Rather than cutting out channel partners as non-essential middlemen, the long march to cloud computing is going to create closer and more interdependent partner relationships than ever before, according to speakers at CRN's Cloud Computing Forum this year.
Simon Howitt, channel business unit director at cloud services specialist Outsourcery, says most customers are already looking for help around cloud. Outsourcery's way forward is bound up with the success of its partners, he adds.
"Partners help to get more share of the customer's wallet," Howitt says. "And it will be about understanding the triggers and understanding the outcomes to help customers make the first step into cloud."
Channel partners must also experience cloud themselves to sell it well, he warns.
Paul Eccleston, managing director at distributor SDG, says the channel must work hard to educate customers about cloud and transform themselves accordingly. In future, distributors will only have a role if they can justify their value to the other links in the supply chain - resellers, vendors, and end user customers.
"Distribution's role will be to take those [customer] requirements and help fill the gap, to bridge the different parts of a solution -- the parts that their channel partners cannot, for whatever reason," Eccleston says.
Distributors may need to consider whether to form a special unit to tackle the transformation of their business model and initial delivery of their cloud-focused offering. They may also have to resource and "de-risk" reseller forays into cloud - especially if the ultimate cloud service vendor cannot.
"Look at a big-vendor portfolio for 2011. It's already so complicated. And to deal with all of that, it's a pretty tall ask," Eccleston says.
Jacqui Davey, vice president of the Business Partner organisation and mid-market in the UK and Ireland at IBM [above, right], says it cannot manage all its end customer relationships and needs itself. For that reason, it will continue to rely on the channel.
"And they can access our expertise and resources around cloud and our IP to help them build a really detailed business case," Davey says. "And we do have the great fortune of having our IBM Global Financing which they can use to put together some pretty competitive finance options."
Colin Chesterman, IBM software sales manager at distributor Arrow ECS [pictured, left], maintains that there are plenty of opportunities for resellers around cloud computing.
"They include around analytics; business services - ERP and industry apps; collaboration; development and test environments; infrastructure; and security," Chesterman says.
Consultancy is in demand, he agrees, to match vendors' complex portfolios to individual customer needs.
David McLeman, managing director at VAR Ancoris, says migrations to cloud must be done with great care. Getting it right at the beginning, then following through, remains key. The SaaS sales cycle is much longer than with traditional software sales.
"A lot of our work is about managing the transition of email and collaboration from Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Lotus Domino and the like over to Google's platform," he says. "And we are moving much more towards business applications."
Choosing the apps, understanding the whole stack and how it all works, and aligning that directly to customer needs is an ongoing process . Issues may need to be resolved one by one, and customer expectations managed as well, McLeman says.
James Butler, director of niche cloud computing consultancy Cloud Business [pictured, right], told attendees that his two-year-old company could not have grown so fast without harnessing cloud computing. Cloud applications enabled it to move swiftly from the very start, avoiding the need to buy and deploy hardware and extensive systems, allowing the infant consultancy to travel light. he says.
"We manage 83 customers live in the cloud. And we run our own business in the cloud. We have specialised in Office 365, Windows InTune, and Windows Azure," Butler says. "We help organisations move to the cloud, when appropriate. And we help partners sell the cloud."
Although he also notes that it isn't suitable for every business. As such, any channel company developing its trusted advisor status must ensure that it has the courage to advise customers when cloud isn't right for them and their specific circumstances - even if that means losing a sale.
Emma Taylor, founder and managing director of industry user group and cloud issues forum The Cloud Circle [pictured, top], confirms the interest in cloud is out there among businesses of all sizes. Many are definitely either already implementing cloud or on a path towards doing so.
"We have found that 47.7 per cent of our members do private or internal cloud, 34.8 per cent public cloud, and 25.2 per cent hybrid cloud," Taylor says. "They take it on piecemeal, to see if they see the benefits. About 66.1 per cent see the main benefit as reduction of infrastructure costs, with only 26.8 per cent [so far] citing business transformation as a reason for adoption."
Taylor says that worries about security and integration with existing systems remained two of the barriers to organisations thinking about cloud. Even so, the promise of cost reduction and efficiency improvement is likely to go on driving cloud deployments for at least the next five years.
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