Reseller ME investigates how channel partners can be more relevant in a cloud-enabled market and how the transition can be made. 

Cloud solutions have transformed business operations all across the globe and with markets such as North America reaching a saturation point, the Middle East is being seen as a prospective market for cloud spending. It’s no longer a new concept for sure, however the regional channel partners are still trying to find ways to make the most out of this technology.
According to the research firm, Gartner’s report earlier in the year, USD 4.7 billion will be spent on cloud services in the MENA region from 2014 to 2018. Also, Cisco Global Cloud Index predicted that the Middle East and Africa will have the highest cloud workload growth rate from 2012 to 2017 with a CAGR of 45 percent. These reports give a glimpse of the prospects present in the region with the technology.

Tapping into these opportunities, major cloud vendors are boosting up their solutions to cater to the increasing demand. However, in such a scenario, what also needs to be considered is that IT resellers will have to abandon traditional ways to make themselves relevant in a cloud environment.

Resellers must shift their focus from setting up and managing their customers’ data centres hardware and software, to providing them unified third-platform cost-efficient solutions, says Savitha Bhaskar, General Manager, Condo Protego.
“Cloud computing is certainly at the top of the priority list with the numerous benefits it offers, including instant access to information, mobility and reduced costs.”
But, as is the case with most emerging technologies, regional organisations are moving to a cloud-enabled platform only gradually, and most might not go beyond a private or hybrid cloud model.

“Therefore, a complete transformation of all IT to a public cloud is not something that is on the horizon. The role of a traditional reseller naturally has to shift from one that resells on-premise products to one that takes on a wider and deeper advisory role,” explains Bhaskar. “This is key to guide and facilitate the organisation’s journey, ensuring that the execution is smooth, without compromise to the required SLAs, while continuing to help organisations manage their cloud IT efficiently. There is always the need for specialised local partners, this is not going to change.”

Besides the services, supply change too needs to undergo a transformation. Clarissa Bartram-Gent, International Manager, Channel, RackSpace, says, “Resellers can no longer, pick, pack and ship tin through their supply chain so they need to invest in future proofing their legacy systems. It’s impossible for resellers to fully commit themselves to the cloud era without having the necessary tools to do so.”
Most experts agree that one of the most profitable ways for a partners is through skills and expertise. As customers demand a consultative approach to challenges in business operations, partners can excel by being that guide to the industry.
Bartram-Gent adds, “Resellers need to invest in technical training and their engineering and support services to deliver this. The sales team also needs to support the business in different ways.” However the problem today is that as IT buyers have become more educated and demand the consumption of IT on a utility basis, the traditional reseller sales team still operate from a compensation plan that rewards them more in the short term for selling traditional IT.

“When you’re moving to a model that is an ongoing stream of payment instead of one large upfront payment, you have to realise that the method of compensating sales people will have to change.”
The fact that resellers need to look at cloud selling from a new and innovative perspective is known. But with cloud computing being an extensive expanse of technology, which are some of the areas where partners can thrive?

From what we can see today, vendors are developing cloud-based solutions in all areas of cloud and it is also a highly dynamic space, with change being the only constant. “Therefore, the first step for a reseller is to keep updating himself and being abreast of all the new trends in the market to be in a positon to cross-sell, up-sell, and build on existing technologies,” says Bhaskar.

Agreeing, Bartram-Gent says, “Resellers should look to add value by consolidating services offered by vendors into packaged solutions that are simple to use and deploy. This could involve anything from selling a hosted Office 365 bundle with support services to a hybrid cloud platform from multiple cloud vendors. If resellers have the technical expertise in-house to understand the diverse needs of their customer, then they can play a critical role in sourcing those requirements from vendors and presenting a holistic solution.”
Another opportunity for resellers exist in building managed services on top of standard cloud service provider platforms.
“End customers are demanding IT services that lie increasingly further up the application stack and resellers are uniquely positioned to provide those services if they can build out their service desk/technical resources. This gives resellers the opportunity to build margin back into their solution portfolio.”

It’s also a good idea for resellers to convert their organisation to the cloud before expecting customers to do it, Bartram-Gent adds. “Take every piece of infrastructure, server and component of its business from the database to the mail server, move it into the private cloud offering on the exact same hardware and data centre that clients will move to. Once it has been running for six months and any issues have been ironed out, you can move clients across to it with confidence. This provides first-hand experience of what the client is going to see and feel.”

The transition for resellers to deliver cloud solutions is not one without other challenges as well. From staffing, identifying the right vendors partners, setting up virtual contact centres to reinventing their role by adding more value are some issues that partners are grappling with today. However, by adequate planning and spending enough time conversing with customers to understand their demands better and ensuring adequate training and skills upgradation and assessing partnerships, the road ahead can be one of massive opportunities.

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