It’s no understatement to say that since 2016, we have all been living in interesting times. It’s also fair to say that for much of these past five years, those interesting times have been more of a curse than a blessing.
So what does 2022 hold in store? From a channel perspective, will it be interesting or something slightly more tranquil?
Meeting the challenges of hybrid working
One of the major changes during the pandemic has been a big shift to remote and hybrid working and although there might be a shift back to some office-based work, things are very unlikely to go anywhere near back to the way they were before Covid. This presents a range of opportunities for partners in 2022.
Jeremy Keefe, CEO at Nuvias UC, says the use of communication channels rocketed as businesses moved to remote working, but research by the company found that 40% of European IT leaders think their employees are not fully satisfied with the communication tools provided. “Remote worker expectations and ongoing threats of future lockdowns mean businesses will be motivated to address the disruption arising from lack of communication tool integration,” he says.
This is an opportunity for partners to “complement the provision of UC solutions for businesses with guidance”, says Keefe. “By helping businesses to enable employees to communicate and collaborate across all devices, as has become the expectation in their day-to-day lives, resellers are not just supporting organisations with technical issues, but addressing broader business issues, such as boosting productivity and engagement.”
Rob Hancock, head of platform at Giacom, says: “Remote and hybrid working technology remains a priority, with the ongoing transition towards digital and adoption of effective connectivity solutions, cloud storage and applications.
“The pandemic has created an environment that is more suitable for SMEs to gain the upper hand, too. There are great opportunities for the channel to capitalise here. Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. Fast-growing, innovative and agile, they drive long-term economic productivity and growth.”
But to be successful, SMEs need to be equipped with essential digital tools and appropriate technical support, adds Hancock. “Take this a step further and MSPs must – naturally – support this market by providing the right mix of technology to their clients, as they build out their IT estate, beyond offering the typical unified communications suites alone.”
Gert Jonk, EMEA SVP at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, predicts that “the appetite and landscape for hybrid working” will continue in 2022 and its evolution will bring a host of opportunities for the channel, ranging from cloud solutions to network developments and cyber security.
Jonk says there is “a huge area of opportunity for the channel” in supporting small and medium-sized businesses to adapt and thrive in a hybrid working world. During the initial stages of the pandemic, he says, “quick decisions were made, contracts were signed, and the solutions provided may not have always been the best possible options, but were chosen at time of uncertainty and fear”.
As the initial pandemic panic fades away, 2022 will give SMEs “the chance to find and implement solutions tailored to their exact needs, and this approach reflects the learnings of the past 18 months in terms of how businesses now operate”, says Jonk.
Rob Hancock, Giacom
Francis O’Haire, group technical director at DataSolutions, agrees. “Technology deployed in a rush to facilitate remote working in 2021 now needs to be optimised,” he says, pointing to areas that “may have taken a back seat in favour of haste”, such as security, user experience, resilience and deeper integration with other systems.
“There are now great opportunities for channel partners in assisting and guiding customers in addressing these areas and ensuring flexible working becomes a normal and successful practice for their businesses,” says O’Haire.
Anna-Marie Constantinou, business unit director at Maverick AV Solutions, says: “There was a tremendous uptake of collaboration and smart meeting room technologies over the past 12 months, and we fully expect that to continue. Video-conferencing has become part of the daily routine for everyone and with the expectation now that hybrid working is here to stay, the ease of use and quality of conferencing and meeting room solutions is going to become more important – both to individuals and organisations.”
The prevalence of conferencing is an opportunity for all partners, large and small, specialist and non-specialist, in the commercial, public sector and education spaces, says Constantinou. “This is a huge and multi-faceted opportunity, ranging from providing consultancy and helping customers to develop a defined approach, to installing, managing and maintaining those solutions. We can support partners and provide services throughout that lifecycle.”
Simon Harbridge, CEO at Stone Group, suggests that more businesses will “need to reconfigure their delivery models to accommodate a distributed workforce”, adding: “We are already seeing rising demand for infrastructure, from increased back-end compute power through networking, cloud deployments and related software and services”.
Harbridge predicts that as-a-service models will “continue on an upward trajectory – particularly those that wrap up the deployment and service neatly in a subscription model and offer flexibility as organisations upsize or downsize”.
Security is still a major concern
Security was high on the agenda in 2021 and it will stay there in 2022.
Stuart Taylor, channel director, western Europe at Palo Alto Networks, says that with hybrid working here to stay and organisations shifting to support digitally enabled working models and changing work environments, “it is increasingly important to ensure that their assets and traffic to those assets are secure”.
He adds: “Implementing a zero-trust policy for the enterprise is an approach to risk reduction, based on the concept of ‘never trust, always verify’ that spans users, applications and infrastructure.”
Taylor says channel partners will need to keep an eye on security tool consolidation. “When an organisation’s environment has been overloaded with cyber solutions from many vendors that don’t integrate, it becomes extremely difficult to manage,” he says. “Those management difficulties are only exacerbated by the lack of skills and the average time a cyber-skilled individual spends with a company before moving on.”
“There is a clear trend within progressive organisations to consolidate their cyber solutions and adopt a platform approach, taking advantage of an integrated approach with machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver a more robust and effective cyber security posture.”
Betsy Doughty, vice-president of corporate marketing at Spectra Logic, says the shift to remote working has led to a drastic increase in cyber crime, and ransomware in particular, to take “advantage of the data vulnerabilities that arose”.
She adds: “The upside of such threats are the opportunities presented to the channel if it can learn to adapt and pivot fast, with the support of vendors, in educating customers as to how best to protect their data.”
Scott Walker, Illumio
Scott Walker, EMEA senior director for channel and alliances at Illumio, says: “It is vital that security and resilience become one and the same strategy. We can no longer afford to think only in terms of how to secure infrastructure, but also must consider how to build a resilient infrastructure by design. When a cyber attack does happen, organisations need a well-established foundation from which to protect against the attack proactively, mitigate the risk and respond in the most effective way.
“The channel holds the expertise and its personnel are the thought leaders in what a blueprint design for secure architecture looks like. The channel is in the most appropriate position to decide the best breed of architecture from a security and resilience perspective to recommend to customers. As we move into 2022, this will be an invaluable part of the channel’s role.”
Daniel Hurel, vice-president cyber security and next gen solutions at Westcon-Comstor, says one of the biggest cyber security threats for companies going into 2022 is a lack of investment in training when deploying new software. “For SMEs, which may not have internal security teams, necessary precautions such as software maintenance and upgrades often fall by the wayside,” he says. “A lack of understanding from SMEs, particularly those without a dedicated technical expert, on how to maintain their cyber security tools properly is leaving them open to breaches.”
Hurel adds: “As more companies race to deploy security solutions, ensuring that consultancy and necessary support is not lost is crucial to long-term protection. The cyber security market for SMEs is really opening up in 2022, and vendor support could soon become a need among customers and a make-or-break selling point.”
Richard Massey, vice-president EMEA for Arcserve, predicts that more MSPs will transform into MSSPs as they realise there is more value and money in the security market. “Many will expand their offerings to deliver cyber security management rather than focusing exclusively on IT support services,” he says.
“Another reason for the shift to security is that MSPs are reckoning with the massive threat posed by ransomware and their need to protect against it. If they don’t, they risk losing customers and, potentially, their entire business.”
Learning new selling skills
Changes in working practices and work environments will have consequences for how channel partners engage with customers. Ed Baker, EMEA partner lead at McAfee Enterprise, says that with product information readily available online, consultative selling will become even more important in 2022. “Partners will need to be able to understand the ‘why’,” he says. “Not only ‘why’ in terms of identifying the customer business challenge, but also ‘why’ in the combination of how they and the vendor provide something unique.”
Baker adds that skills are also very important for continued success across the channel in 2022. “These will include core consultative selling skills and skills in consumption selling – both crucial areas as we continue to experience disruption to traditional selling models.” Also, partners will need to focus on ensuring they provide “optimised customer experiences and services while implementing these new sales models”, he says.
Mike Tankard, northern Europe partner and alliances director at Citrix, says keeping up with new technologies may be key, but “we should not overlook the importance of upskilling our channel teams to ensure they are confident to sell in a solution-focused way”.
Tankard describes this as a “move back towards the sales model of the early 2000s and selling in a solution-focused way”, adding: “This requires salespeople to be skilled in having strategic conversations, really getting to the heart of their client’s problems, understanding the powerbase for decisions, and knowing their business inside and out.”
Channel partners need to prepare their salespeople to understand the right messages for different buying personas, says Tankard, “and not assume that you always need to go in at the C-suite level first”. He adds: “You will typically only get one shot at that meeting and so the messaging needs to be relevant and resonate with the customer’s individual agenda. Personal credibility is the key.”
Tim Britt, head of channel EMEA at Dropbox, says that as customers are much more informed and knowledgeable coming into the buying process, partners will “need to step up and change their approach to training employees, equipping them with the right knowledge and tools to provide the best customer service”.
He adds: “It is crucial that every single employee knows the technology inside out, which is why resellers need to invest the time and energy to ensure they provide the best customer experience.”
Sustainability ascends the agenda
One area that is expected to gain much more prominence in 2022 is sustainability.
David Watts, senior vice-president, Tech Data UK & Ireland, says partners should start to act on sustainability, which is becoming “much more prevalent and important and the whole channel will need to start moving towards net zero carbon – within individual businesses and throughout the whole supply chain – as quickly as possible”.
There are sound commercial reasons for doing so, says Watts. “At some point soon, customers are going to want to know where you are on your journey and ask you to demonstrate your environmentally friendly actions and processes. This is a strategic priority for Tech Data, and we expect to make significant progress in 2022.”
Christina Walker, global director of channel at Blancco, feels the same, particularly given the scale of e-waste. “In 2020, e-waste weighed as much as 350 cruise ships placed end to end,” she says. “Governments and businesses will need to take aggressive action to find a solution to e-waste and prevent further damage to the environment.
“Given the massive scale of this problem and the business imperative to adopt more sustainable models and engage with the circular economy, we predict that in 2022, a lot of channel partners will focus on analysing and restructuring their brands and businesses around sustainability.”
There will be a “knock-on effect” with sustainability pushing people, people pushing buyers and buyers pushing companies “to make significant changes to reduce the impact of the technology industry on our planet”, says Walker. “We’ll see significantly more channel partners hold subcontractors to rights, requesting evidence of the work they are doing to mitigate and reduce their carbon footprint, and to employ more sustainable models of data and device lifecycle management.”
More channel companies are also likely to add services and specialities to their offerings this year to help enterprise customers meet their sustainability goals.
Christina Walker, Blancco
Andrew Denton, solutions director at Jigsaw24, expects the global focus on greener living and reducing carbon footprint to be “a strong theme in companies’ procurement strategies, as they seek to address this generational issue not only within their own business, but also within their supply chains”.
MSPs that can demonstrate a green strategy and supply green IT solutions should benefit from demand in this space, says Denton. “Channel partners need to develop their own ESG [environmental, social and governance] strategies and have a clear plan and messaging around the green impact of their propositions and business operations. This is something clients want to see their partners demonstrate.”
Aron Brand, CTO at CTERA, thinks the latest global push for accountability coming from the COP26 climate summit has made sustainability “much more prominent in organisations’ roadmaps”, adding: “I expect 2022 will be the year when this message truly takes hold in IT and companies of all sizes will implement sustainability programmes to reduce energy consumption of their IT infrastructure, decrease electronic waste and achieve carbon neutrality.”
“Cloud vendors will harness their investments in clean energy and sustainability as major competitive drivers, promoting cloud migration as a greener alternative to legacy datacentres. The channel will play a critical role in supporting end-users migrating applications and storage to run in the cloud.”
Karlton Gray, channel director at Schneider Electric UK & Ireland, observes that sustainability was “a key point of discussion and differentiation for channel businesses” during 2021, with users becoming more environmentally conscious and aware of their carbon footprint. “In 2022, we expect to see greater uptake of Green Premium technologies which detail their embodied carbon footprint and circular attributes and of digital services within the fields of sustainability and IT energy management,” he adds. “Those are key growth areas for our partners.”
Kevin Brzezinski, senior vice-president operations at Westcon-Comstor, says: “The global supply chain has long needed an environmental overhaul. The opening days of COP26 called on businesses to prioritise supply chain due diligence and commit to consistent reporting on emissions, signalling that 2022 is the time to incorporate more sustainable operational procedures.”
Brzezinski says placing an emphasis on sustainable resources such as green energy will reduce carbon emissions and “protect distribution channels against issues like last year’s petrol shortage. He adds: “The first electric cargo ship was launched in Norway this year, indicating that industry leaders will start to look for more energy-efficient alternatives, putting themselves on the path to a more sustainable future.”