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Feature - 1 January 2021 (ChannelPro)

With 2021 now upon us, we ask channel companies to look into their crystal balls for the route ahead.

The year just gone has been surprising, exciting and exhausting. But tough times increase opportunities for learning and growth. Channel players who've adapted well to recent challenges will be better placed to advance in the year to come.

In 2021, this might mean beyond areas like security or even cloud with moves into data-driven insights, robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning (ML), or transformation at the network edge.

Customers need cloud shift Mick McNeil, vice president for business development, Logicalis Previously it took longer to transform from an office scenario to remote working, and IDC says shifts to cloud will accelerate; partners must position themselves to deliver at pace. Spending on devices and datacentre systems will drop, but customers will want help moving into cloud; channel firms will need to invest aggressively in hybrid cloud.Mid-market to enterprise organisations will need trusted advisors to drive that digital transformation across their entirety of needs, even across an international business. Customers increasingly seek partners for end to end 'lifecycle' solutions and services, from consulting to customer success, rather than point sales.

Cloud managed services are being commoditised. So we are investing in refactoring or re-architecting solutions to be cloud native – moving away from the infrastructure into the application and data layers. Data-driven companies acquire customers and keep them, and are profitable due to insights from that data.

Security to the edge

Jason Howells – vice president of MSP international sales, Barracuda MSP

Every industry will have to operate differently as a result of the pandemic. Personal data use concerns will rise, with more focus on the need to protect users, not just devices. Demand for mobile device security will rise, partly due to compliance and privacy requirements.

Public cloud has become more accepted due to the pandemic, with a larger role for secure software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Moving security closer to the edge will become much more popular in 2021.

Cloud email supplemental security (CESS) will be favoured to leverage API access and social graphs or AI, alongside broader zero trust and micro-segmentation approaches.

Firms rebuild and reinforce

Richard Evans – CTO at Cinos

The landscape has now shifted, with firms needing to consider how to rebuild and reinforce.

We may see business split into spenders and savers. Bitten by 2020, businesses may look to reduce spending and cut costs, fighting for their existence. Others that flourished or have a more aggressive strategy may look to spend their way through the uncertainty. The challenge for the channel will be to identify which customer is which and act accordingly.

The result? Channel businesses that prosper in 2021 will be those focused on integration and customer experience. With the huge increase in consumption of various cloud collaboration systems, the work begins on getting them all talking to each other. From a voice and video communications perspective this is where the channel will really make its mark.

Smarter on security

Graham Jones – managing director, Exclusive Networks UK

It will be more about offering ’as a service’, remotely, so we've built out and thought about more we might deliver like this and how to help medium to small providers grow, rather than doing it ourselves.

Things will probably slow down, but there will still be a rash of new vendors. In some ways 2021 will be more of the same.

Biggest customer pain points will include the move to subscriptions and how to consume tech.

Focus on IoT and critical national infrastructure will grow, with customers looking to get really smart defending their assets.

Some may look to reduce risk by moving on-prem – being less prepared to rely on an SLA.

Certain 'one-trick ponies' are ripe for consolidation, in areas like endpoints. IT discovery will likely be strong; cloud application protection and sophisticated application control are really starting to fly.

Once again with less

Ludovic Neveu – group vice president of EMEA sales, SolarWinds

Customers feel budgets are too small and expect to be asked to do more with less. For example, the sysadmin who is also a cloud admin and developer. VARs can help with expertise, consultancy, architecture design and implementation.

Tech priorities will also be shuffled around to find the right balance. When it comes to network management software, systems and infrastructures once considered business-critical, such as a cross-campus fibre backbone, are now secondary – but 'nice to have' parts, such as client VPN become more than mission-critical.

Exploring new business fields and vertical markets will be key to the channel. Companies’ digital transformation is accelerating – requiring new technical skills.

Data driven development

Christian Alvarez – senior vice president of worldwide channel, Nutanix

The new normal will redefine how we do everything – from where we work to telemedicine, from education to e-trading and how data is securely accessed anywhere at any time. Buyer journeys will keep changing and evolving. Hybrid multi-cloud architectures will be essential to enable rapid transitions and agility. Partners will need to embrace cloud services, modernise legacy systems, move more workloads to the cloud, and optimise access to data in the new era – the enterprise everywhere. 'Everything-as-a-service' will require partners to reinvent themselves, adopting new business terms and offering flexible consumption and subscription options. New heights in customer engagement, insights and telemetry will be powered by combining massive computing power, machine learning, artificial intelligence and 5G...


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