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How Aussie partners are skilling up in 2022

How Aussie partners are skilling up in 2022

Australia’s channel community relay their vendor investment priorities, certifications and training and diversification.

Clockwise from top left: Michael Lester (Catalytic IT), Stephanie Challinor (AC3), Daniel Greengarten (Orro Group), Nick Moran (Powernet), Chris Marshall (blueAPACHE), Anthony Woodward (Logicalis Australia), Sachin Verma (Oreta), Craig Sims (CCNA)

Clockwise from top left: Michael Lester (Catalytic IT), Stephanie Challinor (AC3), Daniel Greengarten (Orro Group), Nick Moran (Powernet), Chris Marshall (blueAPACHE), Anthony Woodward (Logicalis Australia), Sachin Verma (Oreta), Craig Sims (CCNA)

Credit: Supplied

The technological landscape is always changing and any partner worth their salt will take on these developments to capitalise on future growth.

Part of these changes include moving alongside new and updated vendor accreditation and certifications and then integrating them into a business’ offerings.

Here’s how some Australian partners are planning to invest into vendor capabilities in 2022:

Michael Lester — director at Catalytic IT

Michael Lester (Catalytic IT)Credit: Catalytic IT
Michael Lester (Catalytic IT)

Which vendors are you investing your technical and sales skills in this year in terms of accreditations and why?

Where possible we will prioritise vendor-independent certifications that can be applied across multiple vendors, such as the Certified Wireless Networking Professional Program, CompTIA, CISSP, etc. These allow an organisation to demonstrate strong acumen without being bound to a particular vendor. That will continue to be an ongoing focus for our investment this year with each of those programs to receive focus from us. 

Aside from that, we will continue to grow our investment in JAMF, particularly in their new product set focused on cyber security (JAMF Protect) and any new certifications that may emerge from their acquisition of Wandera. 

Microsoft continues to be a heavy investment for us as always and we’ll continue to add to our Azure, particularly cyber security certifications. We love everything about 3CX and will grow the number of certified people in our ranks as well.

Are there any new or emerging vendor[s] are you intending to pursue accreditations and certifications across sales and technical?

We’re paying very close attention to Hamina Wireless and expect that as/when the product gets to market, we’ll be certifying and up-skilling in that very quickly. It plays to our vendor independence mantra and the team behind it are well known industry experts, so we expect big things. 

Is vendor diversification a priority for 2022? If so or if not, why?

Not directly, however indirectly we believe that any good ICT business needs to be regularly checking the competitive landscape to understand whether the partners you’re working with are still best in class and/or whether the competition has dramatically improved.

We have always adopted a multi-vendor approach as we believe it’s impossible for one party to meet the unique needs of every customer. Sure, you have those that you prefer, but even that needs to be regularly challenged to ensure you’re doing the right thing by your customer base.

What are the key attributes of a strong partner accreditation or certification program? What improvements would you like to see?

By far, one of the biggest bugbears we have with vendor partner certification programs is the disproportionate emphasis on sales targets over technical competency. It completely disincentivises smaller managed service providers and specialist service providers from taking advantage of the benefits of partner programs – and it’s bad for the customer too. Who do you want deploying your new wireless network — the people that box drop loads of equipment or the organisation that has invested heavily in training their team on how to deploy the product?

I can think of a few programs where we exceed the technical competencies for their top tier and yet sit at the bottom tier of partnership as we do not hit sales targets. In a world where we want partners to work together – and there are those geared towards selling volume, partnering with specialist services firms – the services firms seem to be at a distinct disadvantage with most partner programs. Scrap sales targets in partner programs or offer multiple paths to the top tier (sales + technical capability). 

What are your biggest pain points when it comes to gaining these vendor certifications/accreditations?

Aside from sales targets, the slow but steady creep of “paid course” requirements to gain certifications across some of our vendor base. If the course was of a high quality this might not be such an issue. However we’ve attended a bunch of vendor training where our engineers have finished feeling like they got minimal value from the engagement. 

Don’t forget, when we send someone on training, we’re already paying in the form of loss of revenue, plus the cost of the course itself -- and that’s a perfectly fine investment provided the content is valuable. Forcing an organisation to pay thousands for a course that’s little more in-depth than a product brochure leaves a poor taste in a managed service provider's (MSP) mouth. 

Stephanie Challinor — general manager of customer experience and alliances at AC3

Stephanie Challinor (AC3)Credit: Christine Wong
Stephanie Challinor (AC3)

Which vendors are you investing your technical and sales skills in this year in terms of accreditations and why?

We are continually investing in our key vendors like AWS, Microsoft, HPE, Cisco, ServiceNow and VMware. We actually reference these vendors as partners and they are central to our solutions, so growing our skills in our core offerings is the priority. We are also investing more and more in the application and data space. We have a growing practice and we want to upskill our people so that we can offer relevant services to our customers.

Is vendor diversification a priority for 2022? If so or if not, why?

We are always considering new technology to ensure we are delivering relevant and valuable services to our customers. This is what drives diversification in our vendor portfolio – it has to have a meaningful impact for our customers.

What are the key attributes of a strong partner accreditation or certification program? What improvements would you like to see?

I think a strong partner program has to be simple. It should be clearly structured and doesn’t need to be flashy or overtly complex, but should create a concise avenue to success with clear communication and expectations. 

It should also have purpose outside of the traditional 'know more to sell more'. We’re seeing more programs focused on turning technical skills into business value and customer outcomes.

In terms of improvements, we lean on these programs for skill and career development for our people so more focus on aftercare and recommendations for future learning pathways would be welcome.

What are your biggest pain points when it comes to gaining these vendor certifications/accreditations?

I think the biggest challenge for us is managing the sheer number of vendor certifications we maintain, coupled with some complexity and changing requirements. Vendors are always iterating programs to meet the market, which is positive but also poses a challenge in keeping up to date.

Daniel Greengarten — COO at Orro Group

Daniel Greengarten (Orro Group)Credit: Supplied
Daniel Greengarten (Orro Group)

Which vendors are you investing your technical and sales skills in this year in terms of accreditations and why?

When it comes to our vendor partnerships, there are three primary areas that underlie our go-to-market strategy. First is connecting our clients through next gen networking solutions, second is securing our customers through offering the best cyber solutions and third is guiding our customers on their journey to the cloud. 

Looking ahead, 2022 is going to be a massive year for Orro in terms of partner engagement. We will be investing significant resources in a range of best in market vendors. These include the likes of Microsoft for solutions across their portfolio, from Cloud to Azure virtual desktop, right through to security.

Following our recognition as Fortinet’s APAC Growth Partner of the Year, Fortinet is a strong offering for our customers in the SD-WAN and next gen security space. Fortinet’s products enable us to provide a blended SD-WAN and security offering.

Are there any new or emerging vendor[s] you are intending to pursue accreditations and certifications across sales and technical?

We are always searching the market for vendors that are able to add value to our customer solution offerings. Okta is a vendor of focus this year due to its identity management and multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions, which are being deployed to a large percentage of our customer base. 

Our continued partnership with Fortinet will see us push into new areas such as secure access service edge (SASE) and future zero trust solutions. And while not a new vendor, Microsoft Security has an emerging offering in the security space with security information and event management (SIEM) and extended detection and response (XDR) capabilities that are evolving rapidly. 

Elastic offers the ability to drive predictive analytics, which are critical to the future development of our services. A partnership with Elastic would put us in the best position to ingest metadata from multiple sources and deliver actionable insights to our customers.

Is vendor diversification a priority for 2022? If so or if not, why? 

2022 will be the year of intelligent vendor partnerships. It is the mix of vendors within Orro’s portfolio that makes us a formidable force in the market. Our vendor partnerships are a mixture of those that give us market presence and others that are challengers and will provide innovative solutions to providers and our customers. 

When it comes to diversification, looking at the fundamental challenges on the labour market today, we are almost at full employment and the IT industry is experiencing a more profound shortage than most of the market, including cyber security skills.

An operating model that incorporates partners across the entire customer life cycle is critical and diversification is a key ingredient. From pre-sales and solution design to professional services for transition, our partners need to be able to engage with our customers across the life of the service.

Vendors need to establish centres of excellence on how best to manage the ongoing operation of the vendor technologies in the customer’s operating environment. 

What are the key attributes of a strong partner accreditation or certification program? What improvements would you like to see?

Strong vendor accreditation and certification programs enable partners to practice what they preach. This is important as the market moves quickly and the rate of change only increases. As a business, Orro needs to engage vendors to build solutions for our customers, go to market and demand the generation of activities and programs, whilst building the required levels of certifications. The market is agile, so it is now outdated to become accredited before vendors will engage you with their full capability.

There is no better learning track for partners than actual customer opportunities, pursuits, solution designs and services solutions. Partners want to learn in the real world then apply that learning to the certifications they complete. As such, certification programs need to be a supporting and value-add component to the customer engagement, rather than simply a learning track that sits on its own. 

With the market shifting to subscription service vendors, we need to build education tracks around best practice for implementation services for our vendor partner products and critically manage the services around their products. Learning the features, functions and benefits of the technology is only part of the journey. Now, we need to focus our needs on enabling partners to manage the technology as part of a full lifecycle service to customers. 

What are your biggest pain points when it comes to gaining these vendor certification/accreditations?

The biggest pain point in terms of obtaining certifications is carving out time for our sales and engineering teams, separate from engaging our customers. While we appreciate the need to stay current in vendor certifications, it has a material impact on those partners. The focus needs to shift to maintaining the partnerships, as real world expertise is not recognised in maintaining vendor certifications. 

Nick Moran — Founder, director and vendor relations at Powernet

Nick Moran (Powernet)Credit: Supplied
Nick Moran (Powernet)

Which vendors are you investing your technical and sales skills in this year in terms of accreditations and why?

This year, we continue to invest in enabling our clients to be more secure and productive so as a result, our commitment to skilling continues to be a key focus. Our key vendor partnerships such as Microsoft and Sophos have never been more important as we continue to elevate our knowledge. We have a responsibility to our clients to not only minimise their risk, but also to protect our own backyard. General knowledge in some of the stack is no longer enough. You need to go deep.

Are there any new or emerging vendor[s] you are intending to pursue accreditations and certifications across sales and technical?

Whilst we always look to review, improve and innovate, we are focused on our further enhancing our existing relationships.

Is vendor diversification a priority for 2022? If so or if not, why?

Vendor diversification is important however how is an ever-present balancing act. Being both generalists and specialists across many vendors comes with significant challenges and whilst company scale helps, you need to measure long term viability.

You can't be an MSP that's an expert in everything and if you truly want to protect your clients, you need to either partner or become an expert in something. Gone are the days of the generalist MSP.

What are the key attributes of a strong partner accreditation or certification program? What improvements would you like to see?

Differentiation and recognition for skills and advanced competency in a product or technology. Also, engagement and enablement, as well as understanding of the risks.

What are your biggest pain points when it comes to gaining these vendor certification/accreditations?

The challenge for us and many other partners in the past has been that business as usual gets in the way of formal vendor training, development and certifications. I've never had technical resources come to me saying they have completed all their work and have time available. So, even with all the best intentions, this development often is pushed for somewhat legitimate reasons. Investment in continuous development of your team members must always come first.

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