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AWS - Managing an ever-changing channel ecosystem

AWS - Managing an ever-changing channel ecosystem

How is the world's leading cloud vendor managing its exponentially growing channel?

Stefan Jansen - Head of channels and alliances A/NZ, AWS

Stefan Jansen - Head of channels and alliances A/NZ, AWS

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is adding new partners at an alarming rate, with the public cloud provider growing its channel by 10,000 during the last year alone.

Yet crucially, the AWS ecosystem is made up of a variety of partners, including independent software vendors (ISVs), global system integrators (GSIs), born-in-the-cloud providers, consultants and managed services providers to name a few.

So how does a global vendor keep pace with the diverse needs of such a rapidly growing partner base?

AWS global partner program general manager, Dorothy Copeland, is charged with designing and running the company’s channel programme, and sat down with ARN at re:Invent 2016 to discuss her approach to delivering outcomes for such a wide variety of partners.

"Generally, with all of our programmes there is a global vision and we will work with geographies to make sure it aligns with them,” she explained.

Copeland said that as partners span numerous disciplines, it remains important to instil a local touch that is primarily customer focused, in conjunction with an overarching global vendor strategy.

Copeland used the vendor’s new partner solution finder - which is a revamp of the company's existing partner directory - as a recent example, with the new system developed in conjunction with customers and partners, ensuring better cloud outcomes on both sides.

In short, the finder is designed to make it easier for customers to be able to access partners with expertise in specific disciplines or verticals.

"Part of that is structuring programmes with a lot of partners which we are already working with and making it easier for customers to find them," she explained.

"You can see a lot of that from the beginning when we created our customer programmes, we have been very customer centric. We have wanted to make sure partners are adding value on AWS and helping customers with the adoption of cloud."

In a local context, AWS head of channels and alliances A/NZ, Stefan Jansen, added that while these are global initiatives, close collaboration always exists with the local teams and partners for validation of the initiatives and targets set.

"Government is a good example," he explained. "We wanted to see that those partners do have experience in working with government by being on procurement panels for example, so that validation is always something we collaborate closely on."

The problem with tiering

In a cloud world, Copeland acknowledged that traditional tiering doesn't always outline to the customer what a particular partner is skilled in, creating channel confusion as a result.

Andy Jassy - CEO, AWS
Andy Jassy - CEO, AWS

As a result, the vendor has spent time focusing on developing various channel competencies, alongside a service delivery programme to provide customers with a better understanding of which partner is appropriate for specific tasks.

"A lot of the time we are finding that knowing if a partner has specialisation is as important or more important to a customer that tiering,” she said.

"Cloud is moving into the next stages and so now we are not necessarily looking for partners that are generalist, we are more about how the partner is specialising.

"We have teams of partner development managers working with both the global systems integrators as well as the more specialised partners.

"They are both very important to us and that is partly why we make sure that the way we set our tiering requirements and our competency requirements are focused on what that partner is really good at rather than what is the sheer number of employees."

Jansen added that getting closer to the customer in terms of partner resources was just as important in A/NZ as in other regions.

"By being close to the customer, we can work backwards and work with the partner relative to that customer scenario,” he explained.

“We have a very good blended model now in the field which allows us to be strategic in nature with the more complex partners like Accenture, but at the same time we are very close with the smaller partners and that is why you see the success of companies such as ITOC and Cloudtrek."

Copeland said that while much of the information provided on the partner finder comes from the partner filling out their application for the AWS partner portal, the vendor has considerable input in regards to the programmes.

"The piece that is driven by us is around our programmes, particularly competencies, the MSP programme and the service delivery programme," she added.

"Within those three programmes, we are saying this partner is very well validated. We will list the partners that are in those programmes first and we also have a badge that you can see."

In relation to tiering, Copeland said that if multiple partners have the same certification, listing priority will be given to the one with the highest tier, adding that AWS would continue to develop algorithms to improve this listing method.

Copeland said that the vendor has plans for Q1 2017 to roll out customer rating for the partner finder, making the system more akin to Amazon.com.

Terry Wise - Head of channels and alliances, AWS
Terry Wise - Head of channels and alliances, AWS

"The other piece that we will be focused on is really driving a lot more customer case studies and public customer references listed on the partner finder,” she said.

"Case studies are really front and centre and that is going to be a push so that more partners can list their customer case studies.

“Happy customers and customers that have experience with that partner the priority now.”

Helping partners upskill

AWS has had a consistent message to its partners for a number of years around specialisation in specific verticals or competencies.

However, one of the biggest issues for partners – particularly at a local level - is getting the right skills in house to specialise.

Copeland said that the vendor is working to enable partners in this and it has seen a 75 per cent increase in partner certification in 2016.

"We also have more certifications available," she said. "We provide subsidised training for partners to go and get their technical teams certified.

"We have also been conducting a professional services boot camp training that we provide primarily for our premier partners but also to some of our more experienced advanced partners.

"The other piece that we are doing is providing free training for partners in terms of business training through our partner solutions foundation, we have trained over 7000 people globally across 75 cities and we recently rolled out a big data training as well and are in the process of rolling out a Microsoft workload training.

In the local market, Jansen said that he could not reveal exact figures but growth in training and certification during 2015 saw a significant spike.

"The opportunity we have next year is to be a little tighter in the way we communicate with the partner community because we have more specialised training coming," he said.

"Solutions training for partners is another aspect and we will have a published solutions calendar for A/NZ detailing which sessions will be held in each city."

Jansen added that the need is there and now it was about targeting the appropriate resources to the right partners.


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