Global vs. Regional Staffing Models in the Cloud Era
Members of a channel programs team from a large, global software company sat across the table from me in a legitimate quandary. They were debating whether to continue to require their global system integrators (SIs) and IT outsourcers to have technical staff on the ground with local language skills in each and every country where the partner was authorized to sell the vendor’s software. It wasn’t a new topic to debate with such a group, but a new frame of mind on my part.
The challenge for the partners involved, particularly the offshore India-based SIs? Massive expense and administrative overhead to participate in this company’s channel program (which currently does require local sales and technical staff and program fees in every country). The risk to the vendor? Allowing the partner to provide what potentially could be poor client service due to a perceived lack of accessibility and ability to operate within the cultural nuances of varying regions.
PartnerPath has been building partner programs for 15 years, but I’m newly debating this age-old issue. With today’s high levels of product and customer relationship globalization in the IT market, I’m not sure how important it is to be able to speak Swiss vs. German vs. English when leveraging a highly knowledgeable, vendor-certified and maybe vertically savvy sales engineer. Aren’t most major businesses, particularly ones that are services-based and having capital-access issues, trying to leverage their staff and resources more efficiently across a broadening customer base? Isn’t that what the technology promise of the cloud is all about? And, it occurs to me that based on the hundreds of interviews we do with solution providers around the world, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to predict where to train staff, based on future demand. In larger companies, the project manager can be in one office, the business users in another and the IT team spread out in a variety of locations, making it very challenging for partners to accurately predict staffing and training levels, unless the partner is country or region-specific.
This particular software company was particularly challenged with the issue of the offshore SIs and outsourcers dropping in staff from India to a wide variety of customer engagements across the European continent. Its gripe wasn’t that these partners weren’t investing in skilled talent or that they weren’t industry-savvy. No, the issue was whether these outsourcers could provide close, working relationships with the vendor’s key customers (in particular, midmarket customers the vendor was not touching at all directly) without German, Austrian, Czech, Italian and Spanish staff? We hear a few customer horror story issues here and there about an implementation that was scoped and staffed wrong. But, frankly, those stories are usually few and far between and become folklore in the corridors of IT vendors’ headquarters.
Now, I can argue the merits of doing things the way IT channel programs always have. When you’re in the applications business and need to understand business processes and application integration issues, partners’ ability to have “business-speak” in the local language, where face-to-face is necessary, is incredibly valuable. And having that staff consistently be available locally for meetings on IT architecture, testing, tuning, etc., is sometimes critical. For enterprise customers that still have the majority of their own server, storage and networking gear on premise, the quick dispatch of people to solve physical gear issues locally can be important. But, I’ll argue that most of that face to face work is required in the presales effort. Sophisticated software and networking tools exist for online collaboration, remote monitoring and systems management today. And, increasingly as we all move to IT as a service, I foresee the centralized network operations center of the big SIs getting bigger and the local staff getting thinner.
Information technology, in general, is still really complicated, and getting more so every day. Yes, the promise of IT as a service is well on its way, with all the cool dashboards for service level management and performance uptime monitoring simple enough for a monkey to use. But, we’re not there quite yet. To overcome this complexity, vendors engage regional VARs, SIs and MSPs who become their volunteer army to provide that local customer relationship management and presence. In fact, across the broad set of IT vendors we work with, the vast majority still consider VARs and Regional SIs (not global ones) their most strategic and successful partner segment (according to research from our Influencing the Influencers 2011 study). At the same time, however, end users are more mobile, globally aware and data hungry than they’ve ever been. So, our vendor-to-partner engagement models and support requirements have to keep up – and they’re not.
The bottom line? Channel programs have to mature in how they set partner requirements; requirements for providing the local presence to effectively build customer relationships and do presales architecture work and requirements necessary to scale the delivery of sophisticated IT services over a wide customer base. Technical and business competency, followed by proven services delivery success, is what vendors are trying to cultivate in their channel partners today. And the tools exist for online customer meetings, collaboration, IP-sharing and monitoring of installed IT services to help partners scale. I’m not suggesting no one should ever sit locally with a customer again — far from it. But, let’s be smart enough as channel managers to allow tomorrow’s solution providers to build their teams where they can continually invest in those critical sales, technical and vertical skills (whether that be India or Austria or Texas). Let’s begin to think more globally about the ways in which they’ll leverage those assets to provide real customer value and customer service when the server or application isn’t running in the next room anymore.
Are all IT channel politics still local? Weigh in and share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Vanni is VP of PartnerPath, which helps IT vendors elevate the impact of their partnering efforts. For more information on PartnerPath’s research or partnering development services, contact Beth at email@example.com.