A rapid evolution

Dale Smith, channel director for the UK and Ireland, Juniper Networks, explains how the pandemic has sparked changes to the channel ecosystem, and what this means for partners.

The channel landscape is having to constantly evolve more rapidly than before, thanks to the large volume of digital transformation triggered by the pandemic.

Prior to Covid-19, as part of a 20-year trend, resellers were focused primarily on selling hardware solutions: installing solely IT network infrastructure in an office to deliver connectivity. However, end-user needs have changed so the channel must become more dynamic to adapt to the acceleration of the ‘subscription economy’. As a result, IT vendors and resellers are increasingly shifting their sales offerings from standalone hardware products to ‘anything-as-a-service’ (XaaS) solutions. In the networking industry specifically, this is in the form of network-as-a-service (NaaS).

According to Malcolm Orekoya, technical director at NetUtils, “The natural evolution from on-prem operations to hybrid to cloud-first approaches amongst many organisations, demonstrates the progress of the as-a-service model. The monthly subscription form now seems like a no-brainer, being more flexible and cost-effective for enterprises.”

Managed service providers are cottoning-on to this trend, with increasing numbers embracing the XaaS model and working with vendors to provide a broad range of solutions to customers as-a-service.

MSPs are choosing to collaborate with vendors who can offer a fully packaged service of cutting-edge technology, detailed technical support and advice, as well as outstanding experience-driven results and customer outcomes. The focus is now on providing end users with a complete offering of technology plus service to deliver excellent experiences.

New challenges for MSPs

User expectations have significantly risen over the past couple of years, to exceed any previous standards expected of MSPs. The world is now much more flexible, and with this has come the expectation of constant agility and mobility. For example, with new hybrid working models, there is no logical reason why an employee working at home cannot also work from a local café.

This demand for flexibility and immediate and stable connectivity drives greater need for a slick, memorable user experience. Similarly, interactions with users, whether a student on campus or a customer in a shop, are now front of mind, with an increased focus on enhancing digital experience to drive satisfaction, loyalty and increased revenues.

Incoming threats

The cybersecurity landscape is one that is consistently front of mind for all channel players. The IT world was challenged even more than usual when employees started working from home overnight because they had to overcome massive increases in scale and performance with very little warning: fertile ground for attackers.

With a large portion of those work-from-home employees now imminently due to come back into the office — at least part time — organisations’ IT security teams will be under immense pressure to secure the corporate network from office branches.

In particular, IT teams will be concerned about the prevalence of ransomware threat actors. With these attackers having grown increasingly competent over the last 18 months in their approaches to ransomware and payment extraction, IT leaders should adopt an approach rooted in zero-trust and a SASE-first mentality in order to protect data as it moves through the pipeline.

Working together

Resellers and MSPs can approach these challenges in a few ways. MSPs should strive to work with vendors who they are confident have next-gen technologies and who can offer a programmatic go-to-market strategy for partners to leverage, both of which are a huge advantage in taking those first steps together.

In terms of sky-high user expectations, MSPs will benefit from offering enterprises the ability to analyse key data from their customers. This will allow them to shape services and enable autonomous interactions across the network, crucial to bolstering satisfaction.

Another part of first-rate user experience is deploying automation for maximum efficiency. It is no longer enough for a network to just be ‘up’; users now expect the network to be agile, responsive, automated and interactive. Deploying AI will be imperative in achieving these objectives.

Take the example of retailers. With the channel increasingly focused on market segments, resellers wanting to sell into the retail sector need to offer IT solutions that will act as a revenue generator. AI-driven networks provide retailers with an invaluable awareness of their customer base.

Analysing insights garnered from the network, such as customer journey mapping using footfall analytics and transactions monitoring, can give retailers a wealth of knowledge about how to better service their customers in the future.

In such a competitive landscape as retail, maintaining customer satisfaction, and thus loyalty, is now tantamount to continuing to boost revenue.

This feature appeared in our April 2022 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.

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