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Dell's UK Channel Chief on Adapting to the 'New Normal'

Financially savvy partners will "weather the storm" of COVID-19, says Dell's UK channel boss.

Christine Horton

July 28, 2020

6 Min Read
New normal
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The “new normal” might mean something different to us all, depending on your situation. In the IT channel, it has meant, among many things, helping customers set employees up with work-from-home products and services.

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Dell’s Rob Tomlin

Channel Futures caught up with Rob Tomlin, vice president, UK channel, Dell Technologies, to talk about the current – and post-COVID – channel. We wanted to know how vendors like Dell can continue to support partners during the pandemic. Our conversation also touched on how partners will weather the storm; plus, the critical technologies in play for the rest of the year and how partners can position them.

Channel Futures:What challenges do Dell’s partners face in the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19?

Rob Tomlin: Like everyone, partners have had to transition from their normal office life to the new normal: working-from-home. I’ve seen partners acting admirably in their speed to stand up work-from-home solutions quickly. They are managing to continue a “business as usual” approach to the way that they perform.

I know that supporting customers in their move to remote working has not been without its challenges; still, our partners have managed those challenges expertly, particularly when it comes to ensuring customer security. The swift acceleration of remote working has presented hackers with fresh opportunities to take advantage of less secure frameworks. As a result, channel partners have reported a significant surge in security sales. And we continue to support them in this crucial area.

Partners are helping their customers navigate their cash flow issues, allowing extra time to finalise payments so that distributors can work effectively. At the same time, they must determine their own cash flow and decide on how best to manage the spike in demand for work-from-home solutions. On top of this, they must ensure they can support customers logistically while maintaining and managing social distancing — especially with resellers who operate within warehouses.

Partners are also acutely aware of their increased responsibility towards their staff’s mental health and well-being throughout the transition to working from home full-time. It is a challenge that business large and small face. I’ve been impressed by the practical and empathetic ways our partners have found to keep in touch with their teams.

CF: How can vendors like Dell support partners?

RT: We’ve listened to our partners on precisely what they need, and they’ve told us that financial support is top of the wish list. Uncertainty around payment days, and the worry that these would be challenging to meet (for both customers and partners) has been a common theme among partners. In response, we announced our stimulus package. As part of that relief, we have extended our Working Capital Solutions (WCS) so that qualifying partners can benefit from a 60-90 day payment terms extension, or up to 120 days for a small fee. Considering the impossibility of physical events, we’ve also extended windows for spending marketing funds. And we’ve offered training on how to hold virtual events. Something we’ve seen huge uptake on is our DFS (Dell Financial Services) offerings. They enable customers who need tech now to receive what they need with up to nine months for referrals.

For obvious reasons, many of those in the systems engineer community have been unable to get hands-on to deploy our solutions. But what they have been able to continue doing is training and exams. We wanted to make that training more accessible, so as well as continuing courses virtually, we’re making the essential exams free of charge where possible and lowered prices of others.

We are in an unprecedented period, and we need to provide exceptional support for our partners to ensure they can support their customers in undertaking projects without financial concerns. It’s a time for the ecosystem and community to pull together more than ever before.

CF: Cash flow will be a concern for partners still, though?

RT: If I’m honest, I have …

… no concerns for partners weathering the storm. I have to say that most of our partners are financially savvy and are dealing with it all amazingly well. They came out the other side of the 2008 recession, learnt from that challenge and adapted to make it through. A lot of business is now subscription-based, which ensures that base costs are covered before the start of the month. This could be an opportunity for the channel to come out even stronger than before.

CF: So, what will be the most critical technologies for the rest of 2020?

RT: We’ve seen a significant spike in workspace technology, with customers needing to implement remote working solutions. When it comes to traditional laptops, we’re seeing customers wanting to take advantage of our VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), which is supported by our service storage range. And we expect this to continue.

As we look to the second half of the year, we expect to see a return to planning for the future, adoption of the ‘new normal’ whatever that will be.

The pandemic has certainly pushed every company’s continuity strategy, and companies that survive will have to start (or continue) to put money into the future of their tech as well as reinforcing their cybersecurity capabilities. We have seen more customers looking at hybrid and multicloud solutions, and we will continue to see significant investment in security across devices and strategies.

There will be an influx of data processed through networks because of the increase in the workforce working from home. Consequently, we will inevitably see companies awarding a more significant portion of their budget to data center projects.

Within our current projects, most customer solutions are looking at having 25% of employees working from home. The multicloud approach has been a godsend for those customers looking to support VDI. In truth, we see a trend of customers who want to enable themselves to have 100% of employees on the VPN. Partners are skilling up for it – and we’re encouraging it!

Over the last three to five years, it’s clear that the role of the partner has developed from being the infrastructure provider to IT consultancy and trusted advisor. And as everyone moves further towards a hybrid and multicloud combination, this will only increase.

CF: There has been a lot of talk of “the new normal.” What will that look like for the channel?

RT: The reality of returning to site will be staggered. I firmly believe we won’t see a complete return to the office in 2020. There will be a range of approaches to attempt to “get back to the norm,” though, and videoconferencing will be much more prevalent throughout all companies from now on. I would say 60-70% of the channel is already working like this. But resellers and partners will do a lot more meetings by video conference moving forward.

There won’t be many (if any) in-person industry events in 2020. We’ve adapted Dell Technologies World to take place as a virtual event. Of course, people will want to go back to holding and attending in-person events, but we mustn’t rush this. The simple fact is that health is more important than business, and everyone should respect that.

The IT channel is a very adaptable working group. I know we will all continue to help support customers the best that we can. It’s clear that technology has enabled companies to survive amid the pandemic. This will, in turn, create new and exciting opportunities for the channel in the future.

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About the Author(s)

Christine Horton

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Christine Horton writes about all kinds of technology from a business perspective. Specializing in the IT sales channel, she is a former editor and now regular contributor to leading channel and business publications. She has a particular focus on EMEA for Channel Futures.

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