July 18th, 2019

STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Paul Harman and Wesley Lawrance from the Technology Solutions division at Westcoast share how the distributor is positioning itself at the heart of the digital transformation revolution, and ensuring its reseller partners are able to keep up with the seemingly frantic pace of technology change through ongoing investment in tailored services and support, and its deep strategic relationship with market driving vendors such as HPE.

Distribution has gone through an unprecedented period of change over the last few years, with the sector shrinking considerably through M&A and consolidation. Despite countless predictions over the years that the role of a distributor would eventually become redundant, it has, in fact, emerged as a crucial support system for both vendors and resellers, as technological advancements continue at a rate of knots.

Westcoast has been at the forefront of change, and has been working hard behind the scenes to stay relevant to its customers and ahead of the competition. A case in point being the Technology Solutions division, which has recently undergone its own restructure process to ensure it is future-proofed for the ongoing challenges such as digital transformation, cloud technology and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Harman explains: “The restructuring was about making sure we’re fit for purpose, that we are future proof within the business in terms of making sure we’ve got the right structure to grow. It is how do we support our resellers in this huge shift to positioning value solutions over traditional volume products?

“For us it is three key areas: to ensure we have a strong commercial vendor-facing category team, a strong technical team – whether that’s pre sales tools, enablement and consultancy – and then thirdly, making sure we have the right sales and business development focus to ensure we are out there talking to our partners about what to do and how to help them sell.”

And help to sell is exactly what partners need in this minefield of cutting-edge technology. Not in a patronising way, but primarily to arm them with the knowledge and ability to help them pinpoint the best solutions for their own customers.

Harman stressed Westcoast was laser-focused on being proactive.

“Quite often, distribution comes into the conversation too late, and we need to make sure we come in earlier to be able to provide the right level of service and support,” he said.

The appetite for digital transformation is growing across all sectors, indeed, a report by MarketWatch (source 1) estimated that the global digital transformation market will exceed $462 billion by 2024, and will grow at a CAGR of more than 18.5 per cent. But for the average reseller, knowing where to start on that journey is often the hardest part.

According to figures released by CRN UK in its 2018 Channel in 2020 report; 26 per cent of resellers questioned felt that rapidly changing tech trends would be the biggest disruption to their businesses over the next two years, but a whopping 46 per cent of respondents said they were already following a transformation plan and aiming to grow organically. This is backed up by a change in how many vendors are rewarding partners with much richer compensation for growing their sales of complex ‘value’ technology.

Lawrance explained Westcoast was poised to help with that journey. “We have the specialist knowledge within the business to help our partners react to market trends, and to the point around digital transformation, it has never moved as fast as it has the last couple of years and I think it will accelerate further in the next couple of years,” he said. “We know and understand there’s a huge skills gap in addressing each of those technology areas – about a 50-60 per cent deficiency in skills available to resellers.”

Figures compiled by industry body CompTIA in a report entitled Assessing the IT Skills Gap; said that eight out of ten IT and business executives were at best ‘somewhat’ concerned with the IT skills gap at their organisation, with 25 per cent of those questioned revealing they were ‘very concerned’.

Indeed, the skills gap is something Westcoast is addressing head on by launching its own apprentice program, taking on people at student level and moulding them into future solutions architects; providing them with the training and accreditation they need to progress.

Lawrance said the firm already has a proven track record in employee development.

“The majority of the people in the business started here at the beginning or very early part of their career and have moved up with the business and grown into the role. It is a good thing to hang on to.” This in turn is extended to its own customer base.

“There is no stone unturned in terms of enablement capabilities,” he added,” whether it is classroom stuff, getting through exams or proving the technology in front of a customer. We can do the lot.”

But the gaps in the channel are not just technology-focused, explained Lawrance. Often the vendor programmes themselves are extremely confusing. And again, this is where Westcoast comes into its own.

“I don’t think a lot of them have the understanding of partner programmes and how they can leverage those to their advantage, so its all about navigating the vendor for them and with them, and enabling them in front of the customer to go and win,” he said.

Harman agreed. “We can provide the support, the training and enablement; we can co-sell with them and provide tools and solutions. We can provide dashboards for our partners, so we can help support and manage their opportunities, manage their people and manage their sales pipeline.”

For success to happen requires commitment on both sides, Harman added, and revealed that the distributor was still looking to work with new, ‘future thinking’ partners.

Westcoast’s recent success with HPE’s on-demand infrastructure service GreenLake, [read here] demonstrates how ‘future thinking’ is a core element of its own business strategy. Lawrance was bullish about the level of influence Greenlake will have on the future of technology sales.

“The whole point around the transformation is it’s already happening and has been happening for some time. We know GreenLake is going to end up being 30-40 per cent of the entire channel business. It is about helping the resellers and their customers understand what the right mix of hybrid is for them, and making sure we bring it all together.”

Harman said the distributor’s relationship with HPE will only grow stronger. “With GreenLake, we have a strong pipeline of opportunity, the first deal wasn’t a one off, we’re building more and more capability within our business to support that and more tools to automate and scale where we can,” he said. “The fact that we’re in a position where we can sell a private cloud but provide public cloud economics in a monthly billing motion is a great thing to be able to do. We absolutely believe in HPE’s strategy and are excited about it. We just need to continue to execute on it.“
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