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Customers are demanding sustainability from channel partners

Caring about the planet is not just a nice thing to do but something that Karlton Gray, channel director at Schneider Electric UK & Ireland, believes the channel needs to do to continue to attract business

Sustainability has become a key pillar in the IT channel, ever more crucial to customer decision-making. With growing awareness of the impact of climate change, perspectives have changed in recent years, and the potential environmental effects of tech purchasing decisions are now just as important to customers as traditional pricing considerations once were.

Looking forward, what this means it that sustainability is now of utmost importance to the channel community, and when defining what the modern channel partner should look like, channel analyst Canalys recently stated that as for partners: “Sustainability needs to run through every offering and every service you do. Being able to position sustainability as a part of your IT-as-a-service offers is going to be key to your resale success.”

What is driving sustainability in the channel?

Interestingly, Canalys confirmed that the environmental accountability of IT investments will be one of partners’ customers’ top priorities within the next two to three years. It will also be one of the most important drivers of IT-as-a-service, with customers wanting to ensure the accountability and the visibility into their IT investments.

The good news is that the channel is already embracing sustainability. Research published in 2020 by IDC’s dedicated practice, European technology for sustainability and social impact, examined how important sustainability is to IT decision-makers when selecting suppliers or services partners. In a study of 700 organisations across Europe, IDC discovered that that six out of 10 European businesses cited sustainability as either a “very important” or “extremely important” business priority.

Technology, and with it increased electrification and digitisation, remains a primary vehicle for achieving sustainability KPIs. More than half of European companies have said they are investing in technologies to improve sustainability performance. For the channel, this means sustainability is becoming a primary competitive differentiator, and 41% of companies are already seeking assistance from their IT services partners to incorporate sustainability targets into the products, services and solutions they deliver.

Also, 60% see these as playing a crucial role in helping them achieve their sustainability goals, and, more critically, close to 60% of organisations in Europe are including sustainability objectives into RFPs.

In fact, a Schneider Electric and 451 Research report found that 97% of customers are asking for contractual sustainability commitments within the datacentre space, and in 2020, HP won more than $1bn in new sales where sustainability criteria were a known consideration in the deal. What is clear to see is that sustainability has become a key selling point for partners.

How can partners become more sustainable?

With sustainability becoming commonplace in the channel, at Schneider Electric we believe we will continue to see greater uptake of Green Premium technologies. These are circular solutions that include environmental product disclosures, such as RoHS and REACh compliance details, and those that can help end-users understand their embodied carbon footprint.  

Moreover, with greater volumes of IT and critical infrastructure supporting the demand for accelerated digital transformation, partners are broadening their digital services portfolios within the fields of sustainability and IT energy management.

For resellers, this means new digital service models based on managing distributed IT, providing mission-critical maintenance support, and energy management services are beginning to emerge as a means to address sustainability initiatives within digital transformation RFPs.

Also, new consultancy organisations or services that can help customers modernise, upgrade or retrofit outdated infrastructure, and those that can drive energy efficiency for a lower carbon footprint (or energy bill), are becoming a key focal point with end-users.

Here, partners with specialist expertise in energy efficiency, UPS and power management, and edge computing are likely to see success, but integral to this is that the vendors with whom they work are focused on the same sustainability ambitions.

Decarbonising the supply chain

In recent years, Schneider Electric has announced a number of net-zero commitments, which will see us increase support for both customers and partners and empower them to achieve their own sustainability objectives. For example, between 2021 and 2025, we aim to reduce CO2 emissions from our top 1,000 suppliers while delivering 800 million tonnes of saved and avoided carbon emissions for customers.

This strategy requires not only a greater focus on embedding sustainable practices across our partner supply chain, but also helping customers to create and meet long-term objectives that will ingrain sustainability.

Further, we have launched the Zero Carbon Project, an initiative to halve the carbon emissions of our top supply chain partners by 2025, a call to action that is already joined by 91% of them. For end-users hoping to address scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, decarbonisation within their supply chains and supplier ecosystems is essential and means channel partners have a critical role to play.

This can be seen in both the manufacturer technologies they choose to specify and via their own corporate sustainability commitments.

Becoming a trusted adviser on sustainability

Many channel firms already seem to be on the right path, and research by Agilitas IT Solutions has revealed that 84% of UK IT channel leaders are optimistic about adopting more eco-friendly processes throughout their supply chains now and in the future.

In fact, the report revealed that sustainability is now directly linked to building resilience among IT channel leaders, and when asked to identify which areas of their organisation they are implementing change, 45% of respondents said they had already begun driving their sustainability and circular economy efforts, with a further 40% committed to introducing them in the future.

Interestingly, research from Canalys has also highlighted how only 23% of partners have developed solutions to help customers manage energy consumption, which means there remains a significant opportunity for channel businesses to help customers manage their mission-critical IT applications more closely in a bid to reduce their environmental impact.

What is also critical, however, is that the business conversation surrounding sustainability changes, and that partners can continue to help their customers define and measure a tangible return on investment. Whether that is through lowering their operating costs, reducing their carbon footprint, or indeed minimising their energy consumption, having the right partner ecosystem will be critical to reach their sustainability goals.

Karlton Gray is channel director for the UK and Ireland at Schneider Electric. He is a seven-year veteran of Schneider’s Secure Power division and has held numerous roles within the company, managing large-scale enterprise, corporate and e-commerce channel partners, including CDW, Softcat, Comms Express, Ebuyer, CCS Media, Misco, Amazon and Bechtle.

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