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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.

Dell Channels – All the right moves?

Channel Momentum

As some IT companies continue to consolidate and others split up, Dell is promising its channel partners consistency, stability and increased profitability. And it is showing:

  • Dell Channel revenue now represents more than 40 percent of overall Dell commercial revenue and its channel business is growing faster than the overall market

  • Channel revenue growth is up double digits in 10 of Dell’s top 11 countries year-over-year

  • Dell solutions are now available through three of top Distributors - Ingram, TechData and Synnex - and where Dell is experiencing growth in excess of 50 percent


To keep the channel momentum intact, Dell is pledging US$125 million in enhanced incentives to help channel partners bid and close new customer acquisitions and also deploy towards retention deals with existing customers.

As always, not willing to take any hype on face value Techaisle took to the streets to really talk with Dell SMB channel partners and especially those who have partnered with both Dell and HP. Over the course of last three weeks, Techaisle conducted over 25 depth interviews with SMB channel partners. The discussions clearly revealed that the partners have started to look at Dell rather seriously. As one of them said, “Dell has changed its approach and outlook towards channel partners after it went private. They monitor and coordinate with their partners just like any other OEM. They have changed their ways in how they strategize and have created their training plans to cater to our needs and are succeeding by actively collaborating.”

Another partner, based in Texas and focused on SMBs was more direct, “Dell hasn’t been looking at channel partners as a key to gain market share unlike OEMs like HP. A few months back only about a 30 percent of sales were driven by the channel partners and the rest was a result of Dell’s direct sales efforts. The reason is that Dell itself had a large sales team managing sales accounts. However, after Dell went private they have mended their ways in how they look at us. They have kept the key sales accounts with themselves and the rest have been distributed amongst the channel partners for further management and revenue generation which is a good step as it inculcates trust and sense of real partnership.”

Impressive Numerics

At one of my sit-down meetings, Cheryl Cook, VP, Global Channels and Alliances shared some impressive statistics:

  • Dell has 167,000 channel partners out of which 4,255 are Preferred and Premium partners.

  • Nearly 700 channel partners chose to become premier or preferred partners of Dell in 2014, a testament to channel commitment

  • Training uptake, (a top requirement of channel partners as per Techaisle SMB Channel study), was up by 54 percent in 1H’14. But more importantly, training on software solutions increased by 102 percent.

  • Over 82,000 deal registrations were processed, up 8 percent YoY and software (security, device management, data protection, systems management) deal registration was up by 32 percent

  • Rebates processed was also up by 23 percent during the same time frame

  • 4400 new customers were acquired through channels, transacted 10,000 new orders out of which 1200 were for storage and 1600 for software


Although she deftly skipped my question on how many named accounts have been formally handed over to channel partners she reiterated that Dell is continuing to maintain its compensation accelerator program which is yielding good results. Recently, a little over 200,000 greenfield accounts have been posted on the Partner Portal.

Investment in Training, Support, Lead generation, Consultative partnerships

Most channel partners that Techaisle spoke with agreed that Dell has been concentrating on technical training sessions and regularly assessing partners’ performance with a clear objective of empowering them with required product knowledge to be able to pitch to the right set of SMB customers in the best possible way. Unlike the immediate past, account managers from Dell have suddenly become approachable. Some partners went to the extent of telling Techaisle “we specifically like the pre-sales and sales trainings that Dell has designed for Channel Partners. At times I feel that their efforts in the field of training annoy us as there are multiple and repetitive requests for attending or undergoing the same set of trainings that we have already gone through. They do not yet have a system to remove these redundancies”.

Channels are also having good experiences working with Dell’s consultative approach. “Lately, we were dealing with a few SMB customers and they wanted the account managers and few other technical experts to be available on call. We worked together with Dell and closed 3 deals where the consultative partnership worked in our favor”, said an SMB channel partner based in California.

Dell is also investing in supporting the channels when they bid for complex engagements. Their pre-sales support has improved as compared to before as channels now have access to their technical resources who work along with partners’ technical teams in understanding customer requirements, existing customer infrastructure to suggest suitable solutions.

In addition to training and support Dell is making a series of investments to help channel partners by:

  • Making available 5X demo gear to facilitate proof-of-concept

  • Increasing number of Solution centers for partners to showcase Dell end-to-end solutions to their customers (granted not many SMB channel partners will take advantage)

  • Improving areas of financing such as extending credit and payment terms thereby assisting channel partners in better managing their cash flows. The terms announced are 75 days interest-free financing on all Dell purchases for an introductory period of 180 days


Are conflicts a thing of the past? Channels are cautiously optimistic

Dell seems to be diligently working towards building trust within its channel partners. Dell and its partners have had a love-hate relationship due to conflicts with Dell’s strong direct sales force across all divisions. In fact, with the progress made, channels are wishing that Dell limits its investment in its internal sales teams as it would in all probability bring back the channels to “square one”.

The channel partner community reminded us of unpleasant past experiences of “Dell snatching customers from their partners and dealing with them directly”. But they quickly added, “We haven’t come across such a scenario (lately) and would never want to face a situation like that”.

Another partner said, “Dell has always been known for their direct business and has ramped up their efforts in the indirect sales through channels around a year ago. Earlier, we never knew if a deal which is routed through us will be closed keeping us in loop (with our margins intact) or Dell may go ahead and deal with the customer directly. Now, this has completely changed and Dell itself directs the customers to go through us”.

An HP and Dell partner was eager to get his point across regarding lead generation saying that Dell is managing a nice balance while sharing potential customer details with only one partner. HP is not following this approach triggering conflicts.

End-to-End Solutions message is resonating

Dell is steadfastly focused on its end-to-end solutions strategy and channels are paying attention. “Dell offers support in implementing end-to-end solutions. They work with us in consultation to determine the best product and solutions based on SMB customer requirements. Account Manager from Dell works with us closely when we deal with such deployments. We get all the technical help required, if skills are not available with us. Dell offers us access to experts (both on calls and physically, when required) from functional areas when we deal with SMBs for deployment of end-to-end solutions”.

Channels are finding that not only end-to-end solution deals give them extra margins but also makes it easier to deal with Dell, namely, channels get a better attention from Dell. Techaisle feels that if selective attention becomes the norm then many Dell SMB channel partners may flounder.

A mid-west Dell SMB channel partner was very vocal when we spoke with him. “Dell is important while we engage in end-to-end deals with our customers. Dell’s role starts from pre-sales to the deployment of such engagements. They offer the required marketing set-up for the products and solutions. If we have to take care of these things on our own, I think our margins will squeeze and it will be difficult to sustain our business”.

Having a full portfolio of offerings also allows “non-end-to-end solution channel partners” to sell adjacent technologies. For example, “we have clubbed and sold Dell hardware with Cisco, NetApp and IBM storage management and security solutions”.

Then there are other channel partners who try and build solutions with a product from Dell as the center-point. “Based on customer requirements we will see if there is a Dell product suited to meet the needs. If yes, we pitch for it and if there isn’t a product suited, we may bundle it up with other solutions and design an end-to-end solution for our customer. If the customer wants to go with a specific product and Dell doesn’t have promising product in the area; in these cases we will bundle it up with other product and present it as an end-to-end solution to our customers”.

Lingering Channel Challenges

To my question on what should channel partners be expecting next from Dell, Cheryl Cook quickly points out her focus on strategic pillars of mobility, security and Big Data with big push on converged infrastructure and innovative storage solutions.  She counters me with a question on VMware EVO:RAIL and its “fantastic” suitability for the SMB market segment.

Channels are listening and echoing that the fastest selling Dell solutions are Rack and Blade servers. But they feel that Dell has not yet been able to position its Force10 and SonicWall offerings effectively and channels are losing to Cisco or HP.

As conflict is disappearing, trust is settling in, channels have a new gripe. When a customer floats an RFP to a number of partners, Dell seizes the responsibility to directly speak with the customer, decides which partner is in the best position to offer most favorable terms and informs other partners to step aside and not waste their time on a deal which may not land with them at all. This annoys the channel partners as they would like a fair opportunity to win the deal and gain a customer by cutting down on own their margins.

No Regrets – but could have been bolder

Looking at the last one year since taking the helm, Cheryl Cook has no visible regrets. After much coaxing and cogitating she says, “Perhaps we could have been bolder in our move” referring to speed of Dell’s organizational moves and intuitive proactive thinking. The future is bright and she and her team are committed to helping all partners – “narrow or broadline”.
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SMB Cloud Computing – Looking from Back to the Future

In the early days, the key question wasn’t “when?” but “what?” Looking back at 2011.

Four years ago, Techaisle’s 2011 SMB Cloud Adoption report began with a discussion of cloud awareness within the SMB community. Results showed that while SMBs were reasonably familiar with the terms “private cloud” and “public cloud” (recognized by 84% and 74%, respectively, of SMB respondents), “XaaS” had not yet entered the SMBs’ lexicon: less than 25%  were familiar with the term “hybrid cloud”, and IaaS and PaaS were also not commonly understood.

Discussions of reasons for adoption and barriers to cloud adoption also illustrate how much the cloud market has evolved over the past four years. In 2011, SMBs cited “simplified access through a browser from any location” as the second-most important reason to adopt cloud; in today’s multi-screen, mobile world, requirements have progressed much further, with an application interface layer capable of responding to different displays, a practical necessity for many business systems. Similarly, features like “eliminating the need to upgrade individual users” and “getting new features automatically” have become expected attributes of cloud, as attention progresses to issues like building agility and obtaining new capabilities. The data did highlight one issue that has remained constant from 2011 to 2014 though: as was the case with Techaisle’s most recent 2014 SMB cloud survey, the 2011 results emphasized a desire to increase IT staff’s efficiency as a key reason to embrace cloud.

In 2011, when asked, “What vendor actions would compel you to use cloud services?” 46% of small businesses and 38% of medium businesses replied that they would “never consider using hosted applications.” Today, of course, refusal to consider SaaS is still an option; but increasingly, it is an expensive, non-mainstream option – helping to remind us that “never” is not a good planning horizon for new technology.

Overcoming Cloud Adoption barriers of 2011

In many ways, a review of the list of barriers to cloud adoption cited by our 2011 respondents is even more helpful in illuminating increased SMB focus on cloud. In the 2011 research, respondents not using cloud were asked to specify the conditions that would prompt them to consider use of cloud services. The list of top responses is intriguing. The most frequent answer cited by 2011 respondents was “if the cost of owning the applications is significantly higher than renting them”. It can be argued that this condition has been met – that for many applications, ranging from office suites (where pricing for Office 365 is more compelling than for boxed versions of the software), to niche-specific applications where on-demand fees provide far superior economics than a combination of new hardware and licensed software, to the “fail fast” mantra used to apply cloud to emerging business opportunities (one which relies on the freedom to spin up and spin down applications quickly, without reference to the depreciation cycle associated with the underlying hardware), the economics of cloud are compelling for at least some applications.

Similarly, the second most frequently-cited condition that would prompt 2011 non-users of cloud to consider adoption – “if the application we need meets our needs completely” – is also often frequently met today, thanks to the explosion of niche-specific applications available from an ever-expanding universe of cloud application sources. Viewed in hindsight, we can see that cloud provides an ideal delivery platform (and associated business model) for addressing these conditions, which has in turn helped fuel cloud’s advance in the SMB market.

Where are we heading from here? Tracing the trajectory of SMB cloud usage

Through its relatively brief history, cloud projections have been hampered by the “hockey stick” phenomenon. Cloud is growing in multiple ways simultaneously: the number of firms using cloud is increasing, the number of individuals using cloud within these firms is increasing (e.g., as business users in different areas and IT workers find discrete uses for cloud-based systems), and the number of platforms and applications in use within each organization is increasing. These compounding growth curves drive extreme growth expectations that are difficult to digest.

Based on our most recent 2014 SMB cloud study we have constructed a “current and projected” perspective. The data serves to reinforce the belief that hybrid is emerging as the dominant cloud delivery model. Some of the hybrid growth numbers are extraordinary: use of “hybrid-only” is increasing by 87%, while the proportion of SMBs using a combination of private and hybrid is expected to grow by 122%, and use of all three of public/private/hybrid cloud is expected to increase by 130%.

However, even the figures that are less exceptional still relay an impressive underlying story. Take, for example, the “public only” group. Data shows that businesses using only public cloud will shrink by 20% within US-based SMBs. However, public cloud itself will be a growing part of SMB cloud delivery strategies and is actually poised to increase by 75% through the forecast period.

Using the same survey data based projection methodology we have created workload scenarios across sixteen different applications areas. The “full market adoption” scenario assumes that all SMBs reporting plans to adopt cloud do so whereas the “gradual adoption scenario” takes a different approach: it assumes that current cloud users will adopt each technology according to current plans, while new cloud users will adopt each technology only at current usage rates.

Data clearly shows the coming dominance of hybrid as a delivery model – which drives increased demand for both public and private cloud as well – and provides high-growth forecasts for cloud storage, data backup and cloud security at a workload level, and for vertical applications, content publishing, CRM and BI/analytics in SaaS. It can be difficult to parse through the many, extraordinary growth projections for cloud. By connecting user intentions for growth in overall cloud adoption with adoption patterns for delivery, workloads and applications, Techaisle provides its clients with the data needed to calibrate the growth needed to keep pace with or exceed the overall SMB cloud opportunity.

Related research report: SMB & Mid-Market Cloud Computing Adoption Trends

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Increasing role of BDMs in SMB Cloud and Mobility Security Management

Techaisle’s recently completed study on SMB IT Decision Making Authority: ITDM vs. BDM, examining the balance in SMB IT decision making authority between IT decision makers (ITDMs) and business decision makers (BDMs)  shows that BDMs are becoming increasingly involved in SMB cloud and security management processes. In 76 percent of SMBs BDMs have active roles in cloud security and in a whopping 87 percent of SMBs they are active in mobility security management.

Techaisle’s SMB IT Decision Making Authority: ITDM vs. BDM report provides data to substantiate a common theme: business management is taking a more active role in IT acquisition, deployment and management. This is especially true in cloud and mobility as BDMs are able to directly procure systems that support their business needs (such as CRM systems used by sales management) – avoiding IT’s processes and timeframe for deployment, and in some cases, avoiding input from IT altogether.

When we speak to ITDMs or IT suppliers who work with IT managers we are often exposed to the counter-argument against this newfound BDM freedom: that without effective IT oversight, cloud systems can become disconnected from the corporate IT infrastructure, creating silos of data, and potentially, security, audit, compliance and privacy risks.

To obtain insight into this issue, Techaisle asked survey respondents to identify who (by area of responsibility) has primary responsibility in each of 10 cloud security areas and 12 mobility security areas. Looking across both groups, we see at a glance that in both the small and mid-sized businesses business management is viewed as a source of access policy but the management of the security process is largely the preserve of IT.

Comparing Cloud and Mobility Security Management

The study shows that there are three key players in managing cloud and mobility security within SMB organizations – Business Management, IT Management and Service Providers. Business management involvement is higher than IT management in mobility security, 87 percent vs. 68 percent. Drilling down into the data we find that SMB BDMs take an active role in five out of twelve mobility security areas and have primary responsibility in seven security areas.

On the other hand, SMB BDM involvement in cloud security management is 76 percent which is almost same as ITDM at 78 percent. But unlike mobility security management, BDMs are actively involved in three cloud security areas and have primary responsibility in only one security area.

Within the mid-market businesses, IT management has a higher percent of involvement than business management for both mobility and cloud security administration. ITDMs actively participate in five of twelve mobility security areas and five of ten cloud security areas.

The above data does not imply that BDMs and ITDMs are not involved in all security management areas; in fact, they are but the roles and responsibilities shuttle between the two principle SMB custodians.

Comparing Small and Mid-market Businesses for Cloud security management

Drilling down into the cloud security management process only, the data reveals that BDMs are responsible for setting access policy in over 60 percent of cases – but all other steps in the process are primarily the responsibility of IT but with involvement from BDMs, from user authentication to ensuring consistency with audit, regulatory and compliance requirements and to ensuring that backup is regular, effective and testing.

When we turn our attention to the mid-market businesses, the first finding that leaps out at us is the more prominent role played by business management. In nine of the ten cloud security activities covered in the survey, medium business respondents report more non-IT management involvement than their small business peers – and in one step in the cloud security process (ensuring consistency with audit, regulatory and compliance requirements) medium business BDMs have similar level of responsibility as ITDMs.

Role of Service Provider in Securing SMB Cloud and Mobility solution deployments

Survey data presents a very interesting dichotomy about the role of service providers in securing SMB cloud and mobility solution deployments. Service providers are involved in 47 percent of SMBs for cloud security which is 35 percent higher than their involvement in mobility security. But for mid-market businesses they are 50 percent more involved in mobility security than cloud security. Out of the twelve areas, key roles played by service providers for mobility security are “Authenticating user identities” and “Deploying and updating malware and other security technologies on corporate-owned endpoint devices”. Within the ten different cloud security areas, service providers are most involved in “Safeguarding against unauthorized access” and “Authenticating user identities”.

It is interesting to note that both small and mid-sized businesses rely on cloud suppliers through the security process – interesting primarily because (as the saying goes) “you can’t outsource responsibility”. SMBs are free to rely on cloud suppliers for assistance through the cloud security process, but if/where there are breaches or other issues, the responsibility still rests with the business, not with the supplier. Techaisle believes that the proportion of SMBs –both small and medium businesses – who report that their cloud suppliers have responsibility for one or more cloud security activities should take a closer look at whether and how they might separate responsibility (which is a management requirement) from delivery (which may well be best outsourced to a cloud vendor). Here again, SMBs require guidance from security specialists to align practices with requirements.

Details about the report can be found here

Related research:

2014 SMB & Mid-Market Cloud Computing Adoption Trends

2014 SMB & Mid-Market Mobility Solutions Adoption & Trends

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Why some SMBs still are not Using Cloud?

The arguments for cloud are clear, and well-aligned with the specific interests of small and mid-market businesses, and ITDMs and BDMs. However, despite what appears to be a 24x7 stream of cloud information available to everyone with an internet connection, cloud is not ubiquitous – meaning that there are objections that prevent cloud from being introduced in some SMB environments.

To better understand cloud objections, Techaisle’s SMB Cloud Computing Adoption survey asked respondents “What are the key inhibitors to embracing cloud – what factors might prevent you from adopting new cloud solutions, and/or accelerating the use of current cloud solutions?”

Responses show that the traditional cloud bugbears of security and control continue to furnish obstacles to increased cloud penetration/acceleration. As the figure illustrates, SMBs are most worried about security of applications and corporate data, and about control over data, users and applications. 

techaisle-smb-cloud-adoption-inhibitors


Mid-market businesses also register a high rate of concern regarding the difficulty of integrating operational systems across hybrid traditional/cloud-based systems – and objection which, in Techaisle’s opinion, has real merit and will require attention (and solutions) from the cloud supplier community. This issue is of particular concern to firms with 100-249 employees – large enough to have diverse systems requiring integration, but not large enough to have deep IT resources capable of addressing the problem. We expect that this concern will spread both to larger firms as they move more workloads from on-premise to cloud or hybrid platforms, and to smaller firms as they adopt more SaaS systems (requiring cloud-to-cloud integration).

A drill down into inhibitors by employee size segment shows that the smallest organizations in both the small and mid-markets – the 1-9 employee micro-businesses, and the 100-249 medium businesses – have some unique issues. Micro-businesses worry about vendor lock-in – a reasonable concern, as these firms have neither the technical expertise nor the purchasing power to extricate themselves from supplier relationships if they experience difficulties. The 100-249 employee size groups, as detailed above, are worried about integration. Consistently, though, SMBs are concerned with questions of security and data/user/application control. Suppliers able to address these issues will benefit from expanded market opportunity.

Looking at this issue through the ITDM/BDM lens, we see that the principal objections – with one important exception – are defined by the roles that each group plays within their organizations. BDMs, as might be expected, are very concerned with control over business data (can we access and manage data in the cloud as well as we can on premise?), with connectivity (can we get to information and applications when we are on the road?), and with vendor lock-in (which can be seen as an extension of the data control issue). ITDMs, on the other hand, are more concerned with technical issues than their BDM peers: they are more likely to cite limitations in service access and integration issues as cloud impediments.

The one area where the pattern does not correspond to expectations is in security, where BDMs express higher levels of concern than ITDMs. Given that ITDMs are responsible for most aspects of cloud security, we would have anticipated more security-related concern from ITDMs, if not necessarily lower rates of security-related worry on the part of the BDM respondents.

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