If there’s one thing that’s becoming more obvious as the channel moves towards its next phase, it’s that we are in a critical time of transition that only comes along once a decade. In fact, it could be that this is unlike anything we’ve seen before. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with VARs, some I’ve worked with for many years and some who are just getting their feet wet in the channel. The discussion though remains the same – addressing the cloud with their customers.
I kicked off 2017 on The VAR Guy with a discussion of some of the cloud purchasing patterns that we’re noticing from customers. It’s important for VARs to have conversations with their customers around cloud technologies because we’re seeing a high number of customers test the feasibility of moving applications and resources to the public cloud. Not all are ready to move critical information to the cloud, but the important thing is that VARs are prepared when they do. That means being available to assist with smaller projects to establish trust and expertise in the cloud so you continue as their partner of choice and don’t get passed up for a “born in the cloud partner” to handle their defining cloud project.
I know that as a vendor it’s easy for me to suggest that VARs begin moving their customers to the cloud, but there are a few things that we can do immediately to start working with customers who are exploring their options in the cloud.
Engage Early (Now)
It may be too late in some cases because customers are quickly becoming more cloud savvy, but you'll never know if you don't start talking now. Fortunately, if these are customers you've been working with for a while, you'll probably be just in time. Maybe they started using Microsoft SharePoint or OneDrive — while not huge cloud projects, this could be a great opportunity to check in and gauge how they're feeling about the cloud and what the future holds for their business. When talking to your customers, ask them about any and all projects that are headed to the cloud. It’s also important to find out what departments outside of IT are looking at cloud tools or what DevOps projects might be moving as well. It’s not uncommon that one project will snowball into many more.
Perfect a cloud strategy
After the initial dialog, you'll have a good idea of which public cloud platforms remain top of mind for customers. Amazon, Microsoft and Google are by far holding the most market share and make the most sense for channel partners to focus efforts on from an education and integration perspective. This means starting to work towards certifications with these platforms to show your cloud expertise and to provide your customers with the confidence to trust you as their cloud expert. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be platform certified to start having discussions, and you can always lean on vendors for expertise. In addition, the IT vendors that you sell, recommend and work with on a regular basis will be a great resource if they too are focused on the cloud — these folks should be jumping to help you assist customers with cloud transitions. If they aren't, perhaps that's a red flag.
Security is your friend
Security vendors are battling to establish themselves as cloud security leaders. While this complicates security decisions, it's actually a great thing to have more robust security options available. When customers head to AWS or Azure, there's often a misconception that security is included, and this expectation isn't entirely accurate. There is a basic layer of security available, which usually comes in the form of basic firewall functionality, but it won't be enough as more applications and resources make the move. For example, AWS is secure and is an amazing platform, but applications that customers deploy there still need to be secure — which is a huge opportunity for the channel.
Any good vendor will be able to help VARs establish cloud security expertise through their own educational programs and partner program, which will further establish the trust of customers. There are also vendor programs available to help customers who may not be quite ready to make the move, but know they will in the near future. By building cloud security credentials along with public cloud certifications earned through the major players, VARs will be in a great position to establish their cloud business for the future.
This is because once customers are comfortable with security, further adoption and consumption will follow as end users continue to rely on the partners who helped them through the transition. On the flip side, if VARs aren’t in the cloud security conversation early enough, their ability to influence the account may be gone forever. Those who don’t pitch cloud security will be too late to get involved down the road.
I haven't felt as strongly about something in a long time as I do about this topic. The importance for traditional VARS to get actively involved and focused on their customers' cloud plans, their own cloud strategy and the way they approach cloud security — will fuel their business and further position themselves for growth as cloud capabilities grow. VARs who win the public cloud battle will be set for the future.