Customers in New Zealand are craving originality, in the pursuit innovation, differentiation and growth, placing the channel at a crossroads.
To capitalise, partners must create a new identity - driven by unique IP, tailored solutions and customer-centric offerings.
In a move away from traditional practices, a new-look ecosystem is emerging to accelerate such innovation through the cloud, redefining the conventional supply chain in the process.
Today, partners must be builders and creators, delivered through a lens of specialisation in a market consumed by cloud.
“Customers are driving innovation in New Zealand,” observed Warren Nolan, chief commercial officer at Rhipe. “New Zealand has always been at the forefront of innovation, think of the virtualisation uptake, and cloud is no different.
“The market is varied in that one day partners are delivering enterprise-grade solutions at a cloud level, but then also servicing smaller businesses at the same time.”
For Nolan, such a wide-ranging customer spectrum is to be expected, with small enterprises - housing up to 20 employees - playing an important role in the New Zealand economy.
Specifically, and according to data from Statistics New Zealand, small enterprises account for 97 per cent of all enterprises, spanning 487,602 businesses as a result.
Coupled with the large accounts dominating the enterprise space and partners are delivering on the promise of cloud-centric innovation at both ends of the market.
“And partners are not just talking to the IT manager anyone,” added Nolan, suggesting further market disruption. “The channel is no longer just talking to the CIO or CTO, they are engaging with the sales director or CMO, or perhaps even the CEO.
“Throw in the CFO as well, because they are across the change in business model and consumption methods, from CAPEX to OPEX.”
Consequently, and in light of changing market dynamics, Nolan said that customer expectations are “high” and research is “extensive”, driving innovation at break-neck pace irrespective of size, sector or stature.
“Customers have an expectation of what they want, before they have even engaged with a technology provider,” Nolan explained. “This is an exciting time for the channel, partners must be innovative and dynamic while responding to customer demand.”
The common consensus across the country is that cloud is now “deeply embedded” into New Zealand organisations, creating a need for partners to not only advance technology conversations, but seek different levels of end-user engagement.
“There are lots of different buyers to contend with in the market today,” said Shaun Coutts, business development manager at Dynamo6, a cloud specialist firm based in Hamilton.
“These different business units are trying to spin out solutions and build return on investment in isolation, without going through the traditional routes of approval.
“This is a common occurrence in local government for example, in which multiple business units are going ahead and doing their own thing. While innovation is encouraged, this can provide a real challenge.
“Our role is to bring these different units together and encourage collaboration and partnerships.”
According to Derek Leitch - director of Emerging Technology Partners - the onus is now on the channel to “reach out” and find line of business buyers, in a bid to foster greater collaboration across the organisation.
“Customers are responding to this approach,” he said. “Because then you can go back to the CIO and IT department and help align the business towards one common goal.
“People, process and technology are at the heart of everything we do and customer experience covers all of those aspects.
“Innovation is taking over the conversation and as channel partners, we need to focus on delivering the benefits of this to our customers.”
In taking the conversation further, Grant Sweeney - managing director of AC3 New Zealand, formerly Bulletproof - believes that customers are already “coming forward” with new ideas and visions, triggering a need for the channel to keep pace.
“It’s now up to the partner to turn those ideas and visions into business outcomes,” Sweeney said. “Our role is to accelerate that process and demonstrate how it can be done.
“Yes, the market is very customer driven today but they are coming to us with challenges because they know we can help change processes or technology strategies.”
For Sweeney, partners are “well positioned” to build out solutions capable of quenching such a thirst for innovation, providing deep expertise is delivered from the outset.
“We want to increase the pace, we want to develop solutions and we want use smart developers,” Sweeney said. “But the technology piece is the main part, we want to integrate this innovation back into the business to deliver real benefit.”
Amid frequent industry chatter, cloud continues to dominate the conversation among Kiwi customers.
Yet beneath the surface, at a deeper level, greater considerations are being made to drive value through the business with data at the centrepiece.
“Data is the new black, or the new oil, however you want to phrase it,” said Mike Jenkins, CEO of The Instillery. “But what is the most important aspect of the data and how can you leverage that in a business?
“We come in, take on a business problem and deliver value, and then move onto the next one. We keep delivering value but not just at the end of a five-year project, rather on a daily and weekly basis.”
Collectively, Jenkins acknowledged that the ecosystem as a whole must “change the way we talk to different markets”, citing a need to overhaul outdated terminology and industry jargon.
“We have to act as the translator from the business problem to which solution is best suited to solve that problem,” Jenkins explained. “We see our role as a partner in the up-skilling of our customers, it’s a co-pilot mentality.
“We want our customers to be able to fly their own plane and that’s the different type of approach that the industry requires.”
In assessing the changing customer priorities across the country, Zabeen Hussain - head of cloud at TIMG - said the conversation of today centres around transformation, and a need for businesses to gain competitive advantage in a challenging marketplace.
“But when we talk about cloud specifically, we take our customers through a process in which we identify their core requirements,” Hussain added. “This covers both cloud and data security, alongside the business continuity plan.
“We have to understand the importance of the data and execute in a way which benefits the customer.”
Yet despite a desire to innovate, and excel, through new technologies and solutions, customers in New Zealand still require advice and guidance.
“We have vast experience within the technology market and have been working with our customers for a long time,” explained Phil Martin, CEO of SAS IT. “But while some customers continue to push new ways of innovating, a chasm still remains.
“This chasm is between individuals and companies. We still see that some people actually don’t understand IT management, project management or process management. It’s an ongoing challenge around the education piece.”
As general manager of iT360, David Wilson said growth can be found through partnership, leveraging like-minded specialists to deliver customer value.
“The biggest focus for our business is around building partnerships to allow us to punch above our weight as a provider,” Wilson said. “We have a solid reputation and a strong customer base, and they are seeing us move into markets we have never played in before.
“This means we must quickly grow and adapt, but also partner up to ensure we expand as a business. There is huge value in creating a community to achieve this.”
Today, building a deeper relationship with customers means more than merely implementing a Net Promoter Score system.
While satisfaction remains an important aspect of any partnership, the channel can no longer afford to view customers as a single entity, rather individual buyers with specific needs.
“We’re unique in that to a certain degree, we essentially service every customer in the country,” said Phil Goldie, director of One Commercial Partner at Microsoft New Zealand. “Customers can buy Office 365, or Windows 10 or Microsoft Azure, there’s a lot of choice in the market from Microsoft.
“So our conundrum is around how we resource ourselves to service everybody. That’s been a constant challenge over the last couple of years.”
For most partners, having too many customers would constitute as a good problem to have, a display of dominance in a market bursting at the seams with competitors.
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