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Evolving the channel for cloud

Philippe Fosse, vice president of channel for EMC EMEA discusses the challenges and opportunities the channel faces in a cloud-first world

Cloud computing is a state of mind. While cloud technology has the potential to be the major force in the world of business IT due to the huge benefits it can bring, it represents a huge shift from the traditional IT infrastructure setup, meaning businesses need some persuasion to make the transition.
As I see it, the channel must communicate what cloud technology can do for businesses if they are to build sales momentum. Channel partners must therefore shift the mind set of staff and customers to show how the cloud ecosystem can help deliver more value to the business alongside more traditional approaches.
Above all, partners must possess the confidence and know-how to build a compelling case for transitioning to a multi-cloud infrastructure, explaining how it simplifies the IT management, reduces the burden on resources, removes geographic boundaries, and provides the agility and flexibility that will be crucial for businesses in an increasingly digital world.
But as well as communicating the benefits of cloud, channel partners must recognise and adapt to changing business models as organizations begin to transition from an on-premise approach where IT is the end user, to a cloud-based scenario where lines of business are the priority. Those partners that have the necessary flexibility to move with the changing demands of customers will flourish, benefiting from significant new opportunities to serve the market.
Helping IT departments become internal service providers
The most obvious way for channel partners to boost sales around cloud products is to sell hybrid cloud products directly to IT departments and help them become internal service providers that offer real-time provisioning for lines of business.
Those partners that have the necessary flexibility to move with the changing demands of customers will flourish, benefiting from significant new opportunities to serve the market
As part of this, channel partners must sell the idea that IT departments must develop a unified cloud strategy in which IT leads the implementation of cloud services.
By taking this approach to cloud, organisations will avoid a situation in which technology and systems become disjointed as a result of lines of business buying services independently of the IT department – otherwise known as Shadow IT.
Shadow IT often leads to inefficiencies and, more seriously, issues around security. It’s therefore crucial that IT departments retain control as organizations move to the cloud.
Channel partners can support IT departments as they develop their cloud strategy by providing guidance on how cloud technology can be best integrated. In doing so, they can help IT departments understand the role cloud will play in the future.
Selling to cloud service providers
While a significant proportion of cloud sales will be secured directly with IT departments, the nature of the technology means that channel partners also have the option of finding new customers in the form of cloud service providers.
Firstly, they can sell cloud solutions directly to public cloud service providers, including telcos and hosting companies. These products would then be deployed in datacentres, supporting services that are delivered to customers of the service provider.
With hundreds of cloud service providers now doing business, distributors will play a key role in covering them all and bringing sales leads to channel partners
Selling with cloud service providers
Channel partners can also act as brokers to bring their customers together with service providers. This would see channel partners work with end user customers to optimise their applications or systems by using cloud infrastructure, whether that’s using a hosting company or public cloud provider. These services could be charged according to usage, such as the amount of data processed each month.
Channel partners will have flexibility in which cloud providers they use, as many end users will not be concerned about who is providing the back end, as long as they know they can contact their channel partner to resolve any issues.  
Another approach when working with service providers is for channel partners to become resellers of various software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service or infrastructure-as-a-service products. By working on behalf of cloud providers, they will be able to generate new revenue streams.
Becoming a cloud service provider
This is the most radical approach, but some channel partners may feel that offering infrastructure that they run and manage is worth the investment. Being able to sell services directly to IT end users will open up completely business opportunities.
Obviously this approach will require significant investment, so channel partners must be strategic and weigh-up the benefits they will gain from doing so. In addition, as they will be competing in the same space as other cloud service providers, they must ensure they won’t cannibalise any services they are reselling from other service providers.  
Thriving in the Cloud Era
Ultimately channel partners can pick and choose which approaches to take depending on the markets they are familiar with or want to expand in to. There is no good or bad answer, but channel partners will benefit by focusing on the approach or approaches that make most sense for them.
The channel partners that will find the most success with cloud solutions will be the ones that can communicate the benefits of the technology and unified cloud strategy to their customers most effectively. This is the key to ramping up sales of cloud products and services within the channel.
At the same time, it is important to determine which markets channel partners should target.  By doing this, they will be able to put the necessary assets – such as staff with the relevant skillset, updated product portfolios and potential new customers – in place.
If channel partners approach cloud technology in this way, they will put themselves in a strong position to thrive in the cloud era.

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