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Skills are an area where the channel can add value

Customers want help with digital transformation and technology and those in the channel investing in skills will be best placed to serve them

Technology is moving at an extremely fast pace and one of the biggest challenges for customers served by the channel is understanding how to use it. Those resellers who understand the technology have the best chance of making full use out of it and that is key for customers going through a digital transformation.

Research from Interoute highlights how important digital transformation has become, as 59% of 120 IT leaders said they are pursuing it over the next year. However, these customers often need help when transitioning from their traditional systems to newer ones.

Better service for customers

Interoute’s, senior channel director, Steve Mace, says that resellers can build up relationships with customers by helping them through this process: “For those resellers and partners with the knowledge and sector experience of migrating and integrating existing and legacy systems with new infrastructure for customers, there is an opportunity to become trusted advisors, bridging the skills gap surrounding digital transformation.

“The channel needs to master how cloud, governance and service management fit customer requirements; understanding which vendor’s products and platforms are best suited for each opportunity. This value-added service is vital for businesses that operate in the channel to remain competitive.”

In order to offer that level of support, the reseller has to “keep up-to-date with each iteration of the cloud”, he adds.

Offering this “value-added service” is more important than ever for resellers, as just providing a product is not enough for customers anymore. The market is competitive and providing that extra support will stop the client from looking elsewhere, says Guy Bunker, senior vice president of products at Clearswift: “If the channel is not able to step in and become the trusted expert, then someone else will. It might be another channel partner, or the customer may end up going direct to a vendor or a consulting organisation.

“The channel today is facing a competitive threat from small consulting organisations as well as accountancy and legal firms. The latter two are already ‘trusted advisors’ to the business and they realise that they can offer more – particularly around information security.”

In a similar vein, Giovanni Goduti, vice-president of Europe at Barracuda Networks, highlights the importance of making the switch to offer more value: “Even the most traditional of partners, that have generally maximized profits through selling just licenses, have made the transition to be able to offer increased value and options to their customers. We’re seeing customers increasingly relying upon partners, specifically in the form of managed services.

“It’s such a competitive market out there, with many partners fighting for the same business, that in order to survive, Channel partners now need to deliver real value.”

He also suggests the vendor can work with the distributor to provide an even better service for the customer: “The best approach is when the vendor works jointly with the channel partner to bring both sets of skills and support to the end user – whilst the vendor is the expert in the creation and installation of their solutions, the reseller can integrate that product with the rest of the customers environment and address out any environmental or network issues that may arise.”

The fact that a rising number of SMBs are using print systems as a service, instead of traditional hardware, is one example of a transition as part of a digital transformation. Phil Jones, managing director at Brother UK, says that having an understanding of the customer itself is also key for resellers when dealing with a change like this: “This transition requires channel firms to develop a thorough understanding of a business relatively quickly and have the necessary expertise to design tailored print systems, act as an adviser and deliver a solution to meet the organisation’s needs.

“It’s a critical time for resellers to be investing in learning and development.”

Apprentice schemes

Organisations in the channel are using apprentice schemes as one of the methods to try and plug the skills gap. UKFast is one of the partners that has recently increased the number of apprentices as part of its workforce, rising from 60 to 100.

Similarly, Computacenter has taken on over 180 apprentices aged 16 to 18 since it started its programme in 2013. Craig Cobb, future talent consultant at the company, referred to them as a “critical part of the business”.  He also highlighted that 73% of those on the scheme have gone on to stay at the company, after completing a 12-month course.

These types of scheme benefit both parties as the apprentices can save money on university tuition fees and the companies acquire their talent. Jones says because of the environment these people have been raised in, this generation comes with “digital knowledge”, which can be developed, and they can gain experience. He adds: “Apprentices are our future experts, so it’s a great way of keeping a constant supply of talent coming into the industry.”


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