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Inside Partner Connect, VMware’s largest channel overhaul in 21 years

Inside Partner Connect, VMware’s largest channel overhaul in 21 years

Partner Connect suggests shift in mindset for a tech giant built on virtualisation

Uma Thana Balasingam (VMware)

Uma Thana Balasingam (VMware)

Credit: VMware

VMware has entered a new phase of partnering through the launch of a program grounded in technical expertise, dictated by customer priorities and challenging of traditional channel practices.

Billed by many as the most fundamental ecosystem overhaul in the vendor’s 21-year existence, Partner Connect - first revealed to the market in April 2019 - is a go-to-market strategy which suggests a shift in mindset for a technology giant built on the foundations of virtualisation.

Central to such changes will be increased focus on technical and services specialisation, backed up by integrations with recently acquired businesses Carbon Black, VeloCloud and Pivotal.

Undoubtedly, the promise of simplification and flexibility comes as standard, but underneath the programmatic pledges, a much larger statement of intent lies.

Partner Connect is a message to the vendor’s traditional base of partners that change is on the horizon, alongside an opening of the door to a newer breed of provider nestled in the world of cloud. Added to the ongoing global distribution review - revealed exclusively by Channel Asia - and it’s apparent that a go-to-market overhaul is in the works.

Balancing the wants and desires of both ecosystems will likely prove challenging - as is the case for Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and other vendors transitioning away from conventional supply chains - but at the core appears a commitment to drive change.

“VMware Partner Connect reimagines the way we do business with and for our partners, helping them drive differentiated customer success and digital transformation,” said Jenni Flinders, worldwide channel chief at VMware.

“We designed Partner Connect with our customers in mind, and the idea that they should feel confident when choosing to go with a VMware partner. And this is just the beginning, as Partner Connect continues to evolve to deliver new and better ways for our partners to grow their businesses.”

Partner Connect goes to market through three tiers, spanning Partner, Advanced Partner and Principal Partner.

According to Flinders, “hundreds of partners” have been designated Principal Partners status upon launch, with such partners tasked with helping customers identify and implement VMware solutions, as evidenced by achievement of master services competencies across different strategic IT priorities.

Principal Partners also earn rewards including deployment and consumption incentives and prioritisation for collaborative business planning and co-selling opportunities with VMware.

“Customers in Asia Pacific want to build lasting partner relationships to enable their software investment to add as much value to their businesses as possible,” said Uma Thana Balasingam, vice president and channel chief of Asia Pacific and Japan at VMware.

“Partner Connect combines our expertise with exceptional partner capabilities to help customer digital transformation projects maximise their potential. There is so much optimism and growth in the region, and with this new program we are helping to future proof our partners so that they can continue to elevate their trusted advisor status with their customers.”

New mindset

Moving beyond programmatic changes, Partner Connect has been crafted to lure a new breed of partner into the VMware network. Such a partner isn’t motivated by rebates or margins, perhaps doesn’t even leverage distribution and is almost certainly aligned to the cloud giants of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Google Cloud.

Chasing this channel requires a departure from age-old supply chain tactics and techniques.

“There’s different types of partners and as a market, we are used to the traditional way of describing these partners,” Balasingam explained. “When we talk about business models we type them as either a reseller or a services partner, for example.

“But if we think about an AWS partner, who are usually heavily services centric, more often that not at least 50 per cent of their business is managed services. Therefore, I think Partner Connect is a great program for them because firstly, they can now choose how they want to invest with VMware, and not have the same requirements that are found with other vendors, such as having to complete multiple tracks to reach certain tier levels.”

For example, Balasingam said an AWS partner interested in pursuing an on-premises opportunity with a customer now has the potential to leverage VMware’s hybrid cloud capabilities, in addition to VMware Cloud on AWS.

“Choice and flexibility is going to be important,” Balasingam added. “They can also deliver a specific level of services through our master services competencies.”

Aside from AWS, strategic alliances with Microsoft, Google Cloud and IBM also offer VMware new routes to market through a cloud-centric ecosystem of providers, alliances which are already being leveraged in Asia Pacific.

“We are already working with some cloud partners in ASEAN for example that are interested in building out these skills and capabilities,” Balasingam said. “Not only can partners take advantage of public cloud, they can also explore hybrid cloud and on-premises opportunities through Partner Connect.”

Specifically, the master services competencies include five core technology segments, spanning hybrid cloud; multi-cloud; modern applications; networking and security and digital workspace.

While plans are in place to drive partner growth across all aspects of VMware’s technology stack, Balasingam acknowledged that specific to modern applications, accelerated growth is expected across the region.

“I think we’re going to see modern applications, cloud, networking, security and even VMware Cloud on AWS exceed growth expectations compared to data centre virtualisation or digital workspace, for example,” added Balasingam, in offering a regional observation. “Master services competency represents an important element of Partner Connect.

“We designed the program to specifically reward our skilled and most capable partners that are delivering value to the customer beyond transaction. We’re moving beyond the land piece into adopt, expand and renew to drive those new customer outcomes.”

In a direct message to the channel however, Balasingam was quick to stress that the increased focus on master services competencies is a channel-only play, and not an area of focus for VMware.

“We’re not going to become a services company,” she qualified. “Our goal is to stand behind our partners and let them deliver the services. Of course with newer technologies, we’re there to support our partners as they ramp up capabilities.”

Evolving ecosystem

Despite a deepened focus on new ecosystem players, Balasingam also emphasised the importance of helping current providers transition through VMware, in recognition of modern-day partner requirements.

In some cases, partners have built a business on VMware with alliances stretching the vendor’s 21-year existence. The priority now is centred around modernising such alliances, in keeping with customer expectations in 2020.

“Traditional can be a generic term,” Balasingam said. “Here in Asia Pacific and Japan, we have leaned heavily on our partnerships for the last 21 years and we’re all on the journey of transition and evolving our business models.

“We’re a different company today to what we were 21 years ago and some of our partners have come along that journey with us, while some are new. We run a three-year horizon planning exercise to understand where VMware fits into the larger strategy of a partner and the customer opportunities available in the market.

“We’re also leaning on our distributors to help with the rest of the ecosystem to ensure we take that planning element all the way through to our partners.”

Specific to business models, Balasingam said VMware is examining the market from a transactional resale and aggregation point of view, in addition to moving partners into advisory, professional and managed services through building unique IP through application development.

“In this region, some partners have transitioned well and some partners are looking to transition,” she added. “Partner Connect is about offering them choice and flexibility.”

Joint business planning is already underway with a group of select partners in the region, added Balasingam, with the aim of ensuring the vendor’s core base of providers evolve in line with market dynamics, enhancing master services competencies in the process.

“We’re seeing most of our key partners transitioning quite well,” Balasingam added. “For example, we have partners that are very focused in digital workspace and through Partner Connect, these partners will now be able to achieve the highest tier by being very deep in one specific pillar.

“We do however have a handful of partners interested in continuing to operate across all five of those key areas and possess the deep skills required.”

Specific to acquisition integrations, Balasingam said partners can expect change to come in phases, with VeloCloud forecast to land first around May.

“It is fantastic that VMware built Partner Connect together with its partners, resulting in a program that allows us to meet diverse customer requirements via a single pane of glass view,” added John Lombard, CEO of Asia Pacific at NTT. “The streamlined approach gives us complete understanding about where we stand while simultaneously empowering us to focus on end-to-end delivery of our clients’ business goals.”

ASEAN impact

Closer to home in ASEAN, Qu Fan - director of channels and alliances across Southeast Asia and Korea at VMware - said the vendor’s network of partners are ready to execute on the promise of Partner Connect, following months of education and enablement.

“We’ve provided ample time for partners to prepare for this program,” Qu said. “At this point in time, we are working with our partners and distributors to create joint business plans in which we set joint targets and goals.

“We are taking into consideration how we can help partners build out strategies and so far, the feedback has been extremely positive.”

In assessing the ASEAN landscape, Qu cited “massive opportunities” for partners across all markets in the region, from Singapore to Indonesia, and Thailand to the Philippines.

“Singapore is the largest IT market in which customers are leveraging technology in new ways and leading other countries in the region,” he observed. “If you look at Indonesia, we see huge opportunities through the government changes and a new capital coming up.

“The Philippines represents one of the highest growth markets in ASEAN and Thailand holds a massive base in terms of developers and IT professionals. Therefore, we see opportunities across all ASEAN markets.”

In mirroring the regional and global approach of VMware, Qu said the vendor is focused on helping existing partners in Southeast Asia transform through the creation of specialised practices and capabilities.

“It's never easy to be frank,” he acknowledged. “First of all, we want to continue to invest and help our partners through training to ensure they attain the right certifications and technical expertise.

“Secondly, we’re also helping partners select the right solutions with VMware through leveraging our specialists to help partners build practices. Thirdly, we’re ensuring these new investments in VMware are translating into customer wins for partners.”

Likewise, the recruitment of next-generation cloud partners also rank high on the priority list in ASEAN.

“I think we now have a much closer business model to cloud partner businesses,” Qu acknowledged. “We have capabilities in building a consistent cloud infrastructure across all hyper-scalers and we’re seeing our partners scale through modern applications. Partners are helping customers modernise applications through cloud and because of this, we’re seeing traction with cloud native partners."

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