As with most events this year, the Vertiv Channel Summit went digital, but the direction of the conversation proved that while there have been many challenges overcome in this most difficult year, there are still many positives emerging in the face of adversity.
Speaking on the panel this year were: Karsten Winther (bottom left of picture), vice president of sales at Vertiv in EMEA, Regina Bluman (top left of picture), head of brand and marketing at Logicalis, and Paul Stringfellow (bottom right of picture), technical director at Gardner Systems.
During the discussion, a number of key points were raised [see below], all of which are relevant to every channel player operating in the market today. A sentiment shared by the panel was that there is plenty of opportunity, particularly for the channel, in the year to come as businesses adjust to a different way of working in the post-Covid world.
Security is a top area for investment
Logicalis' Bluman said once the initial obstacle of getting everyone working from home had been quickly overcome, security jumped out as a big issue.
"Things such as phishing emails - people getting emails telling them to click to see what is being done about Covid - increased. Because everyone was so desperate for information, these types of emails created a lot more opportunities for security breaches at home," she said. "There were also challenges around people who have poor broadband, downloading things locally and working locally. We have definitely had more conversations around security and we are seeing that this is [customers'] biggest concern once they got home working out of the way."
Gardner Systems' Stringfellow said that support had been quite a challenge.
"The thing is, enterprise IT is designed for the enterprise and suddenly we have all these users with a consumer environment at home using consumer-grade wifi - how do we support [and secure] that? It is a challenge." he said.
Vertiv's Winther agreed:
"Having the support for remote working was a huge challenge - both in trying to keep momentum in the workforce and allowing people to have access. Security was a big topic for us internally."
We are all adapting to a more virtual type of communication, using tools like Zoom, Teams etc
Winther said online communication tools have changed the way technology providers promote and sell their solutions.
"One way of us selling solutions was to have people meet each other," he explained. "But now we have the chance to do more online face-to-face sessions. It may not be as personal as we want it because of the reduced personal contact, but it has forced us into becoming innovative in the way we all promote ourselves."
Bluman agreed. "It is the only substitution we have for face-to-face - it is a natural step, but we are trying to find a way of building and nurturing relationships, which is more difficult to do online."
Gardner Systems' Stringfellow had been surprised by how people have adapted to these tools.
"If we had spoken in February and I'd been asked if I could replace all my major meetings with customers with Zoom/Teams or similar, would I have felt I got the same experience? I would have said not because you miss the nuance and the interaction you get when sat in the same room as people," he said. "But as we have become more comfortable with it as a way of doing business a lot of the barriers have gone and we have even gained some efficiencies. Would I go back to having five days of meetings a week? I don't think I would."
Customers are starting to plan ahead, but not in the way they used to
Stringfellow said some customers had been caught out in the beginning.
"Those customers that had started to make some strides into modernisation of the way they operated and who had started their digital transformation journeys, found the immediate change they had to make back in March so much easier than those still embedded in the traditional ways of working," he said. "Uncertainty was a big issue for people, they were not sure what changes they needed to make or where they were going to be as an organisation with tech investment. From a channel point of view, that stopped a lot of projects and planning initially."
"Looking ahead for organisations [such as the NHS and local authorities] that we are working with for strategic planning, their roles are already defined. In general, most customers are thinking ahead - they have an idea of what next year is going to look like for them and they have seen the impact this has had."
Bluman said the pandemic has definitely changed the way her customers look at investment.
"A lot of conversations we have had with customers in terms of planning and looking forward - is very much planning to be flexible and planning for disruption. Whether it is a natural disaster, down to the weather, or even leaves on the track, you don't need people in the office as much anymore," she said. "Hopefully things will start to come back to an in-between point of ‘what we had before' and ‘what we have now'. People are starting to adapt and realise we can live with this; whether there is a vaccine and whether people are allowed back in the office, companies are now putting a halfway point in place which can scale up or down."
Winther agreed: "We are seeing different projects - some customers decided to move ahead with investment because they have seen huge leaps to allow data access to all their people, while some maybe pushing more slowly ahead. We are seeing less investment in on-premise and more on cloud - whatever that may be - and on remote workforces.
We have all got a lot more personal in the past year
The move to more video calls has helped us all get to know each other a little better the panel agreed.
Logicalis' Blumen said that while it has been more challenging to build relationships with new customers, the relationships they have had with existing customers have got stronger.
"We have really deepened our relationships with customers, which is wonderful," she said. "You are getting to know people on a personal level when you have their kids and pets running in on video calls - it is a substitution for those few minutes before a face-to-face meeting. It has enabled us to get to know people's personal lives and it has been really nice to get to know a different side of them.
Blumen added that she hoped these personal elements of doing business are something we can all keep hold of in the future.
Stringfellow agreed: "The chance to build relationships has been huge - we have seen an eagerness to engage with customers - they want to talk. We can use this video technology to help develop on that - making sure there is something in your diary for a 30-minute chat with customers means you can ask them if there is anything else you can help with. It doesn't have to be a hard sales call."
This year has been a lesson, but firms must be prepared for the future
Stringfellow remarked on how patient firms have been at every level when it came to the pandemic, particularly when delays or supply chain issues have resulted. But he warned it would likely not be the same if it happened again.
"That idea where organisations had to change and move quickly meant their customers and suppliers and partners were very patient," he said. "But I don't think they will be as patient next time round - they will expect us to have that level of resilience in place and be prepared."
Vertiv's Winther agreed. "We should definitely not expect firms to be as patient in the future as in the past and we all play a role in that - whether vendors, distributors or resellers. I really welcome that collaboration and the need for increased collaboration [in the future]."
Attitudes to technology investment have changed
The panel touched on how customers are realising the benefit of technology investment, particularly when it comes to flexibility.
Stringfellow explained: "From a technology point of view, it has been interesting to see how organisations have seen the value of their technology. The more that we digitise our businesses the more those organisations see the value in their tech investments," he said.
"Also, what is interesting is not only have they seen value of tech investment, but they have seen the negative impact of underinvestment at the time. Suddenly we are coming to these guys and they want us to do that ‘technology thing' so they can engage with their customers."
Many vendors stepped up during the pandemic, but there is still work to be done
Logicalis' Blumen said overall, vendors had been very supportive.
"We have been impressed with our vendors who have stepped up - in things like the supply chain - they have bent over backwards, to make sure we had things to deliver to customers when they needed it," she said. "They have also kept us up to date with things - given us support when we needed it and also been really flexible in terms of pushing things through. As a whole the vendors have really done a great job with supporting their resellers through this."
But Stringfellow said some vendors had actually missed a trick.
"All vendors have tried their best - but in some cases they have not grasped the opportunity given to them," he explained. "For example, their marketing message/approach hasn't evolved to reflect some of the things we have seen in the market. In some cases, they are missing the opportunity to position themselves as someone who is genuinely there to help customers and not just make a fast buck out of it - we will remember those companies who have done that."
Vertiv's Winther agreed. "People never forget - especially not the bad stuff," he said. "We have to treat each other well - there is a lot of merit in understanding how, combined, we can grow the business better," he said. "I think we as vendors have a responsibility to make sure our channel are making that work to the best of our efforts. We [at Vertiv] have invested in more people to help our resellers, whether this is with education, value proposition, or to help with customer meetings or marketing efforts, to create more traffic."
There is plenty of opportunity if you look in the right places
Vertiv's Winther said partners must start planning for the future.
"With a huge distributed workforce, there is lot of opportunity for business," he said. "Forced migration to the cloud leaves a lot of ‘Services-as-a-Service' and a lot of business on the table. The 5G rollout allows us all to be connected in a broader way and enable more tools that we can use to drive sales. Monitoring, cybersecurity, digital transformation, resilience - all these elements are areas of opportunity for most channel partners."
Gardner Systems' Stringfellow said there is general optimism in the market, and he expects some work around ‘retro-fitting' technology.
"When [companies] moved very quickly to new ways of working, and projects that used to take three years to roll out took three months, people will be talking to partners/consultancies and asking: "What should they have done?". They are saying "I've done this but what should it look like?" I think we will see opportunities there," he said.
To see the discussion and the whole Vertiv Digital Channel Summit on demand, please click here.
In conversation with Anna-Maria Löweberg, Senior Director, Partner Northern Europe, VMware and Rachel Paterson, Business Unit Manager, Tech Data
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