Regional organisations are rapidly looking at transforming their daily operations and processes to be able to thrive in the digital era. Industry experts explore how channel partners can help in defining that digital transformation framework to help cater to customers’ evolving demands.

Having a clearly laid-out digital transformation strategy is no longer an element regional organisations can ignore. The rise of digital technologies has made it imperative for firms to understand the implications of this on-going revolution. Research firm IDC predicts worldwide spending on digital transformation (DX) technologies to be over $1.2 trillion in 2017, an increase of 17.8 percent compared to 2016. According to the firm, DX spending will maintain this pace with a CAGR of 17.9 percent over the 2015-2020 forecast period and reaching $2.0 trillion in 2020.

However, the challenge lies in the fact that most organisations lack the knowledge as to what are the first steps in creating a robust digital strategy.

Mechelle Buys Du Plessis, managing director, Middle East, Dimension Data, says, “To thrive as a digital business, you need the flexibility to adapt to changes and stay ahead of the curve. But no two organisations’ technology journeys are the same. The services you need may change over time, or may vary across different areas of your environment.

“Digital transformation today is no longer just about helping enterprises to gain an edge over their competitors but it has become a tool for survival in the market place.”

Ossama Eldeeb, senior manager, MENA Partner Organisation, VMware, believes that Middle East organisations can begin by examining four key pillars in their digital transformation journey – mobility, cloud, data centre modernisation, and cybersecurity.

He says, “By enabling mobile workforces, sending business applications to the cloud, adopting software-defined data centres, and ensuring their infrastructure is protected from cyber-threats from the inside-out, Middle East organisations can drive new digital business models and enhance their business competitiveness in the Internet of Things era and digital economy.”

According to Vinod Krishnan, head, Commercial business, MEA, Amazon Web Services (AWS), a digitally transformed organisation is one that has cloud computing at the core of their technology and business strategies.

“Cloud adoption presents several benefits, including increased speed and agility to scale as per organisational requirements, and reduction of capital expenses. The first thing that organisations should ensure is that their IT plans align with the organisational strategy.”

Software vendor Veeam’s annual Availability Survey reveals that while 74 percent of CIOs in the Middle East said that becoming digital was critical to their future, 82 percent had a problem in executing this.

“The key elements to embark on a successful digital transformation are willingness to adopt disruptive technology, allow business processes to be changed, a strong desire to transform their customer experience, operational processes and business models,” says TransSys’ executive director, Prabu Balasubramanyan.

Channel partners can play a critical role in aiding customers’ digital transformation journey. Partners with their feet on ground are the first ones to detect market changes and can help guide customers. They should also look at transforming their own business to thrive in the digital era.

“This is important too,” says Frida Kleimert, channel lead, Cisco Middle East and Africa. “Digital transformation is changing the go-to-market strategy for the channel. It requires rethinking of what role partners play and how vendors structure their entire channel strategy to accommodate the line of business customers and solving for business outcomes.”

Havier Haddad, senior channel director, META, Dell EMC, says, “Partners are on the front-lines of enabling customers to shift the status quo and embrace a digital future. Customers today no longer need a product vendor, but are looking to engage with a solutions provider who can help them see IT in a whole new light, of that being an innovation hub and not a cost centre.”

Balasubramanyan adds, “Partners have to play a consultative role to begin with, if they have to enable customers in the transformation journey. The depth of such role varies between organisations based on their maturity and understanding of the digital transformation happening around or in the region and industry.”

Equinix MENA’s managing director, Jeroen Schlosser, believes that to expand a company’s offering in the interconnected era without extending overheads, it is important for partners to connect their customers to broad ecosystems of vendors, service providers and cloud companies.

“Partners will also need address their customers’ resourcing strategies, skills development, investment decisions, operational model and go-to-market approach,” he says.

According to Schlosser a successful transformation amounts to converting IT from an enabler of internal business processes to “an engine powering digital business flows between people, things, and data, all elements that exist at the digital edge.”

However, he points out that the major challenge within the core IT portfolio is that most organisations today need to address barriers to effective coordination.

“Partners can actively contribute and become part of ecosystems that serve the digital transformation needs of enterprises across all industries,” he adds. “Preparing for delivery of IT at the edge will be the key to boosting business velocity, enabling dynamic business scaling, and ensuring greater business operational flexibility.”
According to Dell EMC’s Haddad, adapting to this paradigm shift is something that the channel is grappling with.

He adds, “Some partners are just embarking on their digital transformation journey, and others are much further along the road. But wherever they stand on this journey, those that haven’t started the transformation process will struggle to survive.”

He also says that partners will need to build a talent pipeline that can adapt to and support the changing direction of business.

“For this to successfully come into fruition, partners need to have a long-term workforce view, one that encompasses continuous and strategic talent support and development programmes,” he explains.

Agreeing with Haddad, Savitha Bhaskar, COO, Condo Protego, says that channel partners in the Middle East who are unable to transition from the pure reseller model will become irrelevant to customers on their digital transformation journeys.

“In contrast, partners who build industry vertical knowledge, consulting capabilities and able to offer services such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) will be able to establish a trusted value-based relationship with their customers. Vendors have a huge role to play in encouraging, helping, and rewarding their channel partners in transforming themselves,” she adds.

Cautioning, Rui Silva, distribution channel manager MEA, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, says that it’s hard for an organisation to undergo digital transformation if the culture is built around silos.

“This requires everyone in the organisation to work in an open and transparent way,” he adds. “Digital is not a passing trend; it is a revolution that is happening right now and picking up speed every day. There is a pressing need for businesses to relook at their IT and communication infrastructure, strategies and business models.”
Partners should play the role of trusted advisors to customers; however, they will be in a stronger position if they themselves have embarked on the digital  transformation journey. While partners should make the effort to go beyond jargons and effectively guide the transition to the digital era, it is also the responsibility of the vendors to nudge their partners to take the initial drive.

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