The Age of Distributed IT: A Channel Partner’s Playbook

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By: Sherifa Hady, EMEA Channel Sales Director, HPE Aruba 

Sherifa Hady, EMEA Channel Sales Director, HPE Aruba 

Between the COVID-19 crisis and consequent economic upheaval, it’s fair to say that many businesses have spent the last 18 months in survival mode. Now, as the tide starts to turn across EMEA, we can begin to wonder what life will look like post-pandemic. From hybrid-workforces and shifting retail sales online, to remote healthcare and a new recognition for the need to accelerate digital transformation, many companies are taking this opportunity to re-invent themselves. 

There’s no doubt these changes have triggered a new set of IT needs for customers, and it’s critical that channel partners are primed to sell new products and services that meet these demands. Across the entire ecosystem, from alliance partners to distributors and systems integrators, channel companies must prepare themselves, and their business models, for a new technological landscape and the need to keep their offerings relevant within it.

With this in mind, here are three key technology demands that are on the increase among customers and that channel partners should be paying attention to…

  1. IT agility in the age of hybrid-working 

The pandemic has triggered a seismic shift in the ways in which businesses operate, which in turn has led to a greater level of complexity around IT systems. Applications and workloads are increasingly distributed across the data centre and the cloud, while workers are split between home offices, campuses and branches. Businesses have also pivoted to meet new expectations from their customers, such as retailers increasing touchless interactions within stores and downsizing on brick & mortar space. Of course, all of this has led to both fragmented networks and unyielding demands being placed upon them – leaving businesses at risk of jeopardising the key benefits of new IoT and cloud technologies if they cannot get a handle on things. 

Against this backdrop, IT teams are under increasing pressure to streamline operations and reduce operational complexity in these new distributed environments. Network simplification will be more important than ever for customers. Here, channel partners can get one step ahead by offering a unified network operating system. Deploying a unified infrastructure, one that can be centrally managed via a single point of control, will help IT teams to effectively manage a distributed network environment across microbranch, branch, and campus environments, all the while delivering a high-quality user experience within a single architecture, orchestrated from one management console.

What’s more, the pandemic has shrunk budgets for many businesses – meaning it is crucial that IT teams can manage these distributed environments without damaging wider operations. By offering a unified infrastructure, channel partners can provide customers with new levels of operational simplicity so that IT teams can redirect precious resources to more business-critical areas. 

  1. The acceleration of cloud migration 

Of course, distributed workforces have also been a de facto catalyst for establishing the value and flexibility of the cloud for many businesses. In fact, Aruba research from 2020 found that 83% of IT decision makers were looking to increase their investments in cloud-based networking over the next 12 months. The appetite for cloud and the opportunity this presents for the channel has never been more apparent – with new data from Canalys revealing that the channel helped fuel a 33% increase in cloud spend in 2020.

Clearly, anytime there is a change of direction within IT, there is opportunity for the channel to step in with a new product offering. However, the choice for customers can be overwhelming, particularly if they do not have the skills to truly understand the benefits of the cloud or whether it is more cost-effective to deploy a hybrid cloud model. This is where channel partners have the chance to differentiate themselves by going that one step further to help guide customers and add value. 

In order to take advantage of this increased interest in cloud, channel partners must act as trusted advisors to demonstrate how they can maximise its benefits. This means developing a comprehensive cloud-based strategy to ensure they have the best tools and management software available to support customers. 

  1. Exploring new subscription models 

COVID-19 has also caused customers to rethink their IT consumption models. Again, the cloud has largely triggered this – changing the business models of channel partners significantly. Hardware is often no longer the key revenue driver i.e. whereas before you might have expected hardware sales to account for most of your channel business, it’s now completely swapped to be a software-first market instead. 

Recent research from Aruba found that customers are becoming more open to exploring flexible models of consumption. Only 8% of IT decision-makers said they would continue with solely Capex investments in light of the pandemic, compared to 55% who said they would look at SaaS models. With many key services such as deployment and decommissioning included in subscription offerings, their roll-out can afford IT staff more time to carry out the more complex, value-add business tasks. It’s vital that channel partners wake up to this heightened demand for flexible subscription models by broadening their own offerings. 

As we emerge from the pandemic, the IT channel will be full of new opportunities for partners willing to seize them. The crisis has shown that businesses are willing to invest across their IT infrastructure as digital transformation becomes a core component to their future success. Any while customer budgets have tightened, and projects were pushed back, they are seeing the long-term picture. 

Today’s customers have new needs due to distributed workforces, the demand for agile IT and a renewed interest in cloud. Channel partners who can tap into these trends and offer guidance, services, and solutions, will be the ones to succeed within this rapidly changing IT landscape.