Some of Avnet's rivals may have been quicker to leap into the cloud space – or at least may have done so with a bigger marketing splash. But, just a few months after launching its Cloud Marketplace on this side of the Atlantic, the distribution titan's platform and offering already outstrip those of its competitors.
That is according Graeme Watt, EMEA president of Avnet Technology Solutions (pictured), which recently announced the creation of 450 solutions specialist roles across its worldwide business, in a move designed to drive sales of software-centric technologies. The posts will be spread across five business units: datacentre solutions; cloud solutions; security and enterprise networking solutions; data analytics, cognitive computing, and IoT solutions; and mobility solutions. The Americas and EMEA regions will also house staff from a sixth unit: education services.
Watt told CRN sister publication Channelnomics Europe that a total of 175 solutions specialist staff will initially be deployed in EMEA, with a plan to raise this figure to 225 over the coming weeks. The majority of these roles will be in the fields of solution design and business development, with staff tasked with using specialist skills to develop and refine opportunities identified by more generalised sales personnel working across all business units.
Avnet intends to effect the necessary redeployment of workers and resources by the end of next month, leaving the reorganised salesforce free to concentrate purely on sales during its second fiscal quarter – which begins at the start of October and is "by far and away our biggest quarter of the year", said Watt. The EMEA boss added that the establishment of the solutions specialist posts is a natural stage in Avnet's development, and that the firm is focusing its efforts on high-growth areas.
"It is very significant and I think what it tells you, and the marketplace, and our customers and suppliers, is that we have evolved the business, and this is part of that evolution from a value-add distributor, to a solutions distribution, and we are now establishing ourselves as a solutions specialist," he explained.
"Cloud is growing at 30 per cent-plus CAGR, big data analytics at 23 per cent, the IoT is a $1.7tn ($1.5tn) market. Security continues to grow faster than the average pace of the rest of IT – and ours is growing faster than that."
The solutions specialist approach marks another step change in Avnet's sales set-up. In years gone by, sales staff would be dedicated to selling one vendor partner's products, which in time developed into teams focused on technology areas. The solutions specialists, while grouped around broad technology and services strands, will be geared towards a selling model based on "business outcomes".
Most of the roles will be filled by members of the existing workforce, and the distributor will be "investing quite a significant amount of money" on training sales staff to sell solutions, and not just technologies, claimed Watt. Despite the shift away from dedicated vendor salespeople, Watt asserted that Avnet's manufacturer partners are embracing the changes in the distributor's approach.
"Some of the suppliers will fit neatly into a single business unit – a good example would be Check Point, which would fit neatly into our security and enterprise business unit. Whereas Cisco would fit into our datacentre business, but also into enterprise networking. But we will create a single point of contact for the suppliers in our countries and at an EMEA level," he explained. "We have established this structure to be able to be more open. The specialist business units that we have announced, we share that direction with HP and IBM."
The EMEA and North American rollout of a solutions specialist team for Avnet's Education Services unit follows several years of investment – both organic and via M&A – in beefing up its training clout, said Watt. The catalyst for the increased focus on training was IBM's 2013 decision to outsource its training to four global providers: Avnet, Arrow, LearnQuest, and Global Knowledge. The Avnet EMEA leader claimed that, in the coming months, "we plan to expand our training to cover AWS (Amazon Web Services) certifications", in addition to the IBM SoftLayer badges it already covers.
Leading the way
Cloud has been the watchword for Avnet in EMEA so far this year, as the distributor has brought its Cloud Marketplace to Europe for the first time. The platform set up shop in the UK and France last month, with Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland set to be added by the end of next year. Watt stated that the platform boasts several key features that set it apart from – and above – its peers' offerings.
"It is going to exceed expectations, and we confidently anticipate on-boarding suppliers and customers [in the coming months]," he said. "We firmly believe that it does lead a lot of the other similar marketplaces or portals offered by our competition. We have some very clear differentiators, such as branded storefronts, which are very important. We have a unique tool set which allows for some very interesting analytics units, and we can offer integrated subscription models on SaaS.
"Our job is to keep it as a leading offering. We think we have taken a leadership position – and we intend to keep it."
The expansion of Avnet's cloud business comes just a few months after the distribution titan launched a $25m cost-cutting programme, following third-quarter sales and profit declines fuelled by an "increasing rate of decline in certain legacy technologies". But Watt claimed that, although the computing infrastructure hardware arena is "under pressure", it still has some notable pockets of profitability.
"I think there is still potential to grow share there, and there are also some high-growth areas, such as flash storage, and converged or hyper-converged infrastructure – these are areas where we have taken leadership. I think it would be wrong if anybody assumed that the datacentre is devoid of growth areas," he explained.
Whether on-premise or in the cloud, Watt (pictured right) explained that the distributor's ambitions for the next 12 months are to grow its skills to such an extent that it no longer needs to pursue the discovery of such growth areas, but rather that they pursue Avnet.
"This investment in next-generation technologies is where the majority of the growth is in our business," he concluded. "In addition to our financial goals, I would like to be seen as the leading provider in next-generation technologies, particularly those that are found in the cloud. I want to be so good at what we are doing that we will not need to look for them – they will be looking for us."
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