Taken from a 2009 White Paper, this image shows the new competencies required from partners to make the transition from traditional reseller to Cloud Aggregator or Cloud Reseller. What Techaisle described was the opportunity to become either an aggregator, by becoming the equivalent of a “first tier” distributor (positioned between the vendor and resellers who then sell to end-users), or as a Cloud Reseller, selling directly to end users.
Competencies required for the aggregator include the ability to aggregate services and integrate them across services, either data across applications or building solutions between infrastructure, communications and application services. In addition, core competencies were/are needed in the areas of service provisioning and datacenter management. Then an Aggregator needs to be able manage reseller relationships with structured sales and marketing programs, implementation and post-implementation support for the channel, and tier 2 customer support for end users. Given these demanding requirements and the price pressure, it is not surprising that larger organizations like Dell have been the companies to aggressively pursue this strategy and taking advantage of an existing hardware and storage business to offer a full solution stack to resellers and Enterprise customers. As we have written on several occasions, the SMB channel is being squeezed by several trends including the rise of the Digital Channel, Self-Service Applications, Remote Management Dashboards, Plug-and-Play Horizontal Applications, and others. These make the aggregator approach difficult and susceptible to commoditization, more so given the additional challenges of recruiting, managing and supporting an additional tier of resellers. As a result, there has been a lot of confusion around how to make money as an aggregator, and the assumption that a solution has to include all layers in the stack: Computing, System Software, Storage, Network and Application. Even considering wholesale remote infrastructure availability, channels are confused about which layer to start with, how to choose the vendors, where to recruit staff, how much investment, how to migrate existing customers and many other questions have prevented many channel partners from making the move.
The other option for SMB channels is to move existing and new customers to cloud-based services, which still requires embracing new technologies, and figuring out how to add value through specialization, integration, customization and/or all-in-one provisioning, maintenance and support. With that as background, we can move into the topic in the headline: What the SMB channel needs from Cloud-based Service vendors. The partners here represent VARs/SIs, ISVs and SPs, and are more typical of the Reseller category rather than the Aggregator.
In a recent survey of SMB Channel Partners who offer Cloud-based Services, the most important need from Cloud Vendors was for an SLA that guarantees availability. SLAs were cited as most important by Service Providers and VARs/Sis with 61% and 59% respectively, which brought overall average to the top of the list at 53% of all partners surveyed. This is consistent with what we have heard directly from SMBs, who are using the SLAs as a proxy for the brand of underlying infrastructure and system software of the applications. The effect of this is strongest on hardware vendors, whose equipment is becoming increasingly commoditized by plug-and-play infrastructure and exacerbated by a digital channel that uses self-service interfaces and management dashboards instead of on site visits. In a similar vein, the next requirement also comes directly from SMB customers, who want access to 24x7 support services. As SMBs move to SaaS and Remote Services, outsourcing infrastructure and applications exposes them to more risk and loss of control, increasing the need for the security of a 24 hour Support Desk to reduce the perceived risk of “offsite everything”. These first two needs line up with SMB purchasing criteria, ironically two of the other most important factors are Price and Data Security. That they are not passed on as needs to the vendors probably suggests that these are largely under control – users also typically rated high levels of satisfaction in these areas.
Most of the remaining issues relate to two categories: Product Related and Partner Program Related.
Product Needs included better methods of integration, a broader catalog of applications and single sign on across applications.
Partner Program Issues included better notification of upgrades, changes and downtime – providing onsite training, having a policy concerning data migration to competitive products, and ability to offer discounts for paying annual fees upfront.
Vendors and Cloud-Services Aggregators should keep these needs in mind to develop the best Cloud Partner Programs, and SMB Resellers should use these vendor capabilities to select the right Vendor/Aggregator to work with as they migrate customers from a traditional offers to Cloud-based solutions.