Exclusive Networks UK boss on a strong start to the year

Coronavirus, Brexit and having to do everything virtually have not dented distributor’s optimism

Exclusive Networks has started this year by building on the launch of its X-OD platform with the addition of Fortinet and an expansion into more territories.

The distributor launched the subscription platform last October with the support of Palo Alto Networks, Proofpoint and Google Cloud’s Chronicle in the UK, France and the Netherlands. Fortinet has now come on board and the offering has been extended to nine countries, also including Ireland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Finland and Austria.

Discussions continue with more vendors and there should be more announcements on that front soon, according to Graham Jones, the distributor’s UK&I regional director.

“That transition to subscription, it’s happening – the vendors need it,” he said. “We can do hardware, we can actually take vendor subscriptions through X-OD, so it’s a good way for a VAR to get on board and as we sign up more vendors, they are already trained.”

The ongoing move into subscription-based models comes at a time when the pandemic has underlined the need for remote provision of security services, and attitudes towards the cloud have softened among those users that have until now resisted using hosted services.

Jones noted that over the past year, a significant number of SMEs had embraced the cloud during the pandemic and the channel had played a pivotal role in getting those customers up to speed.

Starting strongly

Lockdowns and restrictions have continued into 2021, but so have the increased cyber threats and the continued move by customers to adopt cloud-based applications and services. That means that for Exclusive, the start of the year has been a positive one.

“We are still feeling optimistic – I mean we beat January and February,” said Jones, adding that even with a cautious budget given the current circumstances, the management team had been “surprised” by the strength of trading at the start of the year.

Some customer spending was paused in Q4 and has come through since as customers start to react to the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine and that is welcome, but makes predicting the future slightly more difficult because those investments might be at higher levels than expected.

But Jones is budgeting for decent double-digit growth and thinks there are not too many reasons why investments in security, cloud and datacentres will slow down.

“If I had to put money on it, I would say it’s going be better than last year, no doubt about it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really strong year – it’s that move to the cloud.”

Another challenge has been Brexit and Exclusive, like most distributors, has had to react to changing demands at the border to ensure the smooth passage of goods and services. Some 20-30% of the business that its VARs carry out is heading out of the UK, so there has been some pressure there to get up to speed on the situation.

The new normal

Like most people, Jones is not quite sure what the world will look like once the lockdown ends, the vaccine is widespread and people start to get back to work. Exclusive Networks has always had a reputation for carrying out personal events and although it adeptly turned to virtual with its festival last year, it has its eye on getting back to some of that socialising once it is allowed.

“For us, who are kind of famous for our entertainment and our Thirsty Clubs and all of that, we will spring back as soon as we can, when it makes sense, because that’s the nature of distribution as a people-to-people business,” he said.

There is likely to be a balance, however, with some activities having a digital element. Jones said the firm learned a lot during the pandemic about how it could engage with partners, vendors and staff digitally and it would take the best of those lessons forward.

“We have a very digital-focused marketing team, and we’ve learned over the last few years what works and what doesn’t,” he added. “We have learned a lot. We got a winter wonderland as well into the festival week and we’ve done games and we have the software where we can actually drop into different rooms, as if it was a virtual exhibition. You reach more people, but you may not get the quality. So again, it’s always about balance.”

Although it is still early in the year, the message from Jones and Exclusive is that the dynamics that have been driving the market remain in place and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the months ahead.

“Cyber [security] is good,” he said. “The new datacentre, cloud kind of evolution we’ll talk about is a good place to be as well, so we are in the right place. I think down to execution this year, it’s going to be another good year for us.

“I think it’s the resilience we’ve got as well, because we do SME, mid-tier and then we do the massive deals.”

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