How to move beyond the cloud to integrate telecommunications and data into smart service provision
How can today’s service providers satisfy their customers in the age of digital and cloud-based transformation? How can you ensure you are maximising your potential from participating in what is expected to be a $1.3 trillion market opportunity by 2020 in telecommunications, data, storage and other cloud-related service offerings? At a time when new technologies are flooding the market and companies are grappling with how to use them to their best advantage, what is the role of partners?
The simple answer is that service providers and partners must move beyond simply supporting customers to transition into the cloud and facilitate them to use all the potential of the cloud, integrating and expanding services for telecommunications and data.
This strategy guide, based on insights from the recent Australian Reseller News roundtable on data services, explores the way forward.
Some questions for the evolving role of partners
- How can you broaden the cloud conversation to offer full solution suites to your customers, including data, bandwidth and the network?
- How can you create value while transitioning to a new services-based approach?
- How can you build capabilities on top of new technologies?
- How can you create new IP while generating success in channel services?
Helping customers transform
Today’s market for cloud services is ultra-competitive. How do you ensure you’re staying ahead of the pack and evolving with the times?
Focus on your customers
You know already from your customers that they are expecting more from their service providers – and are willing to look elsewhere if their current providers lack the skills, products or services they require. They want implementation partners with the breadth of services to help them ride the digital transformation wave. They want to be provided with the right value proposition.
Whilst there may be a better understanding of their requirements than in the past, the need is still there for added support and conversation to understand how these pieces make a cohesive whole. For example:
Customers may love the cloud but often need to be educated about the many components that must work together to deliver on its promise.
Telecommunications often falls through the cracks as customers simply buy generic connectivity services from their incumbent suppliers, missing out on innovative offerings that could better support their cloud transition.
Customers may desire new technologies but need support to know what and how. As Yasser Elgammal, General Manager of Sales, Cloud and Vendor Alliances with Dicker Data, commented: “Digital transformation is driving new areas of focus for C-level executives. There’s a lot more pressure on networks and other aspects of IT as a result – presenting new opportunities for partners around infrastructure, hybrid IT, performance data and moving workloads.”
Customers may desire new technologies but need support to know what and how, especially with digital transformation driving new areas of focus for C-level executives
This means you need to weigh and understand your customer’s business objectives, from the top of the organisation to the bottom. Executive support will help clarify long-term objectives, while technical specialists will be in a good position to help you identify the capabilities necessary to meet those objectives. Over time, identifying and responding to common themes in customer requirements will help you focus the diversification of your internal resources – ensuring that you know exactly what services to deliver, where, and how.
Sachin Verma, Managing Director of cloud consultancy Oreta commented, “If I don’t change and listen to my customers, we will cease to exist. Customer demands are becoming more aggressive and the onus is now on partners to respond through specific solutions and thought leadership.”
Become a full-service provider
The way you can effectively align yourself around changing customer demands is to ensure that you can meet those demands. Long-established business models were often based on selling upgrades to installed bases. These must be reinvented to bring in new skills and new services. If you don’t have the skills or services you need, you must establish and manage complementary relationships with partners that can – or risk becoming irrelevant.
Expansion-minded partners will bring richer and more relevant cloud-based services to market. And in so doing, they will help customers realise the benefits of digital transformation – which business leaders credited with a 41 percent and 37 percent increase in market share and positive impact on employee morale, respectively.
Meanwhile, cloud providers themselves increasingly find that cloud expertise is not enough to meet the needs of customers whose strategic visions require complementary capabilities in telecommunications, networking, service management, and other areas. In response to this shift, the role of distribution had to change, in order to support partners lacking the capacity to chase new opportunities.
“Competition is fierce in the marketplace and without the right skill sets, you can easily lose the deal otherwise,” Telstra National Sales Manager, ICT Distribution Channels and NAS Sales & Channel Development Lead, Mark Ansell adds. From a Telstra perspective, Dicker Data provides added resources and capabilities around pre-sales and delivery mechanisms, ensuring partners maintain the trust of the customer without walking away from a contract.
“Competition is fierce in the marketplace and without the right skill sets, you can easily lose the deal”
Furthermore, the role of the distributor is to also provide a consortium of partners capable of working with one another in a partner-to-partner scenario. This benefits customers enormously as a result of collaborative efforts.
“We’re seeing a huge shift from transactional project based work to a managed services environment,” Dicker Data General Manager of Services, Jason Hall, remarks. With the change of focus for customers who “are becoming more reliant on the relationship with partners, who in turn are realising the importance of maximising this approach in the market.” Generally this resulted in partners moving upstream and altering the requirements placed on their distributor in the course. “Services focused partners are now looking for longer term distribution relationships,” he adds. “They want to leverage our capabilities and capacities in a way that supports them as they support their customer.”
As the shift from transactional to annuity revenue continues, partners are looking for the most cost-effective way to stand up a managed services cloud play, changing the behaviour of the channel as a result.
The weak spot: are you selling telecommunication services?
Identifying what support your customers’ need may make your weak spots evident. Considering becoming a full-service provider may help you identify what skills and services you are not providing to your customers.
For partners that are not currently selling WAN, data networking and telecommunications, this is a huge missed opportunity – for sales and for supporting your customers’ business.
Most of the country’s 6,000 resellers have historically lacked the resources to get involved in telecoms – and only a small percentage are actively marketing telecommunications services alongside their other IT service bundles. But every business in Australia relies on telecommunications services and a successful transition to the cloud can be made or broken based on the effectiveness of available telecommunications capabilities. Data, after all, is the lifeblood of the cloud.
You could expand your services portfolio by improving your telecommunications expertise, for example by considering the ancillary services that support cloud deployments such as business continuity strategies, seamless data backup and recovery, and managed voice services – and then understanding and selling the telecommunications services that would help deliver them.
Manage your partnerships well
For all the benefits of expanding into new areas of business, partners thinking about tapping into a development partnership program need to be aware of the potential complexities such changes introduce.
Nurturing relationships with partners, for example, requires its own skill set and dedicated staff to serve as liaisons between the reseller and its partners. This process can fundamentally change the nature of a reseller’s technical and project-management teams, as third-party services coalesce into a nascent managed-services business that must be managed to customer expectations.
There is likely to be time pressure and high expectations from your customers. Sourcing telecommunications, networking and other skills from external partners will help address these. But it’s important that you make sure you have the internal resources and capabilities to maintain these relationships in the long term.
The most important strategy for managing partnerships is executive support and oversight. Maintaining two teams for customer engagement, as happens when a formal partner-development initiative is in play, can be complicated and concerted efforts must be made to keep all business units working together. Strong internal support from executives is critical, since the process of evolving into a partner-focused organisation is likely to involve considerable structural change. Executive oversight will also help ensure the capabilities gained through the partnership are correctly positioned within your overall portfolio – and that the new services are indeed cost-effective.
Partnering for success
The benefits of adding managed telecommunications services to your service offering could be significant, for your sales and for serving your customers. Adding expertise and new services to your portfolio is surprisingly easy with the right partners. You leverage their expertise to bring innovative propositions to your customers, proposing solutions that will suit their present and future business structure, meeting their requirements.
Dicker Data’s relationship with Telstra helps its reseller customers strengthen their own capabilities around the exploding demand for data services. The relationship has evolved as part of a Telstra initiative to strengthen ties with IT channel partners and to assist them to better support the needs of customers demanding cloud services. Through a concerted campaign to support skills and services – bolstered by presales and delivery support from Telstra – the program has dramatically boosted the proportion of integrators and specialists that can go to market offering customers a broad range of telecommunications services.
Oreta, itself a Platinum Cloud Partner with Telstra, was among the firms that turned to Dicker Data for assistance due to its strong relationship with Telstra. “We have data experts and technical capabilities within our team, but the role of Dicker Data is to provide those extra levels of expertise when required,” says Verma. “This ecosystem works perfectly because if we’re selling a cloud solution we can also talk about data, networks, security, storage and all of the other elements that come into play.”
“This ecosystem works perfectly because if we’re selling a cloud solution we can also talk about data, networks, security, storage and all of the other elements that come into play”
Enlisting the help of partners up and down the supply chain helps transform the specialised, niche-focused reseller of yesterday into a more responsive, full-service provider that can leverage complementary services with the capabilities they need. Another move is providing higher-value managed services, with the help of partners. For resellers transitioning to a services-focused business, differentiation and increased margin comes in higher levels of engineering and design. “Our broader services capabilities allow partners to aim higher and take on new jobs that were previously out of reach,” Jason Hall, explains. “Partners who didn’t sell data yesterday can sell data today, because they are utilising our skills as a distribution partner.”
Some key factors to consider when taking steps to selling data services:
1. Identify the gaps in your capabilities
For Hall, a partner’s relationship with the customer is driven by skill sets, based on strong engineering or professional services expertise. As a value-added distributor, the channel can now leverage Dicker Data across the country to help rebalance resources in a consistent manner, allowing partners to differentiate at the higher end of town while chasing more margins. “That’s how we’ve reshaped our services business,” he explains. “A core tenant of our strategy is based around freeing up our partners to focus on what makes them special in the market.”
The proof is in the partners’ outcome, with Dicker Data enabling partners to recalibrate what resources they need internally to effectively compete across a broader scope of opportunities and then providing those additional complementary skill sets on demand. By providing high-level solution and project coordination skills Dicker Data can enable partners to sell Telstra complex data to their customers by making the task relatively uncomplicated. “As a services business, Dicker Data is supporting our partners to expand capabilities. We aim to provide them with the skills they need when they don’t have in-house expertise so as to minimise their effort and maximise their output.” Hall concludes.
“Specialist skills are now required to deal with different areas within a business,” Telstra General Manager of ICT Channel Sales, Mert Mustafa adds. “We’re seeing partners succeed through specialising, while offering consulting services that solve business problems. Our leading specialist partners are bringing new levels of innovation to the table, which comes from focusing on a narrow area of the market and wrapping services around.”
As partners transition to new services focused business models, customers are also transitioning, seeking niche providers with specialist skill sets.
2. Make your customers' business objectives top of mind
As with any IT project, digital transformation is an extensive effort that requires co-ordination from the top of the organisation to the bottom. Executive support will help clarify long-term objectives, while technical specialists will be in a good position to help you identify the capabilities necessary to meet those objectives. The fact is that no two cloud deployments are ever exactly the same – so it is necessary to accommodate a diversity of requirements and a range of capabilities to support them. Over time, identifying and responding to common themes in customer requirements will allow for a focus of the partner’s internal resources – ensuring the right services are delivered, when, where, and how.
By methodically working through your customers’ requirements, you’ll be in a better position to integrate a range of data services that will suit their business structure now and into the future. And by choosing the right service partners, you’ll be able to leverage their investments in areas like telecommunications, bringing novel propositions to your customers that can make the difference between submitting a bid that stands out, or one that falls through the cracks.
3. Partner to build new business – or perish
“Traditionally, if I didn’t have a data expert in my team, I lost the deal. Our relationship with Dicker Data enables us to sell a wider spread of products because of the expertise at hand.” David Turnbull, Essential Technology Solutions comments.
“Telstra Complex Data has proven to be a boon for Oreta and dozens of other resellers, who are relying on distributors like Dicker Data to gain rapid access to managed data services that complement their customers’ own requirements.”
Simply, partnerships allow you to do what you can’t do alone. Chris Starsmeare, Director of professional-services advisory firm Diversus Group, recently began working with Dicker Data to resell a range of Telstra data services in support of its core business activities: “Now that we know the capabilities they offer, we can continue to chase deals and not be held up by a lack of resources and expertise.”
The advantages of partnering with Dicker Data are that this partnership allows for your organisation to upskill effectively and seamlessly and in doing so, maximise returns.
To maximise an increased appetite for the channel, Mustafa said partners should engage with distribution to maximise the potential of selling Telstra solutions, utilising the high-level services capabilities like that of Dicker Data to provide added benefits to customers
New revenue streams and service offerings
Providing a greater range of services means continued innovation, and keeping ahead of the expectations of customers that often respond to new cloud capabilities by demanding more and more services. Yasser Elgammal of Dicker Data estimates that innovative products can give as much as a six-month lead in the market, but competitors typically catches up quickly.
Partners can stay ahead by developing “unique intellectual property” that meets customer needs – but this, again, requires them to have efficient mechanisms for tapping into the capabilities of a dizzying and growing array of outside service providers. They must also ensure that every new service is backed by appropriate training, maintenance and support. Resellers also need to consider how to effectively group services into meaningful bundles, rather than simply adding third-party capabilities into a large, but not unified, menu of offerings.
The strategy for effectively managing new revenue streams and service offerings is built on the basis of working with the right partners. Dicker Data’s distribution of Telstra’s data, broadband and cloud solutions provides service bundles that involve resellers partnering horizontally as well as vertically – engaging with other service providers in the background so that the lead integrator can bring customers a unified, seamless solution to support their digital transformation.
“Our role has changed as distributor...there are now so many different areas and requirements for partners, which is why they seek a distribution partner to link all the pieces together"
“Our role has changed as distributor,” Elgammal said. “There are now so many different areas and requirements for partners, which is why they seek a distribution partner to link all the pieces together. The end game for our resellers is always around how we can help them deliver a solution to the customer.”
What is to gain by expanding your services and support capabilities through the right partner? You’ll be rewarded with more contracts of higher value, and stronger, deeper, and more productive customer relationships.
The benefits of selling data solutions to cloud customers
Why are so few Australian partners currently selling data solutions? Fast and reliable data networks are critical to delivering on the promise of the cloud, to provide services that provide a seamless conduit for customer interaction.
With only a small percentage of Australia’s approximate 6,000 resellers marketing data services alongside their other IT service bundles, customers of the other resellers are missing out on these services, or having to make critical, complex decisions about services they often know little or nothing about.
Given the opportunity, nearly any reseller can build new revenue streams by partnering with a suitable data network partner. Telstra, which already provides a broad range of cloud-enabling data services to its retail customers, has been working to build out its channel with like-minded companies keen to bundle complementary data network and managed services into their go-to-market offerings.
Exigotech, a cloud services provider whose motto “technology made simple” reflects its goal of making complex cloud services accessible to any company, recently began working with distributor Dicker Data to capitalise upon its relationship with Telstra.
“As a single entity, our vision was limited,” Business and Technology consultant Vivek Trivedi recalled. “Through Telstra, Dicker Data and the wider ecosystem, we are operating with three strong legs, which brings more stability to our business. This allows us to capture the larger landscape for the customer and provide multiple services outside of our core competency.”
Over the last six months alone, the ability to provide those services – a range of telecommunications capabilities that support the company’s cloud customers’ digital transformation journeys – has enabled Exigotech to not only create new revenue streams for the company, but has also smoothed customer relationships and supported their customers, as they haven’t been forced to go to competitors with different capabilities.
The sheer size and complexity of Telstra’s communications-related service offering makes it “like a big Lego store, with partners putting together pieces relevant to their business,” said Sachin Verma, Managing Director of cloud consultancy Oreta, which also recently began reselling the “enormous” range of Telstra services by tapping into Dicker Data’s strong relationship with Telstra.
These kinds of successes for partners reflect the value of the channel transformation program that Telstra has spent the last three years executing. As the channel reacts and realigns in response to new industry shifts, Telstra is also changing, morphing from a telco to a technology company. Mert Mustafa noted importantly that partners are at the heart of that transformation, and with this recognition, they will continue to work closely with the channel to find new ways to support customers. “We have serious growth aspirations to drive more sales and revenue through the channel,” he remarked, “with a focus on enablement and systems modernisation. The appetite for channel within Telstra has never been greater.”
In an industry defined by new levels of collaboration, through partnering with Telstra and Dicker Data, partners can build the bandwidth for future channel success.
 Sourced from Altimiter, The 2016 State of Digital Transformation study.