Speed isn't always of the essence, but CRN's inaugural Partner Connect event in Coventry on the 12th packed around an extremely well-received education programme a number of successful networking opportunities as well as entree to a wider channel community.
Sara Yirrell, editor of CRN, was kept busy all day with the need to speak to as many of CRN's readers as possible as well as the task of filming many of the educational seminars - set to go live soon on Channelweb.co.uk as the hardcopy magazine goes to press.
"Talk about manic!" said Yirrell. "Partner Connect has been busy from start to finish, and there were so many channel leaders to touch base with this year."
Taking a stand
All in all, there were approximately 48 stands focused tightly on B2B channel needs, and with 1,700 pre-registrations, each team on the stands was geared up for a busy day.
Of course, not all those who pre-registered made it along on the 12th, but those who did accounted for some valuable leads and contacts and took the time to ask questions and get involved with the vendors and potential partners that were offering what they sought.
Chris McManus, vice president of UK and Ireland sales at security vendor AVG, said the new-style CRN event was really useful and well worth attending.
"We have resellers all over the UK and the fact that this year's event was in a central location - Coventry -- definitely persuaded many of them to attend, versus a London location. As a result, there were clearly more visitors than last year [at Channel Expo]," McManus said.
"We have met many particularly high quality new reseller leads and we can say that today has been the most effective new reseller lead activity we have undertaken so far this year."
McManus added that meeting face-to-face with the existing stable of resellers is always nice as well. As a direct result of attending Partner Connect, AVG's technical support team members were able to put a face to a number of AVG reseller names who came along on the day.
"And of course it is always nice to meet long-time industry colleagues again," added McManus.
Pink pyramids of rubber 'Lexar Memory Hawgs' may or may not show just how difficult it can be to manage or build a complex storage infrastructure as data volumes expand - but they certainly attracted interest at the show.
Paul Reynolds, UK retail sales manager for Lexar [pictured, right], said that is challenging Kingston for the leading channel spot around memory. "We want to reach out and talk to additional resellers," he said. "As a channel brand, we are relatively young although we have been around for 15 years. So we're networking in the right environment, and we have got a very good story."
Jonathan Robbins, product manager at Kyocera Mita, said: "It's about getting in front of the reseller, talking to them and explainig our ecological economy and reseller programmes."
Robbins said physical meetings are critical for channel relationship-building and because some approaches and technologies are far more compelling in reality than they will ever be in marketing collateral. "And education is very important," he said.
Daisy Wholesale's senior sales executive Richard Witt, sales manager south Glenn Allen, key account manager Jerry Pettie, and sales executive Jon Poole [pictured, below] turned out in force to promote the distributor to IT resellers.
"We came from Southampton and all over to Coventry - the journey was nice and straightforward. There's enough in London already," said Witt.
Allen said: "We really want to get our brand out in front of the IT resellers. Traditionally, we were a voice-and-data company. And we have had a couple of little bites this morning."
Pettie added that he didn't think that the IT channel really knows Daisy Wholesale well or its relationship to O-bit Telecom - which it acquired in February. "Daisy has come from many different companies and we are seeing a good combination of organic growth and growth from acquisition."
Poole said the firm is aiming for a 50/50 split between voice and data resellers. Meanwhile, its strong relationships with carriers, resilient network, and newer focus on services would be a point of difference with rivals, he said.
Lucy Winter, marketing executive at logistics and courier firm City Link, [pictured, below right] confirmed that it had gleaned some leads as well. "It's really good awareness for us," Winter said. "People have been asking about our services."
Fujitsu had two stands at the event - one focused on hardware, the other on cloud.
Ian Leigh, channel development manager at Fujitsu, said it was using Partner Connect to launch a potential iPad killer for businesses - the Q550 tablet [pictured]. Unlike the consumer-focused Apple iPad, it has USB and a swappable battery, for example, as well as WLAN and 3G and pen or finger input, and it should be easier for firms to secure.
"This is the first time channel partners have seen it," Leigh said. "Also, we are launching the Fujitsu Global Cloud, with a 30-day free trial for the channel. We're really asking partners to sign up."
Leigh said that the vendor was offering support to partners needing to figure out how to incentivise their salespeople around cloud - a common bugbear for companies used to selling product rather than recurring revenue streams. So far, he said, people were interested.
"It has been a good day, and we have had the right level of IT resellers through, which we wanted to talk to," said Leigh.
Ricoh has been a long-standing supporter of CRN events, and this year was no exception, with the vendor taking advantage of a stand at Partner Connect to showcase its managed print service Ricoh Click and range of laser printer technologies.
Sarah Sweet, distribution and IT reseller channel marketing manager at Ricoh UK, explained that the vendor's strategy is centred on close partner collaboration.
"This inaugural event is aimed at enhancing our collective offering," Sweet pointed out. "We are working together to identify our customers most pressing needs, especially in the current economic climate, to ensure that we are presenting the best solutions available to our customers."
The vendor staffed its stand with consultants equipped to demonstrate various products, and how they fit into tailored delivery of managed print. As the event was held at Ricoh Arena, the vendor also took resellers on a tour of the stadium, including areas such as the locker rooms used in major sporting events and VIP areas.
Tony Cohen, business development manager at hosted Exchange specialist Intermedia, said he would have liked to have seen more people come through the stands area on the day. The popularity of the seminar programme may have made footfall slower than usual, he suggested.
"The leads we got are a mix of SMB and a few larger businesses, and we are looking across the board at SMBs, MSPs, VARs, ISPs, systems integrators, as well as larger organisations," he said.
Cohen said that Intermedia is relaunching in the UK on 19 May with a desktop and server backup service. It has a UK datacentre as well as four datacentres in the US.
Walli Datoo, senior product manager at Interactive Ideas, said its goal was to find new resellers as well as spread the word about open-source opportunities.
"A lot of people are trying to find different ways of doing things. We have got a lot of products that are different from the usual products - low-cost, better technology from the likes of Red Hat and Acronis. And we have had three seminars on the stand."
Datoo said that open source could be a real game-changer for channel companies willing to engage with it, and the opportunities remained relatively untapped in many areas.
Dave Gouveia, EMEA channel programmes director at PKWare, said it was bringing the channel a message on how data security and file compression offerings could help solve certain primary business challenges. It also is offering a new channel programme.
"There are growing volumes of data in organisations and also the continuing need for compliance," he said. "It secures data, helps reduce the amount of data, and helps datacentre security to address these challenges."
Chris-Jan van Dalen, VAR manager at Interflex, said its workforce attendance and scheduling applications are top sellers on the Continent in Benelux and Germany for example, but little known in the UK. He is seeking vertically-focused resellers targeting customers with 500-1,000 seats to expand the vendor's install base across Britain. Healthcare and government are a particular focus.
"I think in basic scheduling that we are a very solid product that is scaleable to different verticals and numbers of employees," Dalen said. "And we have very good forecasting capacity and model and on-board reporting."
So far, its only partner in the UK is aviation specialist Inform, Dalen said.
Michael Lucas, managing director of Birmingham's Zybert Computing, attended the show partly to make new contacts for its cloud data security offering. Lucas believes few cloud providers are tackling issues around cloud security adequately as yet - opening up an opportunity.
"Some organisations [here] expressed an interest in us," said Lucas. "And one organisation we spoke to we may work with on email archiving."
Getting an education
Beyond the buzz on the stands, the education programme proved incredibly popular, with all the morning sessions CRN attended standing-room only. Some 100 seats had been provided - but 20 or 30 people were having to stand at the back. Ricoh Arena staff said that demand could have gone even higher.
Cloud was, as expected, a major focus not only for the big-name companies presenting, but for many channel players concerned about their way forward and how they would fit into this latest brave new technological world.
Peter Lorant, head of EMEA channels, at Google Enterprise UK, said one of the keys would be reformulating vendor-VAR relationships to take account of their changing roles, and the new paradigms and parameters around cloud computing.
"Forty-three per cent of CIOs want to transition to a cloud environment," said Lorant.
The opportunities for the B2B channel are massive and have barely been tapped as yet although some have been making successful forays with the likes of Google Apps and other cloud-based applications, Lorant concluded.
George Ilko, founder and chief technology officer at Vitality Consulting [pictured, right] gave practical advice on how to expand a managed services portfolio. He said that margins must be kept high, and this is done in part by sourcing best-of-breed cloud or hosted offerings and wrapping services around them.
"We are a small but fast-growing MSP launched in 2007, breaking even in year two, predominantly targeting SMBs," Ilko told attendees.
Cloud offerings done right can help channel companies serve larger numbers of SMBs, which if very small can be prohibitively costly to manage, Ilko noted.
Other sessions included talks by IBM, Microsoft Partner Network, HP, and a panel session on winning public sector deals.
CompTIA digs deeper
Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive at global channel lobby CompTIA, gave an interesting and information-packed talk on how to generate revenue with cloud. He noted that CompTIA has plotted out various routes to cloud success for channel partners and is launching its first cloud certification, Cloud Essentials, later this year.
"We have to build confidence and trust in customers in this intentionally disaggregated and dispersed system," Thibodeaux said. "We have to let them [customers] know how it [cloud computing] all comes together and how it all works, and that we have a handle on it."
He urged channel players to have a go on www.cloudchallenge.com , a website designed to help channel companies explore different scenarios around cloud computing and thus assist them to reshape their businesses and profit from a cloud computing world.
"There are really good resources around this," Thibodeaux said.
CompTIA had a stand at Partner Connect, but was gearing up to host an inaugural UK Channel Community meeting and European Union IT Services and Support Community meeting the following day at the same venue.
William Linard, membership engagement manager at CompTIA, said the Channel Community meeting highlight was the keynote by Motivational Steps' Linda Ockwell-Jenner. She would discuss with members brand-building and differentiation and the use of social media.
Each community member would also be given tasks around business best practice, vote on initiatives for 2011, and discuss the state of the industry, Linard said.
Cathy Alper, member communities director at CompTIA [pictured, left], said the IT services meeting would be an intimate group of 25 - giving all the chance to air their views. The forum would discuss change in the service provider role, as well as technology trends and marketing opportunities.
"We had a speaker on 'legal cloud' - legal issues in the services industry," Alper said. "Another thing is social networking, and how do we make it work tactically for us."
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