Since September I've been to five partner summits: HP and HPE in Boston, Dell EMC in Austin, Cisco in San Francisco and NetApp in Berlin.
My quick maths calculates that as equating to about 18 hours' worth of keynotes, about 60 hours on a plane, and an amount of time transcribing notes that I actually don't even want to add up.
So, five conferences in three months - what have I learned?
"Digital transformation" is the phrase of the moment
Everyone wants to talk about digital transformation. The phrase was not only used in pretty much every main keynote, but was, in fact, the theme.
"Data is the new oil", "data is the new gold", "data is the currency of the digital world", "disrupt or be disrupted". Sound familiar? Thought so.
But not as much as references to Airbnb, Netflix and Uber. I've been at CRN for about four years and I can't really remember a conference which has gone by without reference to the Holy Trinity of digital disrupters. OK, we get it! Loud and clear. Please can we think of some new examples for next conference season? Surely at the rate they are going, none of the trio are going to count as aggressive, disruptive start-ups for much longer. And is the industry not doing itself a disservice by pointing out just three examples of digital disrupters? If the trend is in fact as prevalent as we think, surely we can think up some more examples? Please!
Vendors just love the channel
This point isn't universal across the entire IT industry, and obviously, as a channel journalist, I'm not invited to the conferences of direct-only vendors or those for which the channel isn't a key priority.
But HP, HPE, Dell EMC, Cisco and NetApp were all keen to prove their channel credentials and score Brownie points with partners.
The stand-out channel presentation for me was that of John Byrne, Dell EMC's global channel boss. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so excited to unveil a partner programme before.
"There are moments in life which quite literally take your breath away," he gushed. "Moments of extraordinary joy. Moments of extraordinary greatness. Moments that have such an impact in your life that you quite literally know your life is never going to be the same again. I am having one of those moments right here, right now."
Ironically, Dell (not necessarily Dell EMC) only puts about half of its EMEA business through the channel - less than the others I've mentioned. Cisco, on the other hand, which claims to put almost all its business through partners, was perhaps the quietest on talking up its channel. When I put this to Chuck Robbins, he pointed out that Cisco doesn't need to shout to prove its channel commitment because it has been in the channel for 20 years. A fair point.
The channel is getting more catty
Just like the adorable kittens, IT vendors are picking fights more than ever.
The rivalry kicked off at HPE's gathering in Boston, when Dell - fresh from sealing the deal with EMC - made its presence felt through the medium of dance and giant balloons. Yes, that's right. Dell EMC hired performers to dance with giant Dell EMC-branded balloons outside HPE's conference. Throughout the event, and HP's the day before, execs made reference to Dell, pointing out the smaller percentage of business which goes through the channel.
Later on at Dell EMC World, Michael Dell wheeled out his favourite anti-HP/E phrases, claiming Dell is not "shrinking its way to success". And if you're wondering, HPE did not return the favour with the balloon dancers.
Cisco took the high road for the most part of its conference but the odd jobs at Dell EMC did make its way into a few exec keynotes, and at NetApp's event (which was actually a technical conference but hundreds of partners attended) it too took a swipe at EMC, and flash rival Pure Storage while it was at it. Brutal.
Very few women deliver keynotes
You may have seen in September that we did our inaugural Women in the Channel project. Throughout the month-long feature, which culminated in the publication of the Top 50 women in the UK channel list, we spoke to dozens of senior, experienced, female executives holding powerful jobs in the industry. But you wouldn't know there were so many judging by who popped up on stage at the five partner conferences in question.
My judgement is far from scientific and I didn't make an exhaustive list of all women who spoke. And obviously I didn't attend every session at every event. But you can take my word for it, based on the presentations I saw, there were very few woman taking to the stage.
HPE CEO Meg Whitman obviously presented at her firm's conference, and HP CFO Cathie Lesjak appeared on a press panel at HP's. Cisco's CMO Karen Walker had a keynote spot at its partner gathering along with its global partner boss Wendy Bahr. Dell's channel chief Cheryl Cook (pictured) hosted the Dell EMC partner summit too. But considering each conference has about three keynotes on average, each with at least four speakers, it's fair to say the number of women presenting was far smaller than the number of men.
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