If a week is a long time in politics, then eighteen months must represent an eternity in the New Zealand channel.
Since returning to Kiwi shores as managing director of Westcon-Comstor, Dave Rosenberg has maximised such a timeframe to transform a distribution giant.
Because as the dust settles on the leader’s second stint in charge of local operations, a new-look distributor has emerged.
Triggered by new agreements and executive hires, the business has evolved to deliver value across the entire supply chain, through strengthened vendor alliances and renewed partner confidence.
During the past 18 months, the business has exclusively picked up Pure Storage; added the software solutions portfolio of IBM and retained the full-suite of APC by Schneider Electric offerings.
And despite parting company with Polycom and Lenovo - following topsy-turvy market conditions - Westcon-Comstor secured one of the most significant victories of 2017, coming out on top following a high-profile distribution review by Cisco.
“It has been a very successful transition,” Westcon-Comstor managing director of New Zealand, Dave Rosenberg, told Reseller News.
“Our relationship with Cisco, and the Comstor business in New Zealand continues to go from strength-to-strength. We’re showing growth in the market and we’re exceeding our goals.”
But in some respects, the Cisco decision now represents the past, with the distributor instead looking ahead to the future, starting with Imagine 2018 - set for 17 May in Wellington.
With a bumper crowd of channel partners descending on the capital city, Imagine is an event series specifically designed for IT professionals, resellers and integrators, driven by thought leaders, leading vendors and market insights.
In 2018, Imagine will focus on ‘Minds, Technology and Innovation, Converging’, through a series of keynotes and seminars designed to outline key opportunities ahead.
For Westcon-Comstor however, such priorities are already clear.
“Our top priority this year is to help our resellers, system integrators and service providers make more money by leveraging our strengths and unique capabilities,” Westcon-Comstor executive vice president of Asia Pacific, Patrick Aronson, told Reseller News.
“This includes our strong technical and enablement team, of which the ratio of technical to sales staff is nearly one-to-one.
“Our Westcon business holds a unique position as one of the market’s leading cyber security experts with a full solution portfolio, while our position as a Cisco-only distributor through Comstor is unmatched.”
In leveraging more than 30 years of experience, Aronson said the distributor will continue to place a “heavy emphasis” on technical skill-sets and partner enablement, with a deep focus across security, networking, cloud, data centre and unified communications technologies.
From an operational standpoint, Westcon-Comstor has also completed an internal digital transformation change, following a three-year strategy to improve digital supply chain performance through automating and integrating platforms with core vendor solutions, at a regional level.
“We’ll continue to build integrations into the supply chain systems of our top customers to ensure end-to-end automation, speed and accuracy,” Aronson explained. “This change will also see a heavier emphasis on data availability and transparency.”
The shift in focus comes as new and emerging technologies flood the channel both locally and globally, as adoption levels increase across security, software-defined and cloud markets.
Closer to home, Kiwi businesses are expected to go into battle in the pursuit of recruiting cloud and security expertise in 2018, as the technology industry once again faces a skills shortage.
As digital transformation deployments increase across the country, cloud and security will underpin board-level strategies in the next 12 months, as organisations seek both internal and external guidance.
Backed up by EDGE Research, cloud and security rank second and third respective on partner investment priorities in 2018, behind only managed services.
Crucially, customer investment plans in New Zealand centre around cloud, followed by security and end-user computing.
Furthermore, 45 per cent of Kiwi partners are ‘ready and selling’ digital transformation strategies, with 23 per cent currently ‘ready and discussing’.
“The technical complexity of the broad offerings coupled with outcome based demands from end-users are forcing traditional channel partners to make new types of difficult choices and decisions,” Aronson observed.
“Increasingly, both resellers and technology vendors are looking at value-added distributors such as Westcon-Comstor to help with decision making, building scalable technical capabilities and removing the complexity out of the business for the entire channel.”
For Aronson, IT investments are now built around digital transformation and disruptive business models, shifts which represent fundamental changes in how partners sell solutions and services in New Zealand.
“This is not the traditional way of selling that the IT channel partners grew up with,” Aronson explained. “Partners need to understand how to survive in this new paradigm or risk being replaced by a new breed of partners who focus less on vendor technology and more on consulting, outsourcing digital transformation.
“There are many challenges for partners and they often vary by partner type. A large global systems integrator and a small single-country reseller, for example, will often face very different types of problems.”
One trend and challenge that is true for all, however, is the coming change of the overall business model.
“This is from the single, one-time deal to the annuity based, recurring revenue model,” Aronson said. “We see this in the cloud, software-defined networks, pay-as-you-go and the LAER model, that is so often discussed in the industry.
“Making this fundamental change as a business and managing that transition is a huge challenge for all channel partners and should be top of mind for all channel executives this year.”
In looking ahead, Aronson cited cyber security, big data, mobility and the Internet of Things as "clear opportunities" for partners to explore in the months and years ahead.
But in speaking as an industry veteran - leveraging more than 25 years technology experience - Aronson said such trends simply fall into the “buzz word” category of hype and marketing rhetoric, with channel opportunities existing much closer to Kiwi shores.
“The real opportunities for our partners are lurking in every CEO’s board room, in every CIO’s closed door session, in every CMO’s town hall,” he said.
“The key for our partners is to understand the customer’s real business problems and pain points and once you know that, you’ll find the opportunity pipeline is overflowing.
"If our partners only go into to talk with the IT directors about their traditional IT budgets, eventually they are going to find it really tough to grow.”
Alluding to the belief that there’s a new buyer in town - with the CIO no longer the sole decision maker in the purchasing process - Aronson advised partners to expand horizons within an organisation, tapping into line of business leaders and new pockets of dollars set aside for technology spend.
In a direct message to the Kiwi channel, Aronson acknowledged that there is “no cookie cutter demographic” for a successful partner in the market, with the ecosystem spanning value-added resellers, system integrators and managed service providers, to consultants, independent software vendors and start-ups.
“A successful partner in my ecosystem can be anything from a global fortune 500 service provider to a small, boutique security vendor with just one customer,” Aronson said.
“The one common characteristic for success is that the partner has a clear and passionate believe in the power of the three legged partnership: vendor, distributor and reseller.
“Together we form a complete, integrated, scalable, economic and trusted partnership build to ensure long term customer success. As soon as a partner embraces this approach they are bound to be successful in our ecosystem.”