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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

The power of P2P partner ecosystem collaboration is a strategic imperative

Management of P2P ecosystems is not a core focus of many vendor channel organizations – but it will be increasingly crucial to success in providing channel coverage for complex technologies. One distinguishing characteristic of a traditional channel firm is its ability and willingness to test, learn about, deploy, integrate and support new solutions as customers need them. However, increasing solution complexity has made it more difficult for channel partners to master all of the different technologies required by their clients. This has, in turn, led the channel to look at partner-to-partner (P2P) alliances as an alternative to the building (through training/certification) or buying (through new staff hires or acquisitions) unique expertise whenever required. Vince DeRose, President, PEAK Resources, Inc., said it very well, "it is difficult to staff engineering/delivery talent for every solution we sell. Training and certification are generally required to have a meaningful and relevant relationship with a manufacturer/OEM." Techaisle research shows that costs are high for staffing skills with certifications. In an increasingly complex market (e.g., IoT, hybrid IT), partners need access to many products – certainly more than they can afford to be certified. Certifications may work for some products, but they constrain options for partners dealing with configurable solutions. P2P collaboration is the panacea for delivering complex customer solutions.

The enduring issue of Partner-to-Partner

PEAK Resources, a 30-year-old DMR, actively believes in and participates in P2P to augment skill gaps – technical and geographical. Initially, most of its IT skills focused around IBM offerings, but now there are many prominent vendors in the market with varying solutions and platforms to meet changing customer demands, such as Cisco, VMware, Dell, and more. In addition, projects are becoming much more complex, requiring many different and complex IT skill sets to solve for the customer. Vince DeRose continues, "a P2P platform, like P2P Global, Inc. is vendor agnostic. It works specifically great for emerging technologies and vendors who have immature partner programs. Vendors are making efforts to develop their P2P enablement programs. Still, most see their platforms filling a gap in their portfolio instead of partners' preference for fulfilling a skills gap. "

Techaisle saw this trend start to take root with security, where deep and diverse protections (and threats) opened the door to mainstream channel collaboration with MSSPs and other specialized security providers. However, the channel partners could not immediately replicate the security experience in other areas. Channel partners often act as gatekeepers, reducing client exposure to other solution sources and internalizing as much of the IT-related business requirements as possible.

Still, though, with the industry-wide trend away from rigid solution definition and towards fluid, flexible configurations that integrate multiple components, P2P collaboration (and from a vendor's perspective, ecosystem alliances) is moving from opportunistic to strategic. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed technology and IT companies to become more flexible and quickly roll out more efficient and seamless digital solutions for partnering and completing projects.

CohnReznick, a 100-year-old firm specializing in tax and audit work and deep expertise in ERP core consulting for midmarket firms, has strategically jumped into P2P ecosystem participation. But, again, the pandemic was the great accelerator. It joined P2P Global, and whose "platform shines as it is laser-focused on curation versus throwing up matches like a job board type solution," says Reed Dailey, Director, Strategy, Technology, and Transformation, CohnReznick.

Partnering To Be Efficient

Techaisle sees solution packaging as a customer choice issue – and customers are choosing to move from turnkey systems to hybrid environments that can align with their evolving needs. In many cases, this requires an accelerated frequency of partner-to-partner collaboration. Real-world demands for predictable, rapid responses to customer demands requires that channel businesses be proactive in building effective relationships with trusted allies.

Karl Kleinert, Director, Advisory Services, CohnReznick, adds, "typically, the vendor solutions are closed ecosystems to their network, but end-customers are not only buying or using solutions from one vendor. We are in a heterogeneous world. The vendor platforms break down pretty quickly in terms of their partner networks as soon as a partner has a project with even a minimal level of complexity that requires ancillary and adjacent technologies. We are very particular about the partnerships that we enter into and make sure we have a route to market model that fits us and that we have good rules of engagement and well-defined roles and responsibilities. Customers are demanding new technologies, which exposes new skill gaps within the partners. A vendor agnostic P2P collaboration platform gives us the kind of flexibility that is important for business success. A good example was a rollout of Infor's Birst data analytics solution supporting a global ERP deployment. CohnReznick owned the overall implementation, and we leveraged another partner for the data migration."

Informed by end-user and partner survey research, Techaisle sees substantial and increasing demand for solutions integrated around data rather than physical system components. The escalating requirement will require changes in channel go-to-market strategies. Channel businesses that are not actively developing P2P capabilities will be vulnerable to gaps in their ability to meet customer expectations, reducing their ability to maintain solid and profitable relationships with existing clients. Results from the 2021 research indicate that channel businesses that are effective in P2P are more likely to experience growth – and higher growth – than those that rarely collaborate with other channel members. Vendors with solid ecosystem management programs with a platform that helps facilitate P2P collaboration have an opportunity to help engaged partners to obtain above-average returns, strengthening the vendor and its partners alike.

The Benefits of a P2P Ecosystem

Connectria, a 20-year-old managed services and cloud migration services provider with 180 partners, is "getting its feet wet" in the P2P ecosystem collaboration space by recently joining P2P Global. Jeff Swartz, Director, Channel Sales, Connectria, said, "our objective is to glue our partners together so not only do they get the benefits of doing business with us, but they also get the benefits of doing business with all of our other partners." For ten plus years, Connectria has been in IBM Power hosting business but has been branching out into managed services for AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. Connectria is successfully conveying the message to its customers that it is essentially bringing them more value. P2P Global allows it to expand on the relationship that it has with existing customers. "Particularly over the last year, customers want to see more value from the suppliers they are doing business with, not value addition but value creation. Value addition is akin to selling hardware which is a race to the bottom with very little money,", says Jeff Swartz.

One of the core tenets of channel-ready products is that they are 'designed for relevance, rather than elegance' – that they predictably address a defined issue, rather than being designed so that they can be applied to address a range of potential issues. Resellers then build these products into turnkey solutions that help a target audience to achieve a defined outcome. One result of this approach was that vendors connected to partners in a 'hub and spoke' model, where multiple partners relied on one vendor for a component of a turnkey solution, and the vendor relied on numerous partners to deploy their products within well-defined target markets.

Ecosystem Partnerships

John Guido, CEO, and Founder, P2P Global Inc., has a great perspective on the IT channel and provides valuable insight, saying, "We developed P2P Global to help facilitate P2P engagements for channel partners – to help them solve for skill gaps. In the end, while our platform is easy to use and very efficient, it is only a tool. If a solution provider believes they can deliver more customer value and competitive advantage by leveraging an ecosystem approach, then they will also need to create a company culture that embraces scaling partnerships. While we know our platform can help deliver ecosystem value, we also know continuing to scale membership will be critical to further our value proposition. I believe vendors and distributors will be key to scaling and enabling their channel partners to participate in platforms like ours."

In the "as-a-service" world, a solution is based not on a defined hardware/software configuration but the orchestration of multiple on-demand services integrated with existing legacy systems. In an important sense, this is a liberating factor for the channel partner. However, it also means that channel partners have to increase their collaboration with other channel members, not opportunistically but frequently, similar to what PEAK Resources (a DMR), Connectria (an MSP), and CohnReznick (a consulting firm) are doing.

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Continuously improving IT security is both an SMB challenge and a USD68B opportunity for suppliers

Small and midsized businesses find it challenging to defend their users, applications, and data against external threats. Data from Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket security research reveals 63% of US SMBs report that they experienced one or more cyberattacks in the last year, contributing to an average of 3.6% of revenue loss attributable to security incidents. For 46% of SMBs, preventing cyber-attacks is one the most pressing and critical IT issues. Yet, 59% of SMBs are very confident that their firms could recover from a cybersecurity incident. Nevertheless, security issues cast a long shadow over SMB IT priorities, especially as firms embrace the benefits of hybrid work, hybrid IT, only to find that their environments become more complex and more challenging to manage and protect. SMBs respond by expanding security budgets – but they lack the staff and expertise to construct effective shields around their organizations. The channel, working with leading-edge products like those from Fortinet, Cisco, Dell Technologies, Palo Alto Networks, has an essential role to play in defending their clients’ SMB businesses against security threats.

The origins of the saying “it’s about the journey, not the destination” may be unclear. Ralph Waldo Emerson, theologian Lynn H. Hough, Canadian rapper Drake, or others may have said the phrase, but its applicability in an IT security context is clear. There is no endpoint at which security is ‘done’; security requires constant updating to stay current with expanding threat vectors.

This requirement for continuously improved IT security is both a challenge and an opportunity for security suppliers.

What is the opportunity?

Techaisle has pegged global SMB security spending in 2023 at $68 billion. However, high IT security spending levels and growth rates mask an underlying sense of confusion concerning safeguarding emerging cloud and hybrid IT environments – and a lack of resources to address this problem. Compounding – or perhaps, causing – the lack of clarity into cloud security issues and the relatively tepid adoption rates for cloud security solutions is that SMB IT operations are under-resourced. Without specialized staff, SMBs cannot keep pace with the constantly changing threat vectors and security options.

The lack of insight by small businesses becomes clear: only 5% have IT security staff. 44% of midmarket firms have an average of three full-time internal security staff, but the demands of a business of this size would exceed a single individual’s bandwidth. The percentages more than double for upper-midmarket firms. Simply put, SMBs lack the bench depth needed to dedicate IT resources to security. Everywhere within the SMB segment, there is a mismatch between available resources and the depth of the skills required to keep pace with security needs.

The lack of understanding of a threat associated with a widely-used platform on the one hand, and the lack of IT staff resources available to address security concerns on the other, produces a clear conclusion: SMBs need suppliers to step up to the delivery of secure IT environments.

In many cases, these suppliers will be the mainstream channel partners who supply the SMB’s technology and act as the IT management presence within the SMB’s business. In other cases, including in many midmarket environments, the source of security products and services will be specialized managed security providers who focus tightly on operating SOCs and protecting client environments. In some scenarios, firms will ‘land’ by entering a client account from one of these positions and then ‘expand’ to serve a broader range of IT supply needs – crowding out competitors who can’t address the risk and compliance issues that are central to the CEO’s mandate.

What is the security supplier call to action?

As security suppliers move towards managing SMB security needs, they need to address the pace at which their clients absorb new offerings. Small businesses will not embrace eight new technologies, nor are midmarket firms going to integrate fourteen new solutions into their environments. Even if this were possible from a budget perspective, it would cause chaos in the business.

Instead, suppliers of security services need to co-create a security roadmap with their SMB, which starts with assessing the customers’ executive teams’ tolerance for risk. What absolutely must be secured, and in what order? The security supplier can then identify the solutions that best fit the customer’s immediate and longer-term needs and then deploy, integrate and manage the solutions over time. After all, data shows that 45% of SMBs feel it will be beneficial for them if an external services firm can help define and implementing security policies.

One key point of exposure in this process is the ability to ensure that different solutions work together. In the cloud world, and increasingly in the on-premise world as well, channel partners and MSPs focus on integrations: the breadth of a single vendor’s product line, plus – and importantly – the extent to which third parties develop and support links to a firm’s products.

There will be no slowdown in the digital transformation of SMBs; their business infrastructure will increasingly rely on technology. Likewise, there will be no slowdown in the threats to that infrastructure; as reliance on technology increases, so does the potential bounty for attackers. And as a result, there will be a continuous and growing need for IT security services – which will sustain firms adept at delivering and managing security solutions that combine expertise and industry-leading technology.

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Collaboration is 2nd top IT priority for SMBs and the top IT challenge for upper midmarket firms

Collaboration is pervasive and critical to SMBs. Techaisle's most recent Small business (1-99), midmarket (100-999), and upper midmarket (1000-5000) survey looked at collaboration as a discrete category and found that it is the second-most prominent solution area and IT priority, behind the cloud. Collaboration is a top IT priority for 96% of SMBs. In 24% of small businesses, 40% of midmarket firms, and 62% of upper midmarket firms, IT is being challenged to implement modern collaboration software solutions and hardware devices. There is a wide-ranging trend towards seeing collaboration as part of the fabric of business activity, rather than merely a means of enabling connections between discrete tasks. It is a core component for digital transformation, and innovative businesses embed it in their organizational DNA.

What is innovation? Innovation relates to SMB's ability to unlock business value through the effective use of digitally transformed infrastructure. Techaisle's SMB survey research data shows that high-growth, highly innovative SMBs differ significantly from low-growth and less innovative firms in their use of collaboration technologies. They are using collaboration solutions enterprise-wide, not in silos. Collaboration is a central component of virtually all of their business processes. They know that innovation happens best in collaboration and not in isolation.

Collaboration solution adoption business drivers are changing

The collaboration adoption drivers are changing. There is a 100% increase in speed of innovation and a 200% increase in support for hybrid work as collaboration adoption drivers. In recent years, the need to build synergy across dispersed team members and respond to customer conversations has become vital business drivers for collaboration solution adoption. Still focused on creating central information repositories, new SMB buyers also emphasize speed of innovation and the need to speed decision making and improve teamwork. Collaboration is necessary for decision agility, business agility, and innovation agility. Our data shows that 72% of SMBs consider collaboration contributes to topline revenue growth which is an outcome of business agility.

The future of work has become very complex. Collaboration is more important in complex, interconnected digital transformation work environments. For example, 58% of SMB employees expect to continue to work from home post-pandemic. As a result, mobility, cloud, and collaboration are important trends in today's market, and they are tightly interconnected. This interconnection empowers collaboration. Collaboration is most powerful when connected, intuitive and pervasive, so deeply ingrained in the employee's infrastructure fabric that its use is a natural extension of their work environment.

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Mission, Migration, and Modernization – three pillars of AWS Partner Program

There is no doubt that Amazon AWS has been a cloud leader since 2006. Channel partners are an essential cog in the wheel of success. The AWS Partner Network (APN) is the umbrella under which its global community of partners builds solutions and services for their customers. Over the years, APN has evolved to include an MSP program, distribution program, marketplace channel program, and partner transformation program, amongst many others. Despite the evolution, AWS is not particularly well-known for its partner program, except if the partner is a significant consulting partner such as Accenture, Deloitte, Mphasis, and several others or a technology partner of size, stature, and brand recognition. However, the AWS Partner Network (APN) does include more than 100,000 Partners from more than 150 countries, with almost 70% headquartered outside of the US.

Over the last decade, there has been an industry-wide change in engagement models to support smaller channel partners. Except for top-tier partners, vendors have distanced themselves from direct oversight of channel marketing initiatives, relying on distributors to manage market development resources. The changes have made it more difficult for channel organizations to maintain predictable operational arcs. They have also made it more difficult for vendors to build and nurture high-performance partner networks. As a result, almost every week, we field two questions from the channel partner community. 1/ Does AWS have a partner program for the midsized to smaller partners? 2/ How does its program differ from Microsoft's (and increasingly from Google Cloud) channel partner initiatives?

The questions and reality are on parallel tracks. The overwhelming majority of AWS partners are smaller businesses. AWS has intentionally designed the entry point of its programs to be inclusive of small businesses. For example, consulting or SI partners only need four trained employees, two certified employees, and three engagements with customers. ISVs only need to complete a Foundational Technical Review.

Sandy Carter, Vice President of worldwide public sector partners and programs at Amazon Web Services (AWS), is transforming the program to be inclusive and diversified, at least for the partners focused on the worldwide public sector – government, healthcare, education, not-for-profit, space, federal financials, and energy. Mission, modernization, and migration are the three pillars of partner enablement and empowerment. Mission is not about simply migrating something over or performing an IT function; it is about delivering a business value for the organization, agency, state, or country. There are many examples, such as digitizing a hospital, leveraging supply chain technology to get food to the right place, or leveraging AWS technology to deliver vaccines. Modernization for AWS is about using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT. Finally, migration is more wide-ranging than the other two, with three converging tracks – application migration, mainframe migration, and data-led migration.

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