Handling uncertainty

Rene Klein, senior vice president for Western Europe at Westcon, discusses what the pandemic has taught us in this guide to handling uncertainty.

Covid-19 has transformed many of the ways businesses and users consume IT applications and services, forcing the mass migration of centrally office-based operations to a system almost entirely reliant on remotely accessible applications.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the pandemic was the rapid move to the cloud. Nine out of 10 business decision-makers claimed that the cloud played an important part in their Covid-19 response, with 40 per cent describing its role as critical.

Research by the Cloud Industry Forum shows that the most widely cited advantage to the move to cloud is how it has enabled a swift transition from office to home working. The new normal is here – and it is a hybrid work environment. Indeed, Gartner forecasts that more than half of all knowledge workers will be working remotely by the end of 2021, and that remote workers will represent a third of all employees worldwide.

Channel partners have been instrumental in helping their customers through the pandemic. In many cases they have been with them on the front line, ensuring their businesses stay up and running.

But the question now is: how can businesses learn from the recent cultural working shift and apply those lessons to future uncertain situations? Looking at the challenges and lessons of the last 18 months, how can these experiences be carried through into the post-pandemic world to keep vendors and partners succeeding together – and delivering the best solutions for end-users?

Clearly greater investment in IT solutions will continue to be essential – and as such, channel partners will play a vital role in helping to deliver the new hybrid workplace. Indeed, one of the biggest trends we’ve already seen is a shift by organisations in their IT decision making as they prepare for this uncertain future. This is driving adoption of cloud and hybrid IT solutions, as well as ensuring secure networking and connectivity for all employees.

Complex environments

Channel analyst Canalys recently highlighted the massive investments in Wi-Fi in offices and campus networking needed to support workplaces over the next 12 months. The return to the office will also drive the reconfiguration of offices, as well as the creation of workspaces and meeting rooms where people can easily collaborate with remote colleagues.

There too is a need to help secure the new distributed workforce. With cyberattacks growing in frequency, scale and sophistication during the pandemic, home working has been identified as an area of vulnerability for organisations. With traditional security parameters no longer in place, there is an opportunity for partners to provide not only solutions, but consultation, training, and ongoing services to firstly, shore up any potential vulnerabilities, and secondly, narrow any skills gaps within those organisations.

As customers will look to partners to manage the vast complexity of their new IT environments, data will underpin new IT-as-a-service models in the channel. Automation and IT observability technologies will underpin this new wave of managed services.

Elsewhere, customers are looking for a range of buying options from upfront purchase to ‘everything-as-a-service’. Many businesses will proactively embrace subscription or consumption-based models as they are no longer bound to traditional one-off payment, customer-premises equipment (CPE) agreements.

Support for partners

Distribution must help partners position and articulate the value of solutions that reflect the new complex cloud and edge computing ecosystem. This will involve helping partners and customers adopt the next generation of technology to enable them to derive as much value as possible from these solutions.

Partners have clearly said that cloud is a key area where distributors can add value and are specifically asking for help around training and education to help drive business growth from the cloud. In European channel research from October 2020, more than half (55 per cent) of partners named this as the number one thing distributors could be doing to help support success in selling and delivering ‘as-a-service’ categories.

There may also be a greater role for professional services teams, Information Services, or another variety of consultant to help deliver specialist expertise to end-users.

Lessons learned

In addition to the decisive steps the channel can take to help navigate what comes next, there are also important lessons to draw from the experiences of the last 18 months. For partners, proactive communication is key, constructive dialogue demonstrates lateral thinking and forward planning.

The past 18 months have also shown that the partners that embrace digital technologies in their own businesses are surpassing the competition. These successful partners are adopting digital marketing and sales techniques, developing new managed services, and embracing flexibility and innovation.

We talk a lot about how Covid-19, while a stressful and uncertain time for customers, was an opportunity for channel partners to demonstrate their ‘trusted advisor’ status. This remains true. More than anything, customers are looking for a partner who can help them on their new digital journey. They want a partner who can lead the conversation from a professional services perspective, not just supply. They also want a partner who can help them with their compliance, regulatory and cybersecurity challenges.

Uncertainty breeds opportunity for the channel. Together, partners and distributors can ensure customers not only navigate these seemingly huge challenges, but they thrive in the new normal.

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