Peter O'Neill here with some observations about cloud computing and channel partners. While cloud computing has been a boon for the tech industry in general, for channel partners the story is different. Channel partners have to deal with shrinking product margins, skills shortages, and new competitor types (including tech vendors themselves!).
And the funny thing is: many vendors still haven’t internalized what predicament their partners are in. How else can you explain Microsoft executives berating their partners that “only 2% of you are in the cloud business” at their recent Worldwide Partner Conference – and then adding insult to injury by suggesting calmly that the partners could host future customer visits in Microsoft Stores, where they can see those MS cloud products (I count the Surface tablet in that list) they cannot even sell!
Forrester Principal Analyst Tim Harmon and myself are discussing these issues almost every day with technology vendors; in fact with B2B vendors in general, because cloud computing is affecting every sector now (including insurance, health care, etc.). Channel partners are changing their business model stripes — in myriad directions, and oftentimes as ungrounded "experiments."
In our new Forrester report, “The Shape-Shifting Tech Industry Channel Ecosystem”, we write about how the successful channel partners of the future will be those that operate under a hybrid business model umbrella, combining on-premises and cloud delivery, and IT and business value.
Recently Dan Bieler and I attended a Colt Technology Services analyst day in London. It was great to see a technology services provider who is trying to embrace both disruptive ICT trends and challenges facing enterprise IT. Here is a high level summary of our views from the event:
Dan: Colt views its network assets not as its key differentiators - but its IT services. Although IT services today account for only a small fraction of Colt revenues, Colt views its network infrastructure assets as a means to an end to support IT services. Whilst we agree that network infrastructure runs the risk of commoditisation, Colt’s network helps to differentiate Colt’s offering from both IT service providers without network infrastructure and carriers with a less impressive network footprint. Quality network infrastructure is the basis for developing reliable, secure, and compliant ICT solutions. Maybe Colt ought to view itself more as a communications integrator than an IT Services provider.
John: Colt provides a strong European IaaS offering. One of the presentations focused on Colt’s European datacenter footprint. At Forrester we get many inquiries on hosting and IaaS-specific options for Europe as many clients have to address regulatory and business requirements for data to reside in specific countries. Colt has a substantial number of data centers in European countries including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
This week, Colt launched its Ceano cloud services for SMBs with a particular focus on the reseller channel that actually services these businesses. As this announcement combines the business strategy of a telco provider with an innovative channel strategy, Forrester analysts Dan Bieler and Peter O’Neill have again combined (as in their previous blog on Cisco) to discuss their impressions:
Dan. Ceano is impressive in that it constitutes a true end-to-end platform, ranging from the network solutions provider to the channel partners and service enhancers, to the CIO of corporate clients, and all the way to employees – i.e., the actual users of Colts’ services. The main area of improvement of Ceano versus the previous customer engagement relates to the presentation of Colt’s portfolio.
Peter. Well, I had already called out their impressive channel strategy a few months ago, and this announcement continues that story. Leveraging the technologies from the ThinkGrid acquisition, Colt partners are now easily able to orchestrate, provision, and manage the Colt cloud services for their clients – and the system supports the partner’s own business processes from quotation to billing.
This year (next month) Forrester’s Technology Sales Enablement Forum will sport a new channels track. With a theme of “Bridging the Strategy-to-Execution Gap,” we will drill into the issues vexing channel professionals on why “perfect” strategies, involving partner recruitment, partner enablement, and partner loyalty, often fall flat with channel partners.
I’m particularly excited by being joined on stage, not just by my colleagues Dane Anderson and Michael Speyer, but by [yes, real live] channel execs Jon Roskill of Microsoft and Wendy Bahr of Cisco. Jon and Wendy are going to share their insights and their most effective techniques around channel enablement – i.e., how their companies’ channel teams empower their channel partners to effect maximum productivity. Attendees will have plenty of opportunity to grill Jon and Wendy with their particular issues.
Moreover, Dane, Michael, and I are going to bring “the voice of the channel partner” directly into our explorations of partner management execution. I’m sure you’re going to take away some valuable, actionable ideas for boosting your own channel strategy-to-execution map. Check it out:
Forrester’s Technology Sales Enablement Forum 2012
The lines are blurring between software and services — with the rise of cloud computing, that trend has accelerated faster than ever. But customers aren’t just looking at cloud business models, such as software-as-a-service (SaaS), when they want more flexibility in the way they license and use software. While in 2008 upfront perpetual software licenses (capex) made up more than 80% of a company’s software license spending, this percentage will drop to about 70% in 2011. The other 30% will consist of different, more flexible licensing models, including financing, subscription services, dynamic pricing, risk sharing, or used license models.
Forrester is currently digging deeper into the different software licensing models, their current status in the market, as well as their benefits and challenges. We kindly ask companies that are selling software and/or software related services to participate in our ~20-minute Online Forrester Research Software Licensing Survey, letting us know about current and future licensing strategies. Of course, all answers are optional and will be kept strictly confidential. We will only use anonymous, aggregated data in our upcoming research report, and interested participants can get a consolidated upfront summary of the survey results if they chose to enter an optional email address in the survey.
A lot of tech vendors – and channel partners – are struggling over what channel partners’ play in the cloud services demand chain is going to be. Technology is decreasingly delivered/consumed in the form of on-premise installation (a function performed by and the original raison d’être of channel partners), and increasingly delivered as-a-service by a service provider. In the software sector, that service provider is typically (but not always) the software vendor (think: salesforce.com).
And, in most cases, for good reason. Software has bugs. Early versions of software can be unstable and unpredictable. In the classic channel-partner-sells-and-installs-software model, the product (the software) remains in the control of the software vendor, i.e., the vendor assumes the risk of customers’ unmet expectations. The license is between the vendor and the customer, and the vendor is on the hook for providing bug fixes and tier-2 and -3 support.
As much as many channel partners would like to act as application hosters (and many of them do – approximately 15% of software is delivered via a hosting model today, and 20% of channel partners today have a hosting business [see “Channel Models In The Era Of Cloud”]), when it comes to early-version or mission-critical software, vendors simply can’t risk putting the as-a-service service level/performance responsibility in the hands of channel partners. Service failures, over which the vendor would have no control, would result in egg (or worse!) on the vendor’s brand, not the channel partner’s. Until tech vendors’ partner programs mature to the point where they can certify partners’ data centers, those vendors are going to be reticent to hand over the data center reins to partners.
Cloud computing has arrived on the market in a big way, with virtually every tech vendor, regardless of size, geography, or solution, vying for a cloud position. But in the race to the cloud, many tech vendors have forgotten that ever-critical customer relationship vehicle: the channel. Or, if they haven’t forgotten it, they’ve coaxed channel partners with the pat mantra, “Do more consulting” (“… while we take care of delivery”). To get channel partners’ perspectives on how the technology value chain is changing in an as-a-service delivery model world, Forrester recently teamed with Outsource Channel Executives (OCE) to survey executives of channel companies across 39 countries, from the local level to the global.
The results of the survey are in, and they tell quite a story: that there is a good deal of angst and confusion among channel partners over their role/value in the cloud services technology value chain; that they aren’t sitting on their hands, waiting for tech vendors to tell them what to do; and that they need a lot of help in transforming their marketing and business models in this new era of cloud computing.
Now, not all channel companies are going to be able to make that transformation (nor should they – after all, cloud computing will never represent 100% of the technology market). But there are going to be many that will try and fail, ultimately resulting in a 12%-15% channel company washout. So think about it – supply (the number of channel companies) goes down; demand (for channel partner assets) remains high. It’s those tech vendors that amp their channel game to enable their partners’ cloud aspirations that are going to come away as the new “channel chiefs.”
SMBs have historically led the way out of recessions – and with the impression in mind that this recovery will prove likewise, tech vendors have been clamoring to roll out new “SMB Specialist” partner certifications. The problem is that most of these SMB certifications are meaningless. The requirement for channel partners to achieve SMB certification in many vendors’ channel programs is that the channel partner has to prove that they have successfully sold to and supported SMB customers. Huh? Sounds like the “chicken and egg” syndrome, doesn’t it?
A few vendors, primarily those with large product portfolios, place the appropriate “breadth” value requirement on their SMB channel partners (as opposed to “depth”, i.e., deep knowledge in one particular technology domain) and require their SMB partners to test on several technology domains, albeit at the “101” (“beginner”) level. Note that most vendors, too, provide no path for their SMB-certified partners to reach their top partner tier (most vendors still reward revenue contribution over everything else), so those partners are at a competitive disadvantage to large channel partners that target both the enterprise and SMB markets.
The problem is vendors’ view of “breadth” with respect to SMB partner certification. Cisco Systems’ view of “breadth” is competency across the network and collaboration domains; Symantec’s is competency across the security spectrum; Microsoft’s is office suite and application software; and HP’s is primarily hardware and IT management (at least until it integrates the 3Com channel program).
This week, I was at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., and it was all about THE CLOUD. Now, many colleagues argue that Microsoft will be the second-to-last major vendor to show a 100% cloud commitment, saying that “it’s too embedded in its traditional software business,” “it doesn’t understand the new world,” and “it’d be scared of cannibalizing existing and predictable maintenance revenues.” But I remember Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft Business Systems, tell me with a mischievous grin that he’ll probably earn more money from Exchange Online than the on-premise version — “firstly, it’s mainly new business from other platforms like Lotus Notes, and second, I even generate revenues by charging for things like the data center buildings, the infrastructure, even the electricity I use.” That was in Berlin last November. I suspected then that Microsoft did get it but was just getting its platform ready. This week, I am convinced — Microsoft is “all in,” as they say.
And at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, it was driving its partners to the cloud as aggressively as any vendor has ever talked to its partners at such an event. All of the Microsoft executives preached a consistent mantra: “MOVE to the cloud, or you may not be around in five years.”
Microsoft’s cloud-based Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) is already being promoted by 16,000 partners that either get referral incentives for Microsoft-billed BPOS fees or bundle it into their own offerings (mainly telcos). There are nearly 5,000 certified Azure-ready partners. This week, Microsoft turned up the heat with these announcements: