Indian channel partners outline key learnings from Covid-19

Yogesh Gupta - Executive Editor of IDG India - outlines how leading technology providers responded during the early phases of the pandemic, documenting areas of best practice and future opportunities

With 2021 starting at an unrelenting - and at times already, unforgiving - pace, the channel is once again gearing up for a year of sizeable change, fierce challenges and increased uncertainty.

Despite vaccine optimism - mirroring all markets across the world - Indian businesses continue to navigate the stormy waters of Covid-19, placing new pressures on the ecosystem as a result.

Yogesh Gupta - Executive Editor of IDG India - outlines how leading system integrators and technology providers responded during the early phases of the pandemic, documenting areas of best practice and future opportunities ahead.

Digital Track Solutions

In assessing the disruptive nature of Covid-19 in India, ST Muneer Ahamed - speaking as managing director of Digital Track Solutions - cited the ongoing importance of prioritising business continuity and sustainability during such challenging times.

“This must happen and be in place at all times in any situation, both good and bad,” Ahamed added. “Sustainability is very important as businesses need to restrict and tighten expenses to keep a check on cash flow. Now is also perhaps a good time to step back and enable ourselves with new products and technologies.”

For Ahamed, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and collaboration tools continue to be the leading technologies in demand across all sectors in India. In response, Digital Track Solutions ran campaigns to win market share within the collaboration space, while deepening AI capabilities at the start of the pandemic in March.

“We also rolled out ready-made work-from-home kits, combining various products and technologies to provide one solutions for the customer,” Ahamed added. “Before Covid-19, we were moving on-premises infrastructure to the cloud but during the early months of the pandemic we also explored security products. Customers started to request multi-factor authentication solutions for VPN users as well as user behaviour monitoring solutions and security offerings specific to data centre and SD-WAN requirements.”

Founded in 2004, Chennai-based Digital Track Solutions operates as a new-age IT Infrastructure management services provider, with expertise in storage optimisation, cloud migration and security, in addition to networking, collaboration, virtualisation and data centre technologies among others.

Macaws Infotech Services

According to Manasi Saha - CEO of Macaws Infotech Services - now is the time for the channel to maintain enough financial provisions to ensure survive for at least three years, accommodating for any future downturns related to the pandemic.

“There have been many important learnings from Covid-19,” Saha recalled. “Firstly, we are defenceless against any natural disasters, epidemics or pandemics. We must always have a plan in place for disaster management. But employees and customers continue to be the strong pillars of any business and remain the leading supporters in our success.”

In operating as a cyber specialist, Kolkata-based Macaws naturally advocates that customers continue to strengthen security capabilities during the months ahead with a specific focus on protecting company data and assets.

“Customers must shield themselves from the vagaries of the ‘new normal’ work ambience,” Saha explained. “Develop a strong BYOD or CYOD [bring / choose your own device] policy supported by a tele-working policy. Remote desktop also remains a strong concept to adopt with work conducted via Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, without employees being able to download data and information onto devices.”

Delving deeper, Saha acknowledged that organisations are increasingly setting up two-factor authentication across IT infrastructure, supported by reconfiguring work-from-home arrangements and backing up data. This is in addition to rolling out cloud-based anti-virus solutions and ensuring phishing protection is enhanced.

“Business continuity was a priority but this needs to keep pace with security, including the importance of online safety for all stakeholders and secure authentication through VPN,” Saha added. “In addition to ensuring bandwidth for users, customers must continue to conduct proper assessments of production servers and all operating systems and applications to ensure up-to-date patching.”

CDP India

Drawing on 30 years of enterprise experience, CDP India goes to market as a leading provider of IT infrastructure, data centre and networking technologies, backed by an expanding portfolio of cloud, security and end-user computing solutions.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” outlined Nikesh Sakaria, chairman and managing director of CDP India. “With Covid-19 forcing the entire world to work-from-home, we quickly created a strategy to adapt to the new normal at speed.

“We are striving to achieve a balance on a daily basis between what’s best for our company and employee safety, while still delivering a great experience to our enterprise customers. We are doing fairly well but the pandemic has made us extra agile and more cautious for the future.”

Citing workspace management as a leading priority in the enterprise, Sakaria acknowledged that the lockdown created an “eye-opener” moment for businesses across India due to heightened demand for flexibility.

“We have been playing a vital role in helping major enterprise customers reduce real-estate footprint through our workforce management solution,” Sakaria explained. “We also can’t emphasise enough the importance of automating everything because industries operating on manual processes continue to be deeply impacted. This pandemic has been a difficult lesson for all our customers, prompting the need to adopt robotic process automation [RPA] to ensure business continuity.”

In addition to end-to-end IT expertise within the enterprise space, CDP also houses unique intellectual property (IP) in the form of software solutions such as 1OfficeView, 1CView and 1AttendanceView.

“With widespread awareness of temperature monitoring and contactless technology, we also have an innovative thermal camera-based solution for thermal screening, facial recognition and attendance monitoring via a single device,” Sakaria added. “This technology represents today’s need in offices, building complexes, factories and other establishments.

“We must always stay hungry for innovation. Times are changing much faster than expected but if you are not an early adopter on the technology wave, you miss the opportunity.”

Futuresoft Solutions

Looking back on the pandemic - and in searching for key business learnings - Vipul Datta was unwavering in his assessment. Speaking as CEO of Futuresoft Solutions, Datta cited “recoil, resolve, reimagine, reinvent and restart”.

“It’s important for organisations to understand and stick to their core values in trying times such as these,” he said. “This situation has no history for anyone to lean back on meaning it’s critical to the success of the company to invest more time, effort and money to engage with customers to help them solve business challenges.”

During such “trying times”, Datta stressed the importance of keeping communication constant with both customers and employees, in addition to prioritising continuity and business growth.

“Post-pandemic, customers are evolving around the need to improve supply chain capabilities - whether physical or virtual - as well as enhancing real-time data capturing to enable faster decision making while allowing users to conduct business from anywhere,” he added. “Hence the importance of digital authentication and the ability to track the progress of product and services delivery at every step. Other key priorities include security business IP which has become a greater challenge than ever before.”

With present across 29 cities in India - backed by more than 800 employees - Futuresoft specialises in the delivery of integrated solutions, cloud and security.

“We have built Futuresoft with the belief that if we take care of our employees and our clients, and contribute to their success, then our success will be certain,” Datta said.

“During the first 15 days of the lockdown in India, we ensured the renegotiation of contracts and changed our services scope and model of delivery with customers. We provided alternate and necessary support needed for businesses to sail through such challenging times which ensured 100 per cent availability of our employees and 100 per cent retention of our contractual revenue.”

Esconet Technologies

In the opinion of Santosh Agrawal - CEO of Esconet Technologies - Covid-19 reaffirmed the long-held belief that employees remain the true assets of any business.

“Dig deeper to find their real strengths and hidden talents,” he advised. “Listen to them, take their advice because they can have great ideas. During the lockdown each one of us in the business - even the most junior employees - worked 12-14 hours to support our customers and keep them afloat. I was amazed at some of their undiscovered skills.”

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With more than 25 years market experience, Delhi-based Esconet is a system integrator with strong heritage in the data centre, specifically, servers, storage, networking, security and virtualisation products.

“I have always believed in the 80:20 ratio and this again proved correct during the crisis,” Agrawal added. “80 per cent of the revenue comes from 20 per cent of the customer base. These loyal customers (20 per cent) are the ones who support you during the thick and thin and you simply can’t ignore them.

“During the crisis we took steps forward and helped all our customers in need but there are few customers who came forward to help us in some way to keep our cash flows running, which in turn helped us stay afloat also.”

In a simple assessment of end-user spending, Agrawal cited public cloud, digital workspace and managed services as the leading priorities during the next 12 months, shaped by a desire for post-pandemic recovery.

“Public cloud has already proven itself during the crisis and will continue an uptrend especially given that the pandemic is not going away soon,” he said. “Customers - especially small and mid-market - have realised that they lack resources to run applications on-premises and enable employees to work remotely.

“Customers are also looking to secure data while having the flexibility to access this from any network. Most are already considering public cloud and digital workspace to enable working from home.”

With customers “severely impacted financially” due to Covid-19, Agrawal accepted that cutting costs and shifting to an OPEX model is now becoming commonplace across the market.

“Managed services help customers cut costs and access support without having to continuously train manpower and endure high costs of retention,” he added.

Secure Network Solutions

As a cyber security system integrator - with presence in 10 locations across India - Secure Network Solutions (SNS) has been protecting enterprise customers since 2000. The Chennai-based provider offers design, consulting, implementation and support services with a specific focus on on-premises, cloud and endpoint security solutions.

“Cloud will continue to boom and so will security,” said N K Mehta, managing director and CEO of SNS. “Due to work-from-home, customers realise the ease of keeping servers and data on the cloud for enhanced manageability and accessibility from anywhere. This however raises the big question of data security, hence why cloud and security now go hand in glove.”

From a product standpoint, demand for secure remote access solutions continues to surge, supported by a sustained rise in multi-factor authentication and endpoint protection.

“With work-from-home here to stay, the issues of employee productivity and time management continue to concern HR and line managers,” Mehta added. “We expect this to continue creating demand for productivity and monitoring technologies.

“On-premises applications will also keep shifting to the cloud as the psychology of data being safe within the perimeter security of an office fades away. This will lead to the visualisation of threat perception and continued reliance on cloud security.”

Syndrome Technologies

As an entrepreneur in technology, Siddharth Mehta - CEO and managing director of Syndrome Technologies - considers working on profitability “more than before” as the biggest learning during Covid-19.

“This includes reducing overheads and optimising the workforce,” he outlined. “Channel partners in the business of IT see profit as the primary objective meaning that working on profitable deals only is the new normal.

“We continue to adopt our ‘listen, understand and act’ approach to deliver value to customers, shaped by our business ethics and core values. We don't just focus on what we deliver but rather how we deliver and that continues to set us apart in the marketplace during these times.”

Since starting out in 2005, the Mumbai-based system integrator is well versed in the delivery of “intricate and transformative projects” across major industry verticals in India, supported by deep expertise in networking, collaboration, virtualisation and data centre technologies.

“We see CIOs prioritising collaboration, software-as-a-service [SaaS] and security as the top technology investment areas, as well as managed services which is seeing increasing demand from Indian businesses,” Mehta added. “We continue to provide next-generation collaboration and compute products, along with robotics and AI to help organisations benefit from futuristic technologies.

“Our diversified portfolio of technologies continues to give rise to new deals which results in more profitability. Focusing on ‘run of the mill hardware-centric’ technologies could result in disaster for channel partners.”

Computers Network & Telecom

Headquartered in Delhi, Computers Network & Telecom (CNT) is building a fully-fledged portfolio of digital transformation technologies, backed by a skilled team of CIO experts across India.

“The biggest learning undoubtedly has been the need for organisations to be proactive and respond at speed to survive and thrive during such uncertain times,” observed Dipesh Mangla, CEO of CNT. “Business leaders must change their traditional ideology from system integrators to digital integrators to ensure they become true digital evangelists.

“We have aggressively reshuffled our technology stack and added competencies in new solutions such as cloud, security, collaboration and AI among others."

Specific to focus areas, CNT is prioritising protective network, collaboration, cloud security and predictive analytics to help organisations return to growth post-pandemic across India.

“We have expertise in these technologies but we are also equipping our teams with increased knowledge and technical capabilities in line with new requirements due to remote working,” Mangla explained. “We are also investing in cloud with leading providers and hyperscalers.

“Through having a large customer base built during the past two decades, we now have an upsell opportunity to continue enabling work-from-home technologies. Our team is regularly engaging with CIOs, CFOs and line of business managers to enable digitalisation to help meet business-outcome objectives and ensure business continuity in any kind of situation.”