Flexibility, convenience and consultancy

Why are these three elements at the heart of the Channel and the Covid rebound? Mike Hallam, wholesale director, fixed, Virgin Media O2 Business, shares his thoughts.

March 2020. The start of lockdown. Little did we know what the next 18 tumultuous months would bring. Like any significant social change, hardship often comes hand in hand with innovation. While World War II brought us the radar and the computer, the pandemic meant we needed to find new ways to connect.

For many businesses, this meant rapid adaptation and transformation as they sought to survive and stabilise. Remote and hybrid working, instant online communication and integrated digital experiences became urgent priorities. Demand for technology continues to grow. 94 per cent of senior IT managers told us that new flexible services will be vital in their recovery.

Indeed, our study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) revealed continued investment in digital transformation could add £232bn to the UK’s national economy by 2040. That’s a huge opportunity for UK companies to capitalise on the progress they’ve already made under difficult circumstances.

But here’s the problem. While we found that half of senior IT managers (44 per cent) plan to invest in new digital services, many of them don’t think they are currently agile enough to keep up with the pace of change. Almost three in five (57 per cent) said they were unable to flex tools and infrastructure or make swift decisions.

The channel has an unprecedented opportunity to help UK PLC address this lack of agility and recover from Covid-19. It can do this by providing greater speed, convenience, and consultancy.

Flexible business models

Lack of agility is a concern. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) predicted that organisations that would “win the 2020s” would be the ones that “scale fast”. And it found that digital leaders who commit to accelerating technology achieve 1.8 times higher earnings than those who do not.

The channel has a critical role to play in giving customers the ability to scale up fast. A first step is ensuring business models provide organisations with the freedom they need to keep up with market fluidity. But that’s not happening right now.

44 per cent of IT managers told us they are stuck in restrictive arrangements with their supplier and are paying for services they don’t need. 36 per cent say renegotiating fixed-term contracts is an obstacle to their success.

Businesses also feel that current processes are cumbersome, costing valuable time and productivity. 36 per cent revealed that the renewals process is too time consuming, with staff spending on average 6 days every year dealing with this.

How can this serve as a basis for a truly successful partnership with their IT solutions provider? If customers feel trapped by current business models, this is going to prevent them from acting with the speed and agility they need. This could threaten future growth.

The channel needs to keep pace with digital transformation. It needs to simplify contractual processes and provide more flexibility, so that customers can buy technology they need on their terms. This could involve reconsidering cancellation terms, streamlining renewals and thinking about whether hefty upfront fees might weaken customer relationships.

At Virgin Media O2 Business we’re ripping up the rulebook and giving partners the ability to cancel anytime, introducing benchmarked pricing on installed services and removing all installation or excess construction charges through UltimateFlex. Bold initiatives like these are intended to give channel partners more options to help cultivate strategic relationships with customers.

Getting closer to customer needs

Providing greater convenience, flexibility and price confidence will set channel partners up to play a more strategic role in future. It can enable them to respond to customer demand for more consultancy from their IT partners – 39 per cent of whom say they’d like more advice on the best digital services for their business.

In times like these, the channel needs to get closer to customers’ needs and rethink their commercial offerings. For example, imagine a scenario where a customer knows they will only ever pay the market rate for their installed connectivity services. Channel partners would be able to play a more strategic role, without fear of initiating a conversation about contract renewals, which could result in churn.

This would allow them to move the conversation towards helping organisations make a difference for their business; like harnessing opportunities with emerging technologies like AI, machine learning and edge computing.

A brighter future

The last 18 months have shown that businesses can be resilient and agile under challenging circumstances. And many have achieved years of digital progress in a matter of months. But to continue the momentum, they need the right support. That requires channel partners to rethink business models and offer greater bandwidth, convenience and flexibility.

By doing so, the channel can give dynamic companies the freedom to grow and invest in their digital future – helping them to carve out their piece of that £232bn opportunity.