Lenovo locks in channel for data centre growth

Lenovo locks in channel for data centre growth

New regional channel leader Ashwini Bhatnagar outlines partner priorities

Ashwini Bhatnagar (Lenovo)

Ashwini Bhatnagar (Lenovo)

Credit: Lenovo

Lenovo has unveiled plans to prioritise growth in the key technology segments of software-defined infrastructure (SDI), high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI), delivered through partners specialising in services.

The channel call to action aligns with aspirations to maintain momentum in a data centre market forecast to grow 1.9 per cent at a global level in 2020, reaching US$208 billion in spending to reverse steady decline during the past 12 months.

Delivered through the supply chain, the vendor is positioning partners to drive IT infrastructure modernisation in the enterprise across Asia Pacific, aligning to an as-a-service consumption model.

“We experienced strong growth in our own SDI business over the last 12 months, so we are looking to continue that momentum,” said Ashwini Bhatnagar, director of channels across Asia Pacific and Japan at Lenovo.

In response, Lenovo recently introduced a new channel program under the banner of ‘SDI Easy Buy’, in a bid to provide customers with a curated selection of “best-selling, pre-integrated and engineered” SDI solutions.

“This is designed to remove complexity from the selection process, thereby making the sales cycle more straightforward and freeing up time for partners to focus on customer support,” he added.

Motivated by increasing partner profitability, Bhatnagar - who joined the vendor from Intel in September 2019 - said investment will continue through the Velocity program, an initiative launched in December 2018 to improve co-selling between Lenovo and partners.

“As we enter the next phase of our Velocity initiative, we are specifically looking to address smarter workspaces, smarter pricing, smarter co-selling and smarter processes,” added Bhatnagar, when speaking to Channel Asia.

During the year ahead, the channel will also see the introduction of “critical enablers”, such as new partner digital CAMs (channel account managers), backed by a ‘Partner Pricing Recommender’ to help reduce frictions in the selling process and automate transactional conversations.

“We will be enriching our existing programs, reviewing training, incentives and other collateral,” Bhatnagar said.

A key part of the revamp will include rolling out a new partner portal, alongside looking to deepen the pool of providers which currently sit on the vendor’s Partner Advisory Council (PAC).

“This new portal will transform our entire partner framework by elevating the partner experience, offering more attractive incentives, providing partners with tools that enable seamless sales and leveraging our AI expertise to automate the co-selling process,” Bhatnagar outlined.

Channel aspirations

In “addressing the elephant in the room”, Bhatnagar advised partners to overcome “economic uncertainty” during the next 12 months to maximise the potential of technology, specifically IT infrastructure, across the region.

“Economies around the world suffered in 2019 and there is plenty of murkiness as to whether that will change in 2020, given the geopolitical tensions and cost tightening measures,” he acknowledged. “However, in that uncertainty does also lie potential - particularly in the technology sector.

“We know that technology acts as a key competitive differentiator for businesses across the spectrum, so the appetite for digital transformation is unlikely to go away.

“If partners are aligned with these aspirations and are able to simplify their offerings to focus on digital transformation and smart infrastructure, there is no reason why partners are unable to capitalise on the opportunities ahead.”

Perhaps the most looming challenge ahead for partners, according to Bhatnagar, will be scaling alongside a technology market “evolving quicker than talent can keep up”.

“The once champions of a channel business may no longer have the relevant skillset to deliver ‘transformation-as-a-service’, whereas new talent can lack the experience to command a room of senior decision-makers and offer credible counsel, so this is proving a tough gap for partners to bridge,” he cautioned.

“Ultimately, this will all boil down to training and reassigning talent to ensure the business is able to make the most of its combined force as opposed to relying on a few star individuals.”

On the flip side however, Bhatnagar cited ‘smart infrastructure’ as the largest opportunity for partners in the coming months.

“In order for the world to be able to support its technological ambitions, we need to invest in our core technologies, such as servers, cloud and edge computing,” he said. “Hybrid cloud in particular is proving a large growth area, helping customers unlock new opportunities themselves.”

According to Bhatnagar, modernised infrastructure has the capacity to “easily scale up and down in line with evolving business demands” and to support exponential increases in data, branding this as a “very lucrative window of opportunity” for partners.

“While we want to ensure partners are able to grow their profitability, we don’t look to our partners in terms of them being the largest firms in the world, with the greatest headcount and geographical presence,” he added.

“Instead, we want to see them working collaboratively with customers to solve problems, reducing complexity for them one step at a time in order to help them achieve their intelligent transformation goals. In our eyes, a successful partner is one that transcends their status as a ‘seller’ to become a trusted aide.”

‘Smart infrastructure’

In assessing the regional market, Bhatnagar said that as the population across Asia Pacific continues to grow, such growth comes with a "burgeoning middle class", increased smartphone usage and demands for mobile app-based services.

“How we live, work and do business will inevitably be shaped by intelligent transformation and smart technology - in our personal lives and across business,” Bhatnagar observed.

“From a next-gen data centre perspective, this means we need to create smart infrastructure that is capable of scaling with demand, and keeping pace with the processing needs of a multitude of connected devices that are entering the market. It means being defined by services, where software works independently of hardware, and decentralising data processing from core to edge.”

Against such a backdrop, Bhatnagar said customers are looking to simplify infrastructure though hyper-convergence and migrating workloads to hybrid cloud.

“We all know these transformation journeys can be extremely complex and time-consuming,” he advised. “This will see partners increasingly evolving to become service providers - from consultation, to sales to implementation - as they play a vital role in simplifying digital transformation projects.

“Take for example a hybrid cloud deployment, where navigating multiple systems and interfaces could appear overwhelming initially.

“As partners evolve to become service providers, we will see them taking customers’ briefs, exploring options and budgets, offering recommendations and working with the business to ensure the technology is seamlessly deployed.”

In other words, Bhatnagar said where partners were traditionally viewed as “the vendor”, they are now offering an end-to-end solution through "embedding themselves in customers’ business cycles to help move the transformation forward".

“Think of it as offering ‘transformation-as-a-service’,” he summarised. “Of course, the challenge is that as customer demands increase, so does the pressure on the channel to understand every aspect of a customer’s business.

“It is no longer enough to be simply good at selling a product - partners also need to offer guidance on how that product will maximise business outcomes for the customer.”

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