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Unlike many of the corporate Yes Men of the IT industry, we journalists are never afraid of looking silly. So we thought we’d put some odd questions to veteran cloud expert Michael Frisby, who is managing director of Vuzion and Cobweb Solutions. in an attempt to solve some of the mysteries of the channel.
What was it like being a cloud pioneer in the days when the word ‘cloud’ meant ATM networking?
Tough. Most of the time was spent educating customers on the mode of delivery rather than the solution itself and none of the solutions provided were designed to be delivered as a cloud service. I doubt the Microsoft Exchange 2000 team had even heard the term “multi-tenancy”, which is when we started looking at providing Hosted Exchange.
In those days wasn’t the ASP model very similar in ambition to today’s version of the cloud?
Yes it was. I was responsible for setting up the Microsoft ASP Forum back in 1999 and Cobweb was one of the founding members, in fact we are the only surviving company from that time when Microsoft first introduced ASP Licensing (now known as SPLA). Cobweb has just passed its 20th birthday and I always say that we were delivering cloud services before they were called cloud.
Hang on: ATM networking, Token Ring, ASP. Do you see a pattern emerging? Weren’t these all technologies that the ‘experts’ said would prevail? Do analysts get anything right? Today’s Magic Quadrant is tomorrow’s tragic quadrant.
It’s a matter of timing – the promise of ASP is now being delivered in what we now call Cloud Services and so I would say analysts were correct in the impact ASP would have, it’s just that the name changed along the way.
I remember resellers being about flash cars, banter and a refusal to take no for an answer with aggressive sales techniques. is that still the case?
For me the role of the reseller is very different today. To stay relevant it is all about providing true value to your customers as it is so easy for a customer to switch provider of cloud services, often going direct to the vendor if desired. Only those resellers that build a trusted relationship with their customers and deliver true value will survive.
Do customers want a new type of relationship? Do they want someone who will listen, be attentive, pre-emptively hold doors open for them, understand their needs and not forget important dates and to be around to support them?
Once customers have moved to the cloud the providers such as Microsoft and Salesforce will keep them ever-green with no more IT upgrade projects to sustain the channel. To survive, resellers have to work out how to deliver value in new ways, helping customers continue to take advantage of the new value released every month by the providers of the underlying cloud service.
Are customers looking for Mr Good Var?
Always, and with the cloud it is easier than ever to switch resellers, to one who takes the time to understand what their customers want, knows what their value is, deliver a consistent great customer experience, and are prepared to continue to reinvent themselves to fit the changing landscape.
What skills are needed for your channel partners?
An ability to help customers build a digital transformation strategy of which cloud services will play a part in realising. Resellers need to help their customers solve their business challenges and grow value in their own businesses - not just supply hardware or software. As the underlying services offer more resellers have to find new ways to adapt.
How do you recognise a good channel partner?
One who is close to their customers, who understands their needs, has a clear understanding of where they add value and what their capabilities are; and just as importantly, where they don’t. To deliver a complete solution to customers today you have to be prepared to work with others – “owning the customer” is not a valid concept (and never really has been) as a customer will only stay with you if you provide value, a great service, and customers control themselves. To help a customer take advantage of E5 within Office 365 they need to be an expert in productivity and collaboration, advanced security, business intelligence and telephony – and so partners need to work together to help customers realise the full value of the ever more capable cloud services being provided.
How do you help them come to market?
First we help develop their understanding of what services and solutions they should be taking to market and where to add value. Second, we help with operational efficiency by providing Billing and Support services, so resellers don’t lose their margin working out how to bill the customers or worrying about 24*7 support.
Next, we develop their technical capabilities through training programmes. Finally, we help partners acquire more customers more quickly, and grow customer lifetime value.
But… are those glory days over?
It is certainly possible to still earn a great living as a reseller if you listen to your customers, deliver a great differentiated service, particularly if you can develop some of your own IP along the way!