Re-thinking channel partnerships post-Covid-19

Stuart Curzon, vice president, channel, NTT UK and Ireland, discusses how the pandemic has changed the game for UK channel partners.

The pandemic has turned the world upside down – and the channel has been no exception. It has forced organisations to accelerate their digital transformation offerings, while adapting to remote ways of working and optimising their business efficiency.

But with all this change over the past 18 months, how have channel partner relationships been impacted? Will the trends we’ve seen emerge during the pandemic stick around, and will the new needs of clients impact these working relationships in the future?

The lasting impact

Without the ability to meet socially, the relationships between vendors and partners that have thrived are those built on knowledge, experience and trust. Vendors are relying on scale, reach and dependability from partners more than ever and this focus on strong, proven relationships will continue moving forwards.

The pandemic has also diversified technology needs and the speed at which technologies need to be deployed. For example, NTT’s recent research found that 43.3 per cent of organisations have deployed new communication and productivity tools during the pandemic, while 30.7 per cent have changed their IT policy to help employees work within a new operating model. CEOs now see that digital transformation is critical but they don’t all have the IT assets and skills in place to drive the change. A consultancy-led approach means partners can help to match businesses with the right vendor and mix of vendors for their transformation journey, saving them time and money overall.

As a result, we’ve seen relationships shift towards partners with deep service capabilities that can integrate multiple vendor solutions and implement flexible managed services. Businesses today need to be able to quickly flex up and down as needed, and partners with technical depth, strong vendor ecosystems and experience across projects are a safe pair of hands to support this.

Changing how channel partners do business

Notably, we’ve seen some vendors shift towards consumption-based models, especially for technology where businesses are unsure of how much support they need, and for how long. Many businesses now have short-term requirements due to new hybrid working models and workloads moving to the cloud, which has been accelerated during the pandemic.

There has also been a dramatic acceleration in the move to software, with traditional hardware vendors actively figuring out how to capitalise on software and using it to reinforce the value around their products. There’s been a realisation that software is the digital enabler, and as a result the idea of consumption services and management services have become critical to inject new areas of value into operations.

The conversation is now moving towards how partners and vendors can help organisations to maintain this level and speed of change around digital transformation. When it comes to where companies should be making investments, there has been a lot of interest in employee wellness. While we don’t yet fully understand the implications of the pandemic on employee psyche, including side effects such as tiredness and overworking, we’re seeing companies seeking advice from vendors and partners on what to invest in around that employee equation.

New expectations

There is an advanced level of expectation now, with digital transformation being forced into the spotlight and proving critical to business survival post pandemic. A couple of areas we are particularly seeing new expectations in include the workforce and sustainability.

Evaluating the efficiency of collaboration solutions and finding out what businesses need to do to make their workforce truly collaborative is a focus. We expect to see ground-breaking innovation as we merge physical and digital together into this new hybrid working concept, as well as innovation around how we interact and engage with customers. Assets such as websites need to become more engaging and interactive as an example, to reflect the changing patterns in how people are engaging with companies remotely vs in-store.

Sustainability is likewise an important factor for executives as they figure out how to build sustainable businesses. In some cases, this starts with a technology refresh but extends into the full life cycle of technology – as well as driving a more responsible view of the materials that are being used and how that technology will be disposed of. As a result we should expect to see a continued acceleration of innovations in this area as vendors figure out how to build better sustainable products. How we embrace these innovations at speed will become an important metric for successful businesses.

Overall, channel partners have a key role to play in helping organisations to create accelerated value. Now is also the time where partnering and harnessing additional capabilities has greater appeal, and partners have the potential to help organisations collaborate more effectively and optimise their operations as we transition towards a new way of working.

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