As the channel continues to grapple with the economic impact and uncertainty of Covid-19 - hampered further by fluctuating investment priorities - forward-thinking VMware partners are up-skilling in preparation for heightened customer demand across Asia Pacific.
Representing a silver lining amid eight months of industry pain, the ecosystem is now armed with competencies and certifications, ready and waiting as businesses battle back from the brink to restart transformation plans.
To address such a shift in market dynamics, 75 per cent of VMware partners across the region are “planning or considering” increasing staff training in relation to technology skills during the next six months, with 4 1 per cent already pursuing additional certifications.
According to new VMware findings - profiling 410 partners across 22 countries in Asia Pacific, delivered via Tech Research Asia - more than two-thirds of technology providers are increasing focus on the vendor’s hybrid, multi-cloud and end-user computing solutions, supported by increased training investment.
“We ran partner councils during March and April and received a resounding request to help the channel up-skill and re-skill,” outlined Uma Thana Balasingam, vice president of Partner and Commercial Organisation across Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at VMware. “Partners felt that this represented an opportune time to increase productivity and for employees to set time aside for learning.”
While tempting to hunker down and wait for the pandemic to pass, Balasingam said market-leading partners instead pursued the opposite approach – assuming central roles in transitioning customers away from continuity mode.
“We know the market has changed and moved beyond the first response phase of focusing on critical services and business continuity, to the adapt phase of resiliency and evolving systems, people and processes,” she explained.
“Now we’re seeing the third phase with customers adopting a ‘digital-first’ mindset to sustain a competitive advantage. We see a place for every single VMware partner but we’re also asking them to pick a sweet spot as customers seek to transform.”
In response to the pandemic - and increased appetite to up-skill - VMware pivoted channel enablement initiatives to double investment in partner education, closing the first half of the fiscal year - running from February to July - with 5000 certifications in Asia Pacific. This is in addition to a doubling, soon to be a tripling, of Master Services Competencies.
“When I joined the business we had approximately 27 Master Services Competencies, now we’ve reached 175,” Balasingam added. “The majority happened during Covid-19 and to facilitate that, we opened up VMware Learning Zone as free to all partners, running two-minute learnings to deep-dive sessions lasting a few hours.
“We also doubled down on co-investing in certifications with partners, with a specific focus on business continuity and resiliency, plus cloud, software-defined networking, digital workspace and security solutions."
Furthermore, the vendor also enabled the most highly-skilled resources within partner organisations - known as VCAPs - through a round of co-funding to ensure the channel remains prepared as customers revisit innovation plans.
Referencing research findings, Balasingam - when speaking to Channel Asia - said VMware partners are also seeking to enhance value propositions across the region, motivated by a desire to “maintain trusted advisor status” in the months ahead.
To further adapt and respond, 24 per cent of partners are planning to increase marketing investment, with 19 per cent preparing to decrease field sales resources.
However, 53 per cent of providers - in an honest assessment for the channel - rate their digital capabilities in engaging and acquiring customers as “limited or average”.
Strengthening channel capabilities
Central to driving partner up-skilling efforts will be Vimmi Gupta, recently appointed as director of Partner Readiness across APJ at VMware. Effective immediately, Gupta is tasked with leading the strategy and execution of the Partner Readiness function, in close partnership with global, field partner leaders and business units.
“This role will further help evolve our partner-led engagements as we elevate partner capabilities to drive successful transformation for our customers,” Balasingam said. “This is such a pivotal moment as we invest in accelerating our narrative around driving a partner-first culture and a customer obsessed mindset.”
As explained by Balasingam, the Partner Readiness team will act as a “critical enabler” in collaborating with the regions while ensuring the vendor effectively incorporates partner feedback, alongside modernising learning plans by solutions and technologies.
“We aim to make partner learning easy to access and simple for consumption, mapping partners' journeys from Solution Competency to Master Service Competencies, riding on the success of Partner Connect,” she added.
Based in Singapore, Gupta has a strong background in technology and consulting following management roles across Asia Pacific and the US, including positions at Autodesk, AIA, GroupM and Infosys Consulting.
“As we think about driving innovation, both with our own teams and our partners, it’s not just about the technical knowledge and expertise, it’s everything from helping our partners to influence sales early with their customers, to driving consumption and deployment services as well,” Balasingam summarised.
The recruitment of Gupta comes two months after Sam Henderson was appointed as director of Multi-Cloud and Services Partners across APJ. Also based in Singapore, Henderson is charged with shaping the vendor’s channel go-to-market strategy from a cloud perspective, creating deeper ties with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Google Cloud in the process.
The move is designed to provide customers with “choice and flexibility” when building, running, managing, connecting or securing workloads via the cloud.
“Partners are in VMware’s DNA and we’re clearly continuing to invest in multi-cloud as a high-growth segment of our business,” Henderson said. “I’m excited to be leading the charge across the region, both with our existing and our evolving cloud ecosystem to deliver VMware in the cloud. And of course in turn, giving our joint customers control on how they choose to innovate with us and our hyperscaler cloud partners.”
In assessing the market response to Covid-19, Balasingam said the collective channel has succeeded in digitally transforming both internal and customer operations, despite mounting pressures to deliver projects on-time.
A recent case in point was Nimbus, which deployed VMware technologies to accelerate the digital transformation efforts of more than 20,000 wholesalers in Thailand, leveraging partner expertise from Internet Thailand (INET) in the process.
Launched in 2017, Bangkok-based Nimbus specialises in overhauling the manual practices of local shops through the provision of a cloud-based inventory management solution, delivered as-a-service.
Motivated by a desire to switch businesses from paper to digital, the start-up recently rolled out VMware-powered cloud services supported by INET, with the offering priced at 33 baht - or approximately US$1 - per day.
In hosting its offering with INET, Nimbus is also targeting an expanding micro and small to medium-sized enterprise (MSME) market in Thailand, which represents more than 95 per cent of the local business ecosystem and contributes to 43 per cent of national GDP.
“The way our partners reacted to the pandemic has been nothing short of incredible,” she stated. “Not only did they have to move rapidly to working from home, but they needed to enable their customers’ employees and end-users to also transition smoothly without any noticeable drop in operations.
“We are working to help our partners respond and adapt to the pandemic and accelerate their recovery through a focus on the customer and workforce experience. Our partner-first approach is helping them deliver customer value faster and cement their status as trusted advisors as we move to a digital-first world.”
According to findings, the channel continues to embrace remote working with 52 per cent of partners expecting at least half of employees to work-from-home in 2021.
While the shift away from the office has been viewed as “generally positive” within the VMware ecosystem, research suggests partners must do more to convince customers that the new approach is comparable to in-person collaboration. Currently, only 45 per cent believe customers are content engaging with partners remotely and only 52 per cent think such an approach is "equally as effective".
“When the pandemic first reached Asia, the market went from under three per cent to most countries running remote working at anywhere between 50-90 per cent,” Balasingam recalled. “The challenge then centred around how to support employees which moved from having five buildings serving an entire workforce, to 5000 buildings.
“This created difficulties in terms of maintaining productivity and supporting employees with all the tools required to work-from-home, and not just email. Likewise, security became more complex with the emergence of 5000 endpoints and businesses dealing with a broader attack surface.”