Building a business continuity channel strategy

With company survival at stake, business continuity planning remains of critical importance to Australian organisations
(L-R): Chris Greatrex (Artis Group), Ryan Spillane (Correct Solutions), Matthew Kates (Zerto), Karl Sice (formerly of Winc), Sean Murphy (Nexus IT), Hafizah Osman (ARN), Daniel Johns (ASI Solutions), Moheb Moses (Channel Dynamics), Darren Ashley (BEarena), Muralee Kanagaratnam (APC by Schneider Electric), Alex Gambotto (The Missing Link)

(L-R): Chris Greatrex (Artis Group), Ryan Spillane (Correct Solutions), Matthew Kates (Zerto), Karl Sice (formerly of Winc), Sean Murphy (Nexus IT), Hafizah Osman (ARN), Daniel Johns (ASI Solutions), Moheb Moses (Channel Dynamics), Darren Ashley (BEarena), Muralee Kanagaratnam (APC by Schneider Electric), Alex Gambotto (The Missing Link)

Whether it be natural disasters, human error or sophisticated hackers, downtime continues to damage business operations, resulting in financial and reputational repercussions.

Following the recent security breaches of WannaCry and Petya, organisations are now placing greater importance on the need to have business continuity conversations with the channel.

Because such incidents highlight that inaction can result in the death of a company in Australia, emphasising the need for businesses to become more resilient to ensure systems do not crumble and crash.

As the issue evolves into a board- level conversation, the definition of business continuity now differs for customers and partners.

“It can go all the way from infrastructure such as power all the way up to virtualisation,” The Missing Link co-owner and CEO Alex Gambotto said.

“Business continuity covers the whole stack but for a customer, it’s specific to what the business is and what the organisation does. Sometimes, for a customer, disaster avoidance is possibly a better investment than continuity so we need to figure out a strategy that best meets their needs.”

However, Correct Solutions managing director Ryan Spillane questioned if the channel, as an industry, is truly doing what customers would define as business continuity.

“I don’t think we are and I don’t think we can easily unless we are business consultants,” he argued. “Business continuity is supply chain continuity and human continuity. Too many people in our industry think of business continuity as about just getting the technology going.

“That’s a given nowadays in this industry, we’re good at making the technology work. But for customers, it’s not just technology-based.”

Delving deeper, ASI Solutions head of services Daniel Johns explained the difference between business resilience and business continuity.

Daniel Johns (ASI Solutions)
Daniel Johns (ASI Solutions)

“Business continuity is making sure that if the worst happens and the systems are completely impacted, they can recover from them and they can bring something back up somewhere else,” he said.

“Business resilience is finding out the areas and the processes that are important to your business and investing in areas so that there is the least amount of risk of it going down.”

From a vendor perspective, Zerto country manager of Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ) Matthew Kates outlined that in the past 12 months, business continuity conversations have changed — both from an awareness prospective as well as the way IT is delivered.

“It’s evolved very quickly over the past probably two to three years, but I think it’s hit the last 12 months or so and we’re seeing a lot of very public outages,” Kates observed. “There’s a government agency that’s now a Zerto customer because of a public outage recently.

“Organisations are struggling to evolve and IT used to be something that was like plumbing in the basement, now it serves core functions to the business and to customers.”

Channel Dynamics co-founder and director Moheb Moses said business continuity conversations now occur at a boardroom level whereas in the past, it was just larger organisations such as technology vendors that had such experience.

But as the market moves towards being delivered as-a-service, Moses said the solution provider now becomes the new vendor and is facilitating those conversations as a result.

“Because the products become less relevant and the customers are dealing more with the business partner, they now have to deal with IT and the board-level conversations,” he said.

Key challenges

From a partner perspective, former Winc A/NZ head of technology solutions Karl Sice - now with ASI Solutions - said challenges are associated with making the transition, with the market lacking leadership and looking to the channel for guidance.

“Today’s business conversations need none of the technology talk,” he said. “I think it’s one of the biggest challenges in the context of business continuity. People are probably used to other organisations being more credible to have that conversation at the levels we’re talking about.

Muralee Kanagaratnam (APC by Schneider Electric) and Alex Gambotto (The Missing Link)
Muralee Kanagaratnam (APC by Schneider Electric) and Alex Gambotto (The Missing Link)

“It feels unusual for us, who have been involved in somewhat operative conversations, to actually now go up a level into strategy conversations and still remain engaged and credible.”

For Gambotto, challenges not only lie for partners to deliver for customers, but also business continuity within their organisations as well.

“We’re talking about business continuity with our customers, what about our own business continuity and redundancy ability to be able to achieve what we need to deliver for our clients with our staff,” he said.

“That’s a challenge in itself. It’s complicated. So you need more skillsets within the team.”

Artis Group managing director Chris Greatrex, said in a smaller market such as Australia — with so many vendors trying to compete — it has become a “big burden” on partners to educate the market around business continuity.

“We have to deal with the clients and the noise,” he said. “So, we spend three quarters of the time educating them and only a quarter doing the deal and deploying it. In a market like Australia, so much time is taken up with education because of all that noise.”

Vendor involvement

Today, vendors are now relying heavily on partners to help with constructing an outcome from multiple different layers of products and services.

“I think vendors are in real trouble,” Kates acknowledged. “How do we weave an IT strategy across on-premise, cloud-based applications, SaaS-based applications and protect all that information and keep it available? It’s very challenging.

“We want to be as important as possible, but we’re still part of an overall outcome that we need our partners to deliver.”

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But there’s also a responsibility on vendors to be able to educate the channel on the various factors of a whole solution set.

“If you’re talking about disaster recovery, you’ve got to talk to the customer about software security, the infrastructure, back-up, power, the whole lot,” APC by Schneider Electric Pacific operations, channels and alliances general manager Muralee Kanagaratnam said.

“And that’s a lot for one partner to be across all of it. As a vendor it’s our responsibility to educate the channel and there are elements where you need to be able to support that conversation.”

However, Moses questioned the integrity of vendors that claim to fully support a customer outcome, yet still push product releases on a regular occurrence.

“If we stop and think about when we say the most important thing is the customer and a customer outcome, that means the vendor has to say, ‘my product is really good here but not here so you should use another vendor for that’,” Moses said.

“I’ve never seen a single vendor do that. So, how realistic is it to say that because will a vendor ever be focused entirely on a customer outcome?”

According to Sice, success comes when vendors put partner and customer needs first, building sticky relationships with the channel and the end-user as a result.

“There are a lot of vendors that think about units, revenues and margins, but the ones that take that one step forward and actually take a strategic approach to planning business outcomes together with the partner, get closer,” Sice added.

“The vendors that actually do things on the back end with their partners and work out what markets they will or won’t play in and identify the key issues that are relevant will succeed.”

Future opportunities

Even though technology and tools are becoming more efficient, partners must continue to be ahead of the game in managing the expectations of the customer.

Darren Ashley (BEarena)
Darren Ashley (BEarena)

“The convergence of really good back-up, virtualisation and cloud and speeds and feeds have made it easier for us,” Nexus IT managing director Sean Murphy said.

“A lot of the challenges we’re talking about is how do you package that? How do you own responsibility for that?

“How do you deliver that as a service to a customer and make them understand value around that? Because it’s not a trivial thing and getting that message across and helping people understand that is kind of key.”

BEarena managing director Darren Ashley said partners are now also being engaged by large consortium organisations, such as KPMG and Deloitte, to deliver IT strategies.

“These guys are delivering IT strategies and they don’t necessarily have the specialisations in some of these areas and then the customers are engaging with partners, but those guys are in there doing all the application, mapping all the interdependencies,” he said. “Business continuity is only as strong as the weakest link.”

According to Ashley, partners should choose areas of specialisation and become experts in that particular field with a group of specialist vendors.

“The more specialist you are, you’ll see a greater degree of success because it’s not possible to be all things to all people,” he explained. “You want to be the best in your field at doing that.

“Rather than sort of try and put all our eggs in one basket, we need to try and show leadership with our customers by believing in the specialist solutions that we’re selling.”

Johns stressed the importance of a partner’s approach to customers, saying that technology is a key to the business, but partners should be leading conversations with business resilience instead of just technology.

“Partners need to say to the CEO, ‘what are the parts of your business that you absolutely need to keep running to make money?’ And if those services are unavailable, ‘how much money are you losing per hour per day?’” he said.

Sean Murphy (Nexus IT)
Sean Murphy (Nexus IT)

“And then that become a much easier conversation than just telling them to spend a little bit of money each month to provide some resilience to the environment.”

Greatrex said that businesses are partnering with companies because they are known brands and partners should be working towards building up their own brands so as to secure bigger deals in the industry.

“People will pay ridiculous premiums to go with Deloitte or Accenture, and yet we’re the guys who go and fix it,” he said. “Now we don’t have the brand that those guys do and that’s the issue.

“If you get your brand out there, customers tend to follow other customers, especially in specific verticals. They talk to each other and then, all of a sudden, you get a call from someone who’s equally large as the customer you’ve just closed wanting to talk to you.”

Progressing through business continuity

Going forward, Murphy predicted that there will be “some little nuances” in the way the ecosystem works.

“As the cloud vendors, the guys putting stuff into the cloud and then the automation within the cloud, grow in the industry, there will be really great changes in terms of the way that we pay for it and the way the customers pay for it,” he said.

“It will improve so much that we’re going to see some big changes in the medium market where you can legitimately have an on-premise cloud in the network that works and is affordable to pay for. And this is going to be very, very attractive.”

According to Kanagaratnam, the channel needs to stay ahead of the curve and disrupt, or be disrupted.

“We can be great and we can be the specialist of choice, but there’s always going to be someone new coming along,” he said. “We’ve always got to look in the rearview mirror and know what’s happening.

“At the end of the day, your technology, services and solutions need to stand up, because that’s what you’re putting for your customers.”

Spillane added that with the rise of DNA computing, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI), there is going to be a lot more automation, resulting in the need for businesses to come up with strong business continuity plans.

“It’s all about getting the right stakeholders and the right buy in,” he added. “Have the right people within the client’s environment involved. Find out what their requirements are and actually talk them through it.

“You can sell whatever you want, but it’s about making sure they’re actually not just handing over a purchase order but buying into the story of having the right outcomes for their business,” he added.

This roundtable was sponsored by APC by Schneider Electric and Zerto. Photos by Maria Stefina.