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Last year saw plenty of talk about ‘digital transformation’ with confrences, webinars and channel events all dedicated to talking about the pressure that customers were facing to change the way they ran their businesses.
Among all the talk of breaking down the operational siloes and making more digital links across the business the focus was almost entirely on what it all meant for the customer. They would be able to get improvements in efficiency, access to real-time business insights and by providing greater flexibility should get a happier and more productive workforce.
What digital transformation would mean for the channel was not quite so clear. They would be revenue opportunities around products and services but the sense that it would also cause changes in the way resellers ran their own businesses was touched on only briefly.
The suggestion that the channel would also have to undergo some digital transformation of its own was raised by analysts last year with warnings that customers would be looking for suppliers that practiced what they preached and had swallowed their own medicine.
The suggestion was that those which failed to show they had been able to improve their own operations through digital transformation would be less attractive as suppliers. Those that could not prove they had also undergone change were facing being left in the cold.
That idea is gaining ground and vendors are now looking to encourage partners to adapt their businesses to show they can break down the siloes and provide customers with a fully linked up sales and solution delivery approach.
Phil Croxford, director, EUC alliances & channels, EMEA at VMware, is keen to encourage its partners to view 2017 as a year when they not only help customers change their businesses but they do the same to their own.
“We have seen an evolution in our partner community. Some have dropped off the radar as the type of skills that customer and we need have changed over time,” he added “The expectations of value are constantly changing and constantly going up.”
For partners to make sure they are continuing to meet the customer needs more have to become digital transformation experts.
“The next level of value and services is at a time when this concept of digital transformation is foremost and in the customer minds and the partners need to be [becoming] digital transformation partners,” added Croxford.
Part of that process is to break down the barriers in a channel organisation between different sales team so a customer can be given access to a single story that covers mobility, security and cloud.
As well as creating a culture that can deliver solutions and services there is also a need for partners to get closer to customers to help vendors like VMware, which are producing some of the pieces of the technological jigsaw but not all of them.
“In order to be a digital transformation partner you need to understand the business well. What that means for us is looking at partners that have specific vertical knowledge,” said Croxford.
Channel players that understand retail, public sector, education and health are going to be in a strong position.
“It is filling in the gaps in our knowledge because at VMware we don’t typically have vertical skills. We need our partners to add on industry value,” he said.
As a result of that pressure to increase the consultancy skills there are expectations that this year will see more acquisitions in the channel as resellers buy that sort of expertise.
There are signs that digital is being taken seriously by some of the firms operating in the channel with Civica announcing earlier this week that it has set up a new division to concentrate on this area.
The Civica Digital business will target public and private sector clients wanting support with their transformation efforts and is no token effort with the division including almost 900 staff, bringing together the recent acquisitions Asidua, Web Technology Group, IPL and SFW into a coordinated organisation.
“All organisations are looking to transform the way they work and to make savings and there is increasing recognition that improvement is dependent on digital technology and automation. The launch of Civica Digital strengthens our position as a leading partner for our customers, and we are excited by the potential to help organisations transform services and improve lives," said Wayne Story, chief executive of Civica.
The time is right
The digital transformation ship might be straining on its mooring ropes but it has not yet left the harbour with many organisations yet to set out a strategy for change. This is welcome news for those in the channel that have yet to position themselves as experts ready to help customers in this area.
Research from Ovum that came out last month found that one third (33%) of enterprises globally are underprepared for “digital transformation”, which the analyst house described as “the process of replacing legacy networks and dedicated service platforms with a coherent digital environment that is flexible, cost-effective, and capable of delivering changes rapidly and dynamically”.
Banks were the most advanced in embracing change with retail lagging behind. Many in the public sector also expressed fears they were not in a position to deal with digital transformation.
“The uneven maturity of digital transformation by industry and country has created a complex landscape for sales teams to navigate,” said Daniel Mayo, director of IT, data and tools at Ovum.