Transforming the Channel through Cloud Convergence

By Claude Schűck

New cloud service providers are making dangerous inroads into the solution plays of traditional channel organisations, representing a real threat to their businesses – but also an opportunity.

The likes of Amazon, Dropbox and others are providing businesses with a new approach to IT consumption, where software and infrastructure can be delivered as a service more rapidly and at better cost points than traditional on-premises infrastructure.

If channel organisations can adapt and start to integrate public cloud solutions into their own offerings, there is every chance that they can emerge as the real winners of the cloud era.

With IDC predicting that the worldwide public IT cloud market will grow to be worth $107 billion by 20171, this is an opportunity that channel organisations simply cannot afford to miss out on.

Commenting on the steps channel organisations need to take to face down the threat posed by public cloud services, Schűck says the key is channel organisations’ ability to evolve from their current role as sales organisations into one that is much more consultative in nature.

Many channel partners have already begun this evolution – in the past, the channel was mostly concerned with one-off hardware sales. As the market changed, however, so did the channel. The vast majority of channel organisations today focus on selling ‘solutions’ rather than hardware, an approach that is only possible due to their proximity to the customer and their deep understanding of the customer’s business.

The next step in the evolution of channel organisations will see them grow from being solutions providers to true trusted consultants. This is a change businesses are crying out for. Many organisations, especially in the mid-market and SME sector, are confused by the complexity of cloud, a term which can cover everything from business applications to storage and networking, with a whole variety of things in between.

In many cases businesses want to deploy cloud, but simply do not know where to start. It is here that channel organisations can add real value to their customers and look to gain competitive advantage over the public cloud providers.

In addition, channel organisations have strong business relationships with their customers that make them ideally suited to own the migration to cloud. By working to truly understand the business challenges of their customers, channel organisations can evolve into value-add consultants, providing the much-needed bridge between the business issue and the relevant technology.

This will create a new and important role for the channel and keep it relevant well into the future. As consultants, channel organisations will need to be able to look beyond solution sales and focus on providing value-add consultancy around workload placement – whether each workload should be delivered on-premises, off-premises, via the cloud or via the hybrid cloud.

Customers are looking for guidance in this area and channel partners are, quite simply, the best placed to advise them. Unlike pure-play cloud businesses moreover, the channel can provide objective consultancy on which technology works best for each and every workload – sometimes this will be a cloud solution and sometimes it won’t. Regardless, the customer will know they have the right solution in place.

As channel organisations evolve into their new roles, there are a number of technologies that will enable them to deliver such platform-agnostic, customisable solutions. Hybrid cloud, reference architectures and software-defined data centres will all play a role in providing channel organisations with the flexibility and agility needed to deliver high-performing solutions.

Through hybrid cloud platforms, for example, channel organisations can easily deliver discreet solutions for each business use case, sourcing these solutions either from their own line cards or from the offerings of the public cloud providers with which they have built a relationship and which have the right offering.

Ultimately, in the future, businesses will have the choice of either taking cheap, one-size-fits-all services from off-premises cloud providers, or selecting finely-honed hybrid cloud infrastructures from their trusted partners; ones that have been built on the foundations of their actual business needs. For my money, it seems clear which option will be the winner.

1 Worldwide and Regional Public IT Cloud Services 2013-2017 Forecast, IDC (2013)

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