectWise PSA software with Kaseya’s VSA RMM product.
In addition to several new enhancements to increase efficiency, the connector will feature Kaseya’s remote control technology within ConnectWise Manage tickets. Kasaya will also launch a ConnectWise integration for its software-as-a-service VSA RMM platform. Partners can expect these enhancements to roll out in the first quarter of 2018, Kaseya said.