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Channel emerging from pandemic optimistic about its position and future

Latest CompTIA report on the state of the industry reveals a channel that is changing but is also feeling positive about its situation

The channel is cautiously optimistic about the future and is continuing to transition to different delivery models, according to the latest survey of the indirect landscape from CompTIA.

The industry organisation’s ninth State of the channel report paints a picture of a market that is starting to look to life beyond Covid-19 and one that has, in many cases, been able to underline its value during the pandemic.

The organisation quizzed the channel across the globe, but specifically in the UK the responses indicated that not far off 100% of respondents said they felt the channel had maintained its relevance. Drilling down slightly deeper, there was a split, with 38% feeling that things were holding steady and 56% viewing the situation as rapidly changing.

Some of those changes are around the delivery model, with the channel continuing to move to the managed services model as well as a marked increase in those playing a role as consultants and influencing, rather than fulfilling deals. An awareness of the importance of consultancy skills was high on the list of UK channel leaders that contributed to the research.

Carolyn April, senior director, industry analysis at CompTIA, said that, broadly, there had been three responses across the channel to the pandemic, with some firms choosing to double down on investments, others choosing to tread water and, unfortunately, others that succumbed to the pressure.

Managed service providers weathered the Covid storm well because they were able to react to customers that were forced to make their workforces operate from home and many already acted as IT departments for their SME users.

“One of the big positives from the study is that the vast majority of our respondents, and again this goes across all of those regions, feel that the channel is relevant,” said April.

That meant that those doomsayers who like to talk of the channel’s demise at the hands of cloud or evolving markets should finally put a sock in it.

“I’m sure you’ve been to a million events over the course of the last number of years where there’s always some keynote speaker who gets up and tells you that the channel’s demise is coming,” she said. “Well, I want to call BS on that, because it hasn’t happened yet and I’ve been around for a long time. What’s happened is the channel has changed, and it’s forced to change. Even during this horrific last 18 months, the respondents in this study still feel the channel is relevant.

“It’s changing rapidly, meaning we’re getting into new areas. Cloud computing is shaking everything up and the as-a-service type of a world is shaking things up. You have many more non-traditional-type partners who may not even sell anything except their own consulting services.”

April said there were clear signs that the ecosystem and collaborative approach that had been a theme in the channel for the past few years was having an impact in behviour.

“We’ve seen more of this kind of village approach – providing tech services and business consulting services to customers and not being afraid to say ‘that isn’t my skillset, but I’m working with another partner whose skillset that is, and I’m going to recommend them’. Oftentimes, they even go to market together to sell,” she said.

The report also revealed that that quest to remain relevant includes the channel embracing emerging technologies and while there had been some signs of that pausing in the UK channel at the height of the pandemic, it was expected to pick up again.

About a quarter of firms did continue to invest in areas such as the internet of things, 5G wireless networks, artificial intelligence and biometrics.

Another area where the channel is highly active is security, with 14% of UK channel companies seeing themselves as ahead of the game, 49% on target with their plans and 37% looking to set out on a cyber security strategy.

“I think it’s some kind of table stakes, you don’t have a choice, right,” said April. “I don’t know how, as any type of partner, whether you’re a channel company that plays more in the services space or the software space or hardware or you mix both, you’re an MSP. I don’t know how you can go to any vendor, any customer today and say that you don’t have at least a little bit of cyber security expertise.”

A final area that CompTIA looks to track progress is around partner and vendor relationships. The latest report shared a sense that in the UK, the channel was satisfied with its vendors, with 80% pleased with how things had gone over the past two years.

When it came to getting a wish list out of the channel about what it wanted from vendors, it leant towards support with business processes and skills: sales, marketing and operational training and services.

“There are a lot more demands that partners are making that are different from what they were in the past,” said April.

“Back in the day, you joined a partner programme and the way you went to market was by that vendor’s brand. It was on your business cards, it was how you introduced yourself to customers and it was your identity, essentially. The vendor held all the cards, so you joined their programme, and you accepted whatever terms they had, whatever incentives and benefits and requirements. That’s changed. Nowadays, the leverage is really more in the partner’s camp because cloud computing is abstracting vendors from the customer.”

As a result, partner experience was growing in importance and vendors were having to work harder to appeal to the channel, she said.

The latest State of the channel report was always going to be one that covered a unique period, but it indicated that the channel is optimistic about its position in the market and has reasons to look forward with strong expectations.

“The data shows that there were some areas where companies were pulled back a little bit – temporarily, or a little cautious,” said April. “Are they a little concerned about the future? Sure, that’s normal. But overall, full steam ahead and optimistic.”

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