An IBM lead-sharing tool highlights how AI is making inroads in systems that facilitate partner engagement.
Launched in 2018, Smarter Cognitive Opportunity Recommendation Engine (SCORE) uses IBM cognitive computing to guide and expedite the lead-sharing process. So far, IBM’s software organizations have adopted SCORE. The system is expanding to IBM’s hardware business units, the company said. SCORE follows on the heels of IBM Business Partner Connect, a tool that uses Watson to help partners team up for customer opportunities.
“What [we are] trying to do … is make cognitive the epicenter of all our transformation initiatives, and we are starting here with SCORE,” said Mike Fino, COO of IBM Partner Ecosystem.
IBM had been focused on automating its lead-sharing engine for about two years, Fino said. “Up until we started with the SCORE effort, writing static programs or static algorithms didn’t lend themselves well to the lead-[sharing] environment, because it is such a fluid space,” he said. In late 2017, executives considered tapping into IBM cognitive technology, and, in doing so, improve the speed and quality of lead sharing.
Fino said IBM’s AI technology gives SCORE a powerful edge over traditional lead-sharing engines. “That is really the secret of what SCORE gives us, which is the ability to learn from every positive and negative decision or recommendation that we make, factor that [knowledge] into the next one, and have that be the living engine that we use to engage with our partners,” he said.
How SCORE makes recommendations
SCORE’s top priority was to establish a system that would “pass the right opportunities — in other words, the opportunities our business partners are most likely to win — to the right business partner … in a timely fashion,” said Alan Zwiren, cognitive and AI transformation manager, IBM partner ecosystem.
To determine the right IBM business partners, SCORE assesses partner firms against an array of attributes. Attributes can include the partner’s win rate, experience, geographical proximity to the prospect and competencies. Much of the information that SCORE uses is based on partners’ historical performance data but is extending to other data sources as well, Zwiren said. When SCORE generates a recommendation, it also gives users an explanation for how it came to its conclusions.
“We tried to provide explanations to show end users which key features of specific business partners are influencing the recommendation,” noted Oznur Alkan, research scientist at IBM Research.
A feedback loop, which collects feedback from IBM sales, business partners and other sources, lets SCORE continuously learn and improve its recommendations.
Zirwin added that SCORE evaluates the attributes used to rank partners on a monthly basis. “We look at many different dimensions … and each of these dimensions are weighed once a month automatically by SCORE to say, ‘Which is the most predictive [dimension] of a won deal?’ ” he said.
‘A North Star’ for IBM business partners
SCORE has proven valuable in two fundamental respects, Fino said. The first is for its assistance in getting IBM’s leads into the right partner hands. The second benefit is that it has helped incentivize certain behaviors among IBM business partners. Those behaviors can help partners improve their ranking within the engine.
“[We] are starting to see our partners focusing on the same things that we believe are important to not only help them improve their status, but … we are seeing more and more partners use [SCORE] as a bit of a North Star to drive their enablement efforts,” Fino said.
More partner tools that use IBM cognitive computing are on the horizon. In addition to SCORE and IBM Business Partner Connect, Fino said his team is developing a tool that uses AI to help partners with cross-selling by recommending adjacent offerings.
“I think this is really just the beginning,” he said.
When SADA Systems hired Miles Ward as CTO, his gear arrived at the Los Angeles-based cloud technology consultancy before he did.
Ward, formerly director and global lead for solutions at Google Cloud, officially joined SADA Systems on May 20. But the equipment he ordered to build an Anthos demonstration machine arrived about two weeks ago. Anthos, an application management platform that Google unveiled last month, lets organizations create applications that run unmodified across Google Cloud, third-party clouds and on-premises hardware.
“Anthos is an incredible opportunity,” Ward said, perhaps explaining his early start.
The Anthos demo box he’s creating is not a promotional stunt, Ward contended. The machine will let SADA Systems “bring a chunk of the cloud” to customers, allowing them to deploy containers and manage services. “I could leave it at an office and it would work and Google would patch it remotely and it would load balance between the cloud and [on-premises hardware],” he noted.
Ward sees an overarching opportunity to span the gap and reduce the friction between public clouds and the enterprise data center. Technology, he said, is transitioning to the intercloud, which will “blur the line between on-premises infrastructure and cloud infrastructure.” The intercloud concept envisions a cloud of clouds, following the precedent of the internet becoming a network of networks.
The corporate generation gap
The generation gap — as applied to enterprises — also opens an opportunity for SADA Systems, according to Ward. He said it’s possible to profile companies that are 5, 15 or 100 years old in the same way assumptions can be made about Generation X and millennials.
Companies within a particular age group “generally have some consistent way they approach technology,” Ward noted. He suggested younger companies may be adept at building a technology stack, but may struggle with other aspects of running a business. On the other hand, older firms may excel when it comes to building a strong balance sheet, but struggle with digital adoption.
SADA is in a position to “take a little of the experience from the digital natives and the most sophisticated technology consumers and bring it back to the [longer-established] businesses that are the most successful business operators in the world,” Ward explained. “Some of that bridging is going to be important.”
Keeping legacy in the loop
SADA Systems also stands to help its customers bridge the gap between legacy technologies and modern cloud-based platforms, Ward noted. The company’s differentiator, he said, is not the ability to read the “shiny and easy to understand manual for new technology,” but rather the capacity to connect the new with the old.
The mix of cloud, on-premises gear, decades-old systems and emerging technologies make for a varied technology environment. SADA’s objective is to work with clients on their complex topologies and find ways to take advantage of Google Cloud services, Ward said.
Your customers likely face a range of IT challenges, but cybersecurity issues may be their leading pain point.
A study released today from Insight Enterprises Inc., which polled 400 IT professionals, identified security as the main hurdle for digital innovation, the top data management concern and the biggest IT problem, overall. The results underscore the pressure on channel companies to address IT security.
Forty-eight percent of the Insight survey respondents ranked data security and privacy as their most pressing digital innovation challenge, topping upfront cost and expertise in new technology.
Security is also top-of-mind when it comes to the exploding volume of data customers must manage. In the Insight survey, 43% of the respondents cited “ensuring the security of data in dispersed environments” as their top challenge over the next three to five years in handling data growth. Upgrading data protection and recovery ranked second, with 41% of the respondents identifying that concern.
And more than half of the respondents identified cybersecurity issues as their main IT challenge and the “top pain point keeping them up at night.”
Insight, an IT solutions provider based in Tempe, Ariz., polled IT professionals at organizations ranging from 1,000 to more than 5,000 employees.
Additional data on cybersecurity issues comes from RSM US, the Chicago-based U.S. member of RSM International, a network of independent audit, tax and consulting firms. RSM US, working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, commissioned the Harris Poll to survey 700 middle-market executives. Fifty-five percent of the survey takers said they believe a cyberattack on their data or systems is likely this year. That’s an uptick from the previous year’s survey in which 47% of those polled viewed cyberattacks as likely to occur in 2018.
“Larger middle market organizations continue to be most at risk for cybercrime, as many have high volumes of valuable data but don’t have the robust security resources of their large-cap peers, making them exceedingly attractive to cybercriminals,” RSM US noted.
Regarding attack vectors, social engineering and ransomware lead the list of mid-market cybersecurity issues. According to the RSM US survey, published earlier this month, 42% of middle-market executives reported “social engineering attempts on their organizations from outside parties.”
In addition, 20% of the executives said they had experienced a ransomware attack, while 35% of those polled said they know of someone who had been subject to ransomware.
The recognition of cybersecurity as a general threat and a hindrance to strategic initiatives suggests channel companies should be making security a core part of their portfolio of offerings. Companies lacking the resources to build a practice in this field should at least consider finding a partner that can provide cybersecurity services.
Dell Boomi said it will continue growing its partner program under the new Dell Technologies Partner Program.
The cloud integration platform vendor is one of the many Dell subsidiaries now housed within the Dell Technologies Partner Program, launched last week at the Dell Technologies World 2019 conference. Dell executives said the new program aims to enable channel firms to do business across Dell-owned companies and no plans are in play to shutter any of the subsidiaries’ legacy partner programs. Instead, those programs will continue to operate autonomously while functioning as part of the Dell Technologies Partner Program framework. The Dell Boomi partner program today engages about 300 firms worldwide, including resellers, referral partners, managed service providers, systems integrators, ISVs and OEMs.
“[About] 70% of our business is through our channel. That is high. We depend on working with those partners,” said David Tavolaro, vice president of global business development at Dell Boomi, in an interview.
Dell Technologies Partner Program sparks new relationships
Tavolaro said the Dell Technologies Partner Program has given Dell Boomi an opportunity to sign up new partners. Dell’s president of global channels, OEM and IoT solutions, Joyce Mullen, is helping Dell Boomi identify potential channel alliances.
“We are going to collectively look at the [channel companies] that we think would be good partners for Boomi, and they will just basically be assumed into Boomi’s program [and] have all the same training, benefits and requirements … within the program,” Tavolaro said.
Dell Boomi today is evaluating partners in the Dell Technology Program’s top tiers, Titanium and Titanium Black. The company will eventually expand to other tiers, he noted.
Dell Boomi partner program updates ahead
Looking ahead, he said Dell Boomi’s top challenge is having enough IT professionals certified on the Boomi platform. “Part of our responsibility is to make sure … [there are] enough people that are experts at implementing Boomi,” Tavolaro said.
Dell Boomi provides free online training for developer, architect and administrator certifications. The company last year marked a milestone of having 10,000 professionals certified.
“We want to have 15,000 certified people, and we hear [the need for certified Boomi professionals] in the market all the time,” he said.
As for the Dell Boomi partner program, Tavolaro said the company will introduce better transparency to give partners insight into their standing within the program. Additionally, the program will make it easier to access training, sales and support information. He said a revamped Dell Boomi partner program is slated to launch this year.
Dell Technologies partners have what they need to facilitate customers’ digital transformation journeys, according to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.
At the Dell Technologies Global Partner Summit, held this week in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Dell Technologies World user forum, Gelsinger took the stage to explain how channel partners can tap into the vendor’s portfolio to align with VMware’s priorities. The virtualization pioneer’s path forward, he said, will be focused on enabling customers’ digital transformation journeys in five areas.
Hybrid cloud architecture
Dell has made “tremendous progress over the last 18 months” integrating the technologies acquired through the 2016 EMC deal, Gelsinger said. One of the new integrations introduced at Dell Technologies World, the Dell Technologies Cloud Platform, uses the VMware Cloud Foundation software stack. With its aim of simplifying hybrid cloud deployment and management, Dell Technologies Cloud enables partners to support customers’ hybrid cloud environments, Gelsinger said.
Gelsinger pointed to an opportunity for partners to guide their customers through multi-cloud journeys. “Every one of your customers will have a multi-cloud environment,” he told Global Partner Summit attendees. He said VMware is positioning its CloudHealth cloud management platform as a tool for evaluating those environments.
Modern app development
The third area that Gelsinger discussed was enabling customers’ application development capabilities. Whereas for the last two decades the chief app development technology has been Java, the next consensus technology is Kubernetes and containers, he said. “Once again, we are committed to being on the front end of this technology,” he said. He said the Dell-owned open-source cloud platform as a service, Pivotal Cloud Foundry, is geared toward supporting customers’ app development initiatives. These initiatives have become increasingly vital as every business “needs to become a software entity if they are going to succeed in the digital environment,” he added.
Network and security environment
The NSX network virtualization platform is an area of continued investment and key to VMware’s path forward, he said. “In the hybrid cloud world, this idea of an end-to-end network that goes all the way to the edge with SD-WAN, to [the] core data center and to [the] cloud, is a critical component to enabling a multi-cloud, hybrid cloud future,” he noted. Gelsinger added that Dell and VMware will be looking to reduce customers’ reliance on a host of cybersecurity vendors by bolstering security capabilities within the Dell Technologies portfolio.
The digital workforce
Dell Technologies this week unveiled its Unified Workspace model for end user computing. “We have been working with Dell counterparts to build this underlayment of [VMware] Workspace One directly into the Dell client solutions,” he said. At Dell Technologies World, Dell executive Brett Hansen noted that Unified Workspace will look to address customers’ device deployment and management tasks without pushing partners out of customer relationships.
“[With] the portfolio of technologies that we have enabled, we uniquely with [Dell Technologies partners] can be the porters and guides for our customers and their digital transformation,” Gelsinger said.
Automation Anywhere in March 2018 launched its online Bot Store in the robotic process automation market. Now, the RPA vendor, based in San Jose, Calif., is encouraging ISVs and systems integrators to develop a new generation of bots that deliver significantly more value for customers.
The Bot Store currently offers more than 500 software bots and digital workers. Automation Anywhere defines bots as automating particular tasks and workflows and defines digital workers as automating “segments of defined job roles.” Customers have downloaded more than 50,000 bots and digital workers since the marketplace opened last year, according to Max Mancini, executive vice president, digital worker ecosystem, at Automation Anywhere.
Automation Anywhere said it is expanding opportunities for developers and integrators to generate recurring revenue through its Bot Store. The company’s bot-monetization plan initially will focus on the annual recurring revenue subscription model, but will eventually cover monthly recurring revenue and consumption-based models as well.
The monetization program aims to spark interest in building broader, more capable bots for the robotic process automation market. But the bot-makers also need assurance that their investments will be safeguarded. To that end, Bot Store vendors will be able to protect the intellectual property components of the bots and digital workers they sell, Mancini said. In addition, developers and integrators will be able to access Automation Anywhere’s global sales channel to reach a broader audience and tap the RPA vendor for invoicing.
The various additions to the bot marketplace will debut in early summer.
In the meantime, a couple of vendors are participating in an “early-adopter phase of building digital workers in anticipation of monetization kicking in,” Mancini said.
For example, TransformAI, a Hollywood, Calif., enterprise RPA provider, offers a number of Workday-related bots, including a Digital Workday Recruiting Assistant. HighIQ Robotics, based in San Jose, Calif, provides digital workers around Oracle — a Digital Oracle General Ledger Administrator, for instance.
The arrival of bot boutiques in the robotic process automation market creates new opportunities for integrators. Mancini said companies will be able to cultivate business beyond professional services and consulting work, noting that building software bots scales more effectively than services. Integrators working with multiple customers can uncover common pain points and create digital workers, as repeatable solutions, to address them.
“Systems integrators are in an interesting position,” Mancini said. “They see the use cases. Some of the more progressive SIs are thinking this [bot development] is a great way to expand the business.”
Logicalis’ work in the education vertical market is shedding light on emerging IT trends in K-12 and higher education.
The New York-based IT solution and managed services provider runs a government and education vertical practice in 20 states. When Logicalis started its fiscal year 2020 in March, the practice trained its annual focus on two broad and growing trends: digital learning and IoT-related projects.
“Digital learning and smart and connected everything are really what I am talking to all my customers about. … I see a huge appetite,” said Adam Petrovsky, vice president of U.S. public sector, government and education, at Logicalis.
Securing school environments with IoT
Petrovsky said customer interest in IoT projects is being driven partly by the affordability of IoT devices. Video cameras, for example, have become relatively inexpensive and can be deployed by the thousands.
“What we are seeing is a flourishing of IoT devices,” Petrovsky said.
However, despite the affordability of the devices, education vertical customers are eager to use IoT to attain certain outcomes regardless of the costs. In the K-12 segment, student safety is a strong purchase driver.
“Everyone is concerned about safety. It is not just about school shootings. It is bullying on campus. … It is creating a perimeter, especially in middle schools and elementary schools … and then trying to create a safer environment,” Petrovsky said.
Logicalis recently completed a project for an Arizona school district aimed to reduce student bullying and vaping. Logicalis installed 165 sensors costing about $1,000 each in school restrooms. To detect rowdy bullying, the sensors were configured to detect loud noises. The sensors were also equipped with hydrometers to detect steam emitted from e-cigarette devices. When the sensors pick up on bullying or vaping in a restroom, they notify the administration so school officials can intervene.
Petrosky said the Arizona school district said yes to the anti-bullying and -vaping project without a second thought. “They want more [sensors],” he said.
He added that other districts have since asked Logicalis about doing similar implementations.
Rethinking university classrooms
Colleges and universities are also experimenting with IoT to redefine how classrooms, lecture halls and campuses function.
For a project at Youngstown State University, Logicalis helped develop ‘the classroom of the future.’ Logicalis deployed Cisco’s WebEx Boards and Teams technology, which the company integrated with the YSU’s Blackboard learning management system.
The project enabled students to attend classes virtually and collaborate with their peers and educators in online environments, Petrovsky said.
Taking a step back to move forward
Petrovsky said the influx of digital and technologies has also opened up opportunities for channel partners to modernize customers’ aging networks. As cutting-edge initiatives take root in the education vertical, customers often find their existing infrastructure won’t support their digital ambitions.
Logicalis’ work for Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville illustrated Petrovsky’s point. The Christian liberal arts college found its legacy storage array couldn’t keep pace with rapidly expansions in the student population. Additionally, the school had digital systems it wanted to implement but couldn’t due to its storage deficits, Petrovsky noted.
Logicalis upgraded Trevecca’s storage network by deploying Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Nimble storage technology.
“We had to take a step back to move forward,” Petrovsky said of the project.
Managed service providers pursue a range of approaches when they deploy MSP software to automate their core functions.
Many companies follow a multi-vendor path, purchasing what they consider best-in-class systems for remote monitoring and management, professional services automation, remote control and other areas. But increasing consolidation in the MSP software market now makes integrated suites an option for service providers, with ConnectWise, Datto and Solarwinds MSP among the vendors integrating offerings.
Yet another automation possibility comes from the IT service management (ITSM) and performance monitoring platform arenas. Some MSPs are deploying a combination of ServiceNow’s ITSM product and LogicMonitor’s tool for monitoring on-premises and cloud resources.
Examples include Mindshift, NTT Com Managed Services and Virteva. In Virteva’s case, the Minneapolis MSP replaced four monitoring tools with LogicMonitor, which the company has integrated into ServiceNow.
Mark Banfield, chief revenue officer at LogicMonitor, noted the emergence of the ServiceNow-LogicMonitor combination, especially among larger MSPs. “As they grow, they need a more robust ITSM tool,” he said. “The larger MSPs are definitely adopting ServiceNow as their core ITSM tool.”
LogicMonitor, Banfield said, has offered integration with ServiceNow for a number of years. That linkage lets a LogicMonitor alert trigger the creation of a ticket in ServiceNow’s ITSM for resolution. In addition, customers have built custom integrations between LogicMonitor and ServiceNow’s configuration management database (CMDB).
A few months ago, LogicMonitor decided to build a native application integration between LogicMonitor and the ServiceNow CMDB. LogicMonitor in February 2019 announced the availability of the CMDB integration in the ServiceNow Store.
Banfield said the integration is significant since organizations struggle to maintain “strong hygiene” in the CMBD as they grow their IT assets.
The CMDB serves as the “system of record for an organization as to what they have in their IT estate,” he explained. But recording device and configuration data in the CMDB is often a manual task, which can lead to inaccurate or incomplete data. LogicMonitor’s integration, however, automatically populates the CMDB as it discovers devices on an organization’s network, he said.
“Most MSPs that are using ServiceNow have shown interest in this integration,” Banfield said. “Some have already deployed it and others are in the process of deploying it and reviewing it.”
For MSPs, automating the process of populating and updating the CMDB “allows them to offer a much higher quality of service,” he added.
From a broader perspective, the expanding ServiceNow-LogicMonitor integration gives MSPs another choice for covering two major MSP software components: service management and monitoring. Those are important bases to cover, according to Banfield.
“Their ability to provide the highest level of responsiveness from the monitoring standpoint and providing the best quality experience from the service management standpoint is what sets organizations apart,” he said.
An ancient agricultural method and the modern MSP business model wouldn’t appear to have much in common.
Yet there are some interesting parallels between “three sisters” farming, which originated thousands of years ago, and how a number of managed service providers are currently cultivating business. Native Americans planted maize, beans and squash — the three sisters — together in the same field. As the maize grew, it provided a natural pole that the bean plants could climb. The squash spread close to the ground, discouraging weed growth that could hamper the other plants.
The practice, also called mixed-cropping, contrasts with monoculture, where fields of the same crop are grown separately. MSPs also pursue mixed-cropping of sorts. For a growing number of firms, the three sisters are managed services, cloud and security.
This pattern can be seen in recent MSP newsmakers: Logically Inc., based in Portland, Maine, and KSM Consulting, based in Indianapolis. Logically launched April 8, integrating Winxnet and K&R Networks with the objective of building a nationwide service provider. KSM Consulting announced April 9 that private equity firm Renovus Capital Partners had acquired a majority interest in the company. Logically is focusing on managed services, the AWS and Microsoft Azure public clouds, and security. KSM Consulting, meanwhile, provides managed services, Microsoft cloud solutions, and cybersecurity architecture and strategy.
Over the years, the MSP business model has typically been diverse. Companies offered managed services, of course, but a lot of other services as well — including break/fix and product reselling. But MSPs appear to be striving for greater harmonization when they emphasize the foundational offerings of managed services, cloud and security. As with mixed-cropping, the three components of this MSP business mix aim to complement each other.
Here’s how: Managed services, established two decades ago to remotely manage customers’ on-premises IT, provide a pillar of expertise that now supports the growth of the cloud business. As it turns out, cloud-based IT requires as much management as in-house gear. Customers face issues such as workload allocation and cloud cost optimization. MSPs have plenty of room to offer their services.
The need for security, meanwhile, permeates all aspects of IT — whether the technology resides on-premises or in the cloud. It’s no longer an afterthought or something an MSP can ignore entirely. Industry executives are in general agreement that an MSP has to offer cybersecurity services, either on its own or through partnership.
Channel business models inevitably shift to keep up with technology and customer buying patterns. The core elements of managed services, cloud and security, however, could provide some stability.
Electrocomponents plc, an electronics distributor based in London, has launched OKdo, a global business that focuses on single board computing and IoT.
That focus includes a reseller initiative, but not one populated with the usual channel suspects. Instead of IT value-added resellers, OKdo seeks to do business with partners such as maker resellers — companies that take single board computers such as Raspberry Pi, package them as kits and sell them to downstream customers. Other targeted partners include electronic device retailers, online resellers and industrial OEMs.
While OKdo will target resellers on the B2B side, it will also cover the B2C market. There, the company will sell to industrial designers, educators and individual makers who use single board computing platforms to build desktop PCs, gaming devices and other electronic gear. OKdo’s new electronic commerce platform, live in seven countries including the U.S., provides the direct sales vehicle.
A slimmer portfolio
OKdo offers hardware and software as well as development support and manufacturing services. In single board computing, OKdo said it will build upon existing relationships with Arduino, BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi. The company also cited new partnering arrangements with Arm, NXP, Broadcom, Intel and Seed. Alliances with start-ups such as Zerynth and The Things Industries are also in the mix.
Richard Curtin, global senior vice president, technology, at OKdo, said OKdo departs somewhat from Electrocomponents’ market approach in that its product portfolio is very slim. While Electrocomponents sells half a million products, OKdo will offer less than a thousand SKUs, Curtin said.
OKdo will also offer a global dedicated channel sales team to work with industrial OEMs and resellers.
Electrocomponents’ other electronics distributor brands, Allied Electronic & Automation in North America and RS Components in Europe and Asia Pacific, will continue to offer single board computing and IoT technologies, Curtin said, citing strategic customers as one example. But he noted, over time, some of those distributors’ larger reseller and OEM partners specifically focused on single board computing and IoT will transition into the OKdo business.
North American focus
The OKdo launch also involves a greater focus on the North American market, in which Allied mainly pursued automation and control technology. OKdo offers a different strategy and focus geared to single board computing customers, noted Claire Doyle, global senior vice president, commercial, at OKdo.
“North America is a very key market for OKdo and one we believe has a lot of potential,” she said.
The OKdo executives declined to identify any of the business’ resellers due to contractual arrangements. But Curtin outlined three types of reseller partners:
- Maker resellers — typically small, local and regional companies that offer customized single board computer kits under their own brand. Companies in this category sell online and also create content and blogs to inspire makers to do more with their products.
- Larger resellers — partners in this category tend to have more of a national scope and may design their own circuits to include in their kits. They also sell online.
- Retailers — these large companies sell through brick-and-mortar stores with physical inventory as well as the web.
As a global business, OKdo “can only go so far in a region,” Curtain said. “Resellers provide the critical last five miles into the customers,” Curtain said.
Selling through the electronics distributor channel is becoming more important in fragmented markets such as IoT, since distributors can pull together components from multiple suppliers under one roof. ON Semiconductor last year reported that it broke the $1 billion mark in quarterly channel sales. The company said distributors offer a way to target the mass consumer market, while also generating demand in market segments such as IoT, industrial and cloud computing.