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How was 2016 for you?

Amro Gebreel asks leading lights from across the industry to assess their highlights of 2016

Last year was historic for many reasons – Brexit and Trump are a couple that spring to mind – and it was also pretty eventful in the channel, with Dell and EMC coming together and plenty of talk about digital transformation.

To get a sense of just how the past 12 months went, we asked the great and the good across the industry for their thoughts about 2016.

Michael Collins, senior vice-president, channel, Dell EMC EMEA

It was an exciting year for Dell EMC in 2016. Following the merger of two of the world’s most established IT channel vendors, our partners now have unprecedented access to the industry’s largest portfolio of innovative solutions for enterprise.

Right now we are focusing on reaffirming our commitment to the channel with our extraordinary Dell EMC Partner Program which – when it goes live in February 2017 – promises to usher in a new era of productivity and profitability for our partners, combining the extensive expertise and reach of Dell and EMC with award-winning enterprise technology.

Feico Mol, head of channel programs, EMEA, Atlassian

The last 12 months have been hugely important to the development of our business and a large part of this success has been a result of the popularity of DevOps and the adoption of our enterprise offerings in the financial sector. One of our major plays in the UK market in 2016 was the continued adoption of cloud technology, either through software-as-aservice (SaaS) solutions or cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Our unique business model allowed us to sell software to increasingly more customers with little surprises along the way. This was largely through the continued support of the channel, which continues to be an important part of our go-to-market strategy.

DevOps was already a big trend in the technology space and I don’t see this changing as we move into 2017. In fact, I see DevOps taking off further as its impact on software development and other parts of the business become more clear – something which presents great opportunities for us and our customers.

Kevin Sparks, director of alliances and channels, Dell EMC UK & Ireland

Last year saw a big surge in interest in hyper-converged and converged systems, with flash at the core. It was the year of all-flash for Dell EMC. A huge amount of success has been seen, with Dell EMC marching ahead of its rivals due to the expansion of its converged portfolio. The channel is the route to market that can capitalise on these areas, driving a digital transformation discussion with customers.

We have been overwhelmed with the interest in the channel for the new combined companies’ portfolio and the support we have seen in setting up events in conjunction with many of our partners who want to challenge the norm and drive an opinion versus agnostic and traditional versus legacy approach from the channel. The partners who drive change, a new conversation and incremental opportunity have been rewarded with marketing investment, margin and top-line revenue gains.

The channel has a great opportunity in 2017. We expect to see more customer and partner events, with key themes being converged infrastructure, flash and hybrid cloud. We see further momentum in hybrid in 2017 as customers further evaluate on- and offpremise IT and realise that the production costs of cloud often outweigh the costs of a modern IT on-premise solution. There is a right place for all workloads, and workload assessments need to be the entry point for broader cloud discussions.

Paul Clarke, channel manager, 3CX

In 2016, CEOs became switched on to the rewards of flexible working. We have seen companies across the board adopt unified communications to boost productivity with relatively low investment. The unified communications market is forecast to reach $32bn by 2018 and many resellers have already moved to take advantage of this blossoming market.

Some workplaces have begun adapting to the increase in flexible working, for example by making more use of virtual offices and so reducing overheads and increasing profits. Unified communications played a pivotal role in this transition, as allowing this level of mobility and flexibility depends on comprehensive, reliable and low-cost communications. It is estimated that through remote working, IBM has saved $100m a year and as unified communications generates big savings while increasing profits, it has proved an easy sell for the channel. As well as selling unified communications packages, resellers have benefited from offering value-added services, such as installation and management.

Roy Duckles, vice-president of business development, Positive Technologies

Driven by an ever more potent threat landscape and continual breaches and attacks, cyber security across the board continues to grow. There is an interesting dynamic emerging, with fresher, more innovative approaches such as ours that can be nimble and effective, disrupting some of the big vendor status quo.

For us, this has manifested in two ways. First, it means we have had to invest heavily in educating the market.

Taking an advanced approach requires some explanation. Second, more risk means more room for growth, so we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour now the education has taken hold.

For the channel, the position that cyber security now has on the board table has provided a very clear opportunity. Channel partners able to help organisations address both technical and business risk are those that have flourished. Security is uniquely placed in the overall IT strategy to be able to do this, and it is not something that will slow down any time soon.

Michael Hack, senior vice-president of EMEA operations, Ipswitch

Research commissioned by Ipswitch in 2016 showed that almost nine out of 10 IT professionals had already invested in one or more intelligent systems.

This increased pace of adoption of intelligent systems and the complexities it created for IT teams presented new revenue opportunities for the channel in 2016.

Busier and more complex network infrastructures have presented a significant opportunity for VARs and MSOs as companies sought help in monitoring and managing their networks with the added complexity from official and unsanctioned intelligent systems.

But it is not just “officially sanctioned” intelligent systems that are gaining prominence on corporate networks. Artificial intelligence (AI) is cropping up all over the place. As such, it is not surprising to see that.

According to our research, more than three-quarters (78%) of IT professionals are now struggling with the challenges and threats of intelligent systems – not least keeping tabs on their presence and activity on corporate networks.

Also, more than half (54%) say their current analysis and visualisation capabilities will struggle to keep up with the broader march of intelligent systems.

Hubert Da Costa, vice-president of EMEA, Cradlepoint

Last year was when the channel saw the wide area network (WAN), as we have known it, die a death. Why build a private network to backhaul traffic to a datacentre only to pass the majority directly to the internet?

In 2016, the channel recognised that a WAN needs to connect people, places and things to internal and external applications.

For instance, mobile healthcare workers and first responders need their equipment, uniform with cameras attached and vehicles to be securely connected and managed while they work in the field.

This is all now possible through the cloud and I believe that in 2017 we will see software-defined networking truly come to the fore. Cloud-managed wired and wireless broadband combined with a flexible network-as-a-service offering will enable new product and service offerings and recurring revenue opportunities for the channel.

Steven Hastings, IT distribution channel director, indirect sales, Ricoh UK

It was a challenging year for many, but we at Ricoh had a positive year, with continued printer unit and revenue growth. Our projector range is particularly well received, with unit sales doubling from a year ago. We were optimistic about a strong end to the year, focusing on new SME and SMB-focused LED printer ranges and continuing to push our SP150 home office models.

Richard Lockey, UK country manager, Crayon

It was a year of considerable change, substantial consolidation in the market, but mainly a significant change in attitudes. Those in the channel are no longer relying on vendor innovation, but are actively pushing market and industry specialisations and relevant solutions, driving ecosystems to deliver true value to the end clients.

Obviously, many firms were nervous about Brexit and what it might do for their businesses going forward, and I guess we really don’t know what the longer-term impact will be – in the short term, we have seen price rises in the UK due to the immediate foreign exchange impact.

However, there are also many opportunities presented by such moments, and it is important to focus on those, while doing all you can to reassure your clients and guide them through the changes that might be presented around things such as data sovereignty.

People are also beginning to realise that the cloud in itself is not the panacea IT dreamed of in a solid state. To fully harness the benefits cloud brings and optimise their IT investment, they must present their board with a solid case and good software asset management has to be one of the starting points for that.

You have to consider existing investments and how they have, or have not, been maximised, at the same time as considering the obvious benefits that cloud solutions can deliver. That was certainly the message relayed to us by IT directors and CIOs in a recent survey we conducted with Vanson Bourne.

Tamas Kramer, EMEA head of public sector, Huddle

Last year’s iteration of G-Cloud, G8, continued to open the door for UK SME vendors to the public sector. The G-Cloud framework helps government organisations to directly award contracts without running lengthy, complicated and resource-intensive public procurement tenders. This is because it sets out standardised commercial and contractual conditions, which must be accepted by buyer and seller. This has facilitated our quick growth within the UK public sector – Huddle is now used by 80% of UK central government organisations, across local government and health and social care.

Going into 2017 and the release of G9, the government may need to tackle the issue of re-education of the framework, especially its benefits for buyer and seller. This is especially true for procurement departments that are not always aware G-Cloud is a direct award scheme and all contracts are pre-tendered. This means that by following the G-Cloud buying guide, they can directly award contracts to vendors, making the process much quicker.

Eric Martorano, senior vice-president of worldwide sales, Intermedia

Last year was a transformative year for UK channel partners. Fuelled by changing customer demand and the proliferation of cloud IT applications, many resellers started to realign their business objectives and transition to a managed service provider (MSP) model instead of remaining as VARs.

This has presented UK resellers with a significant opportunity to reinvigorate their businesses.

By updating their product portfolio to meet different customer needs and by striking long-term deals, MSPs are enjoying a steady stream of income, which gives them much greater financial stability. Last year proved to be a catalyst for UK resellers to start this transformation, and many more are expected to follow suit in 2017.

However, 2016 was also a year when UK resellers and their customers became lucrative targets for cyber criminals. Ransomware attacks, in particular, were a serious issue for the channel, with 48% of resellers seeing an increase in ransomware-related support inquiries.

This is having a huge impact on channel resellers themselves, with 45% admitting not billing their customers for the time spent in helping them recover from a ransomware attack.

In 2016, the UK channel realised how serious a threat ransomware is and resellers started putting defences in place to protect themselves and their customers.

As cyber criminals become more and more savvy, this trend is set to continue in 2017.

Eleri Gibbon, director, EMEA channels, Alert Logic

In 2016, organisations continued to shift to the cloud, with the channel playing an important role in this. Many traditional channel partners knew some time ago that they needed to change direction and move towards a cloud strategy or get left behind.

They are used to dealing with risk-averse central IT and procurement teams, but the cloud brings so much more involvement from other parts of the business, including developers, marketing and finance. The shift to the cloud also includes changes to skills, governance, security and culture – all of which require significant investment and time to do well, which is why I see some partners are less enthusiastic than they were a few years ago, as these areas have not been a core focus for them in the past.

In 2017, we expect cloud environments to grow and change rapidly, with channel partners having to demonstrate they can accelerate the value that technology brings to organisations. If channel partners want to differentiate, they will have to invest in the enablement and programmes on offer from cloud providers so they can give organisations confidence that they are engaging with partners that have cloud expertise.

At the same time, cloud providers have an obligation to continue to invest in the channel and make topics such as migration strategies, security and governance a key part of their programmes.

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