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Channel predictions: Opportunities in AI, hybrid cloud, edge and security
Some of the great and the good in the industry have shared their predictions for what they expect in 2020
No one really knows how this year will unfold, but it’s fair to say that most of the trends of 2019 – digital transformation, consolidation and an increased movement towards artificial intelligence (AI) – will continue. To get a sense of what some of those operating in the channel expect, MicroScope pooled together some of the predictions for the 12 months ahead.
Cloud data management firm Veeam enjoyed channel growth in 2019 with the launch of its “with Veeam” programme and the addition of hybrid cloud partners coming on board. The vendor predicts more opportunities for partners thanks to the ongoing needs of customers.
“Organisations of all kinds are considering cloud services. This is no surprise as the efficiency, scalability and cost savings can be extremely compelling,” says Alex Walsh, manager of channels UK and Ireland at Veeam.
“Yet it’s one thing for customers to be aware, but another thing to have an understanding of what solution is the best fit for them. We’re focused on helping our customers understand the need to make sure their cloud data management strategy can handle all parts of the deployment they might be using. It’s only then that the cost benefits of moving to the cloud can be fully experienced.
“In 2020, our priority will remain to make sure channel partners feel fully empowered by Veeam technologies – building their understanding of the platform’s wider business impact and benefit. We want to help our partners to understand the wider business challenges we can support, whether it’s protection from ransomware, quickly restoring critical services, or complying with GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation].
“We’re keen to build the understanding among partners of where they fit in this story and the pivotal role they’re playing in speaking to the market. It’s something that we’re trying to push even more with our alliance partners, and 2020 will no doubt see substantial growth with those,” says Walsh.
“We’re also keen to build deeper relationships with our existing partner base because there’s huge mutual benefit in working closely with them throughout the sales process. As a 100% channel company, our partners are indispensable as we take our technology to market and demonstrate the benefits.
“We’re in a world where being always-on is the name of the game. Customers are choosing services based on speed and flexibility. IT strategy is now a source of competitive advantage. We’re very excited about helping even more of our channel partners make it a reality for customers in the next year.”
Telecommunications company NTT has pulled together the insights gathered across NTT Communications, Dimension Data and NTT Security in its Future disrupted: 2020 technology trends research. The main expectations are that there will be more blending between the physical and digital worlds, an increase in smart buildings, and AI will underpin attempts to build trust through digital interactions.
“The industry has been talking about different technologies, including cloud, data, AI and security, in different siloes,” says Ettienne Reinecke, NTT’s chief technology officer (CTO). “But 2020 is the year that will change – we’ll see complete end-to-end computing come to the fore, bringing to life fully intelligent environments that are completely connected and will have a big impact on the world we live in.
“Technology is already changing quickly, but this is the slowest pace of change we’ll ever see. We’ve never had so much powerful technology at our disposal – technology we can use to answer questions and solve problems in our societies, businesses and communities. There is a huge opportunity to use any and every tool out there to support innovation in every field and truly transform our world for the better.”
Data management player Veritas warns that ransomware is likely to be a major problem, with public sector, healthcare providers and manufacturers being the main targets. The advice is for resellers to take note of the changing approach and protect those customers that find themselves in the firing line and underline the need for a backup plan.
“Until recently, ransomware attackers took a scattergun approach to their crimes,” says Simon Jelley, vice-president of product management at Veritas. “The Ryuk attacks and 2017’s WannaCry typified an approach that focused on large attack volumes designed to net enough victims to make the effort worthwhile. Now we’re about to see attackers get more selective and focus on those industries where they can get the highest return on investment,” says Jelley.
“The public sector, healthcare and manufacturing industries are all emerging as some of the most likely targets. It’s not necessarily because these sectors have a traditionally soft security posture or are particularly cash-rich, it’s because they rely so heavily on mission-critical information for their day-to-day operations.
“Cyber criminals know that if their attacks halt essential services, organisations will have less time to make a decision and will be more willing to pay the ransom. The stakes of a successful attack are much higher, so the chances of a victim paying up are much greater.
“As attackers grow more selective over their targets, organisations in healthcare, manufacturing and the public sector need to be aware that the threats they are facing from savvy ransomware criminals will only get more severe.
“To keep pace and prepare for a worst-case scenario, it is imperative to improve visibility over all data assets and leverage greater automation to ensure data is backed up and recoverable across a rapidly expanding number of locations and IT environments,” he adds.
Security is the most quoted area where firms expect to see investment and activity in the year ahead, but those providing services in that area cannot treat it as business as usual, according to analyst Nominet.
“In 2019, we saw a number of digital transformation projects not fully meeting expectations,” says Dave Polton, vice-president of solutions digital transformation at Nominet. “This year, I expect to see small but significant changes in the way businesses approach digitisation projects, particularly with regards to security, and the channel will be pivotal in this transition.
“Businesses must be able to bring together solutions which can individually represent marginal gains for the business, but collectively have a significant impact on both the bottom line and risk mitigation. Partners will be leading this shift from big, arguably unachievable projects to smaller, results-driven projects to deliver digital transformation.”
The year ahead is set to see more movement by the established channel towards a managed services model, according to identity management firm Okta. It also believes the skills gap that has dogged the tech sector for years shows no sign of disappearing.
“In the year ahead, the channel will experience an increase in the demand and requirement for MSPs [managed service providers] across all types of software, including SaaS [software as a service],” says Nick Miles, director of regional alliances at Okta. “Driving this trend is the shortage of IT professionals, especially in the cyber security sector, which is really being felt by customers. MSPs are being sought as the solution to fill this void.”
Managed security service provider (MSSP) Open Systems is also expecting more MSP activity, and is charting the impact of master agents that are becoming more common. Having established the model in the US, some MSPs active in the UK market are having some traction with vendors and customers.
“The UK channel market is becoming more mature each day, thanks to the popularity and success of master agents in the US,” says Nico Capitoni, head of channel for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Open Systems.
“As such, we’re beginning to see trusted agents – including the likes of Avant Communications, Scansource and Telarus – bringing market knowledge across the pond, therefore influencing the way our own channel model operates.
“In 2020, this will develop further, as agents continue to bring leads to vendors and act as external brand ambassadors. Unlike industry analysts, agents don’t have to remain neutral or focus on trends, instead acting as a ‘middle man’, matching time-poor CIOs with the right vendor. An agent-focused channel model not only helps screen the highly competitive technology market base, but it does so based on a set of specific requirements, meaning a better match can be made.”
SaaS provider LogMeIn is expecting mobile and flexible working trends to continue, with working remotely becoming more commonplace. It expects remote working site leaders will emerge and the state of the workplace will be one of the main topics being discussed at the executive level. As well as creating an opportunity for resellers providing the necessary tools, there will be consequences for those pitching hardware and software.
“As work/life integration becomes more prominent, consumers are having a stronger say in what tools enable them to work more productively,” says Mark Strassman, senior vice-president and general manager of unified communication and collaboration at LogMeIn.
“Employees no longer want to face a big learning curve when adopting new enterprise tools. Instead, they want these tools to mimic the devices they use in their everyday lives, especially since video communication and voice-activated commands have become mainstream for consumers.
“The challenge is to deliver a consumer-friendly, enterprise-grade product that appeals to employees, but still aligns with IT standards on security, cost and scalability. Because of this, expect to see IT taking a new approach to technology decision-making, where the employee experience is a major factor.”
Like many in the channel, Cloud Distribution is looking forward to a year of navigating through a market that can change quickly and present some interesting challenges.
Adam Davison, sales and marketing director at Cloud Distribution , says: “My predictions for 2020 can be summed up by the following quote from English novelist Margaret Drabble: ‘When nothing is sure, everything is possible’. While 2020 will present many economic and political uncertainties, we see great opportunity in the year ahead.
“Despite prime minister Boris Johnson pledging to ‘get Brexit done’, this will remain one of the biggest issues affecting businesses for years to come. The issue of green credentials will also move into the mainstream and will become central to an organisation’s commercial thinking. Although an organisation’s environmental stance is unlikely to be the top selection consideration from a customer’s perspective, it will become increasingly significant. No business should underestimate the impact that campaigners such as Greta Thunberg will have.
“Our sector has the potential and the skill to thrive through uncertainty, especially given the relentless rise of AI and machine learning (ML) in all areas of technology. Gone are the days where AI and ML were relegated to sci-fi movie plots in which robots rule the world. The advancement of today’s digital environment and the unprecedented rate at which AI and ML capabilities are growing has seen these technologies cross over into the mainstream.
“Yet there is a risk versus opportunity here. Hackers are using advanced and modern techniques to exploit businesses, but technology vendors are using next-generation methods of combating and mitigating these threats, more so than ever before. And solutions that depend on AI and ML are able to leverage existing data to handle new generations of malware and cyber security attacks.
“Already part of the fabric of our lives, the internet of things [IoT] will become truly mainstream, blurring the lines between work and personal applications, how they are accessed and by which device. This will mean more opportunity for cyber criminals as the attack surface they can target has multiplied a thousand-fold.
“What does this mean for the channel? The managed services market will continue to grow as more providers are evolving their businesses to benefit from the incremental revenue streams this model provides. The managed security services market is expected to hit $47bn in the next few years. But despite confusion about what constitutes a true MSP, the possibilities for the channel are endless. Significant revenue opportunities will be there for the taking by businesses that are moving to these new managed services models as they seek to develop and offer viable services to their customers minus the high overheads.”
Workplace meeting tech specialist Barco is also expecting remote working to continue to proliferate, and employees are looking to use video and AI technologies to make themselves more productive. One positive is that some of the generational stereotypes will start to disappear over the course of this year.
“Barco is witnessing first-hand how technological trends like VR [virtual reality], AR [augmented reality] and voice recognition are transforming the AV [audiovisual] and meeting room technology industry,” says Lieven Bertier, segment director of workplace at Barco for its ClickShare product.
“In this regard, we are uniquely positioned to offer insight into the changing landscape of the meeting room experience, where technology is bringing the promise of better and smarter collaboration in meeting room and conferencing scenarios. Our findings are clear – technology has already enhanced the meeting room experience, and will continue to revolutionise meetings in the future. This pace of change is only set to accelerate.”
Customers are not going to be fooled into following the latest technology wave just because it looks good in a pitch, and there will also be some challenges to those who have championed the public cloud as the solution to everything, according to integration specialist Boomi, which is a Dell-owned business unit.
“For the past few years, companies have scrambled to follow the latest tech trends, forgoing ROI [return on investment] assessments in frantic attempts to modernise,” says Ed Macosky, senior vice-president of product and solutions at Boomi.
“Some $1.3tn was spent on digital transformation last year, but it’s estimated 70% of those investments went to waste. Moving every application and dataset into the cloud or applying serverless computing to every workload isn’t always the best move – and I anticipate we’ll see businesses finally applying lessons learned from their overeagerness in 2020.
“It’s not fiscally responsible to incorporate every last tech trend; none of them are magic bullets to digital transformation. Businesses are going to have to be more strategic, customising their plans to their business objectives and culture, and placing emphasis on accelerated time to value over long-term,
“Companies that rushed to move all their business processes to the cloud are now finding it more expensive or cumbersome than anticipated. Over this year, we’re going to see many businesses return to the hybrid model. Despite cloud computing’s recent leaps and bounds, it still can’t do everything on-premises can, creating breakpoints across environments.”
Cloud firm Rackspace is also expecting hybrid cloud to have a good year, with it being the main choice for many customers. There should also be a continued build-up at the edge and IoT will bring fresh devices onto the network.
“While the popularity of multicloud is undisputed, with 81% of companies using cloud technologies in some way, many firms are still making investments in their private cloud solutions,” says Lee James, CTO of EMEA at Rackspace.
“This is due to a number of reasons, such as the security posture, ongoing datacentre leasing, or just because it’s the best platform for the application. Even the UK government plans to revise its ‘cloud first’ policy to ‘cloud right’ (or something similar), acknowledging that public cloud isn’t right for everyone or every use case.
“In 2020, there will be significant competition between the three biggest cloud hyperscalers and VMware as they all explore and deliver on how Kubernetes will unlock their potential to be the multi hybrid cloud provider of choice for customers.
“For customers, it’s ultimately going to come down to which fits and works best, as well as what gives the best bang for their buck. But this sets us up for an exciting year of new product and service announcements as each of the major cloud companies try to establish themselves as the cloud broker of choice.”
One of the expectations that enterprise AI software player Dataiku shared before the close of 2019 was that there would be a broader participation in AI and it would become even more common in ensuring that customer experiences were good.
Customer experience emerged as one of the hot topics over the second half of 2019, and Dataiku is indicating that it will remain on the boil throughout 2020.
Last year saw plenty of consolidation across the channel, but it is also happening at a customer level and that should provide the channel with opportunities in the months ahead, according to Voice over IP (VoIP) provider 8x8.
“The UK domestic mergers and acquisitions [M&A] market was worth £2.8bn in the second quarter of 2019, and the inward [foreign companies purchasing UK-based firms] M&A market was even higher, valued at a £18.4bn,” says Samuel Wilson, senior vice-president of SMB and e-commerce, managing director of EMEA at 8x8.
“With deals of this magnitude taking place, a key focus for businesses will be the smooth integration of their workforces and creating effective lines of communication to blend existing teams – enabling businesses to develop a united front moving into 2020.
“To facilitate these lines of communication, video conferencing will become the go-to method for meetings, and vital to keeping a fast-paced, cosmopolitan team in contact, while remaining completely hassle-free.
“However, in this technological age, the reality is that even if you are in the same building, this doesn’t mean you’ll be meeting in person. M&As invariably mean office moves and, in some instances, the purchase of entire buildings or multistory offices, increasing the need for a communications platform or even purely video.
“As the workforce becomes increasingly dispersed, through remote working and global acquisitions, we will start to see video conferencing become the preferred method for keeping in touch and bridging the communications gap.”
Security and cloud will be two of the main issues for the printing market, says office hardware provider Y Soft, but there is also increasing pressure to talk about the green credentials of the technology.
“Sustainable lifestyles have become increasingly important for individuals and organisations, no matter how large or small those companies might be,” says Ross Penman, head of global delivery management at Y Soft.
“Green movements such as Extinction Rebellion have created a huge political movement that has made climate change more imperative. Individuals hold organisations more accountable than ever before, not only for their consumption but for their contribution to the environment. Organisations are expected to improve their green credentials and do more to achieve energy efficiency goals.
“For most companies, print IT will play a huge role in this, and organisations are expected to report on elements such as how many trees are used for printing, as well as report on their water and energy consumption.
“As a result, more companies will adopt automated scan workflows, which transform paper-based work processes into digital workflows, helping companies to keep track of their consumption and be more productive, while focusing on their core everyday tasks.”