In a market hampered by such uncertainty - emphasised by second waves and new lockdown measures - partner growth aspirations are currently built on the precarious foundations of ambiguity.
This is an ecosystem flying blind en masse - buoyant one day, despondent the next.
Encouraged to mark 100 days without community spread in New Zealand - amid global admiration - only to succumb to fresh movement control orders less than a week later. Likewise in Australia, also recognised on the world stage for “winning the argument on coronavirus”, before enforcing a “state of disaster” in Victoria.
The channel is riding a rollercoaster with the seat belt fastened holding on tight, balancing personal and professional challenges to carve out pockets of potential in the months ahead.
Easy to preach from behind a screen in a sedentary position perhaps, but as the dust settles on the immediate chaos of Covid-19, market opportunities are slowly - but surely - emerging once again.
Such opportunities will be unveiled during EDGE 2020, an invite-only virtual experience set for 10-11 November, playing host to the most influential business leaders in technology across Australia and New Zealand.
Underpinned by local research and insights, EDGE 2020 will outline local customer investment plans, upcoming end-user projects and new partner requirements, leveraging unique research and CIO brand insights.
“Partners can’t predict entirely what the market is going to do,” qualified Mark Iles, executive analyst of Tech Research Asia. “There’s no crystal ball here, this is less about being able to guess what is coming down the line, rather being prepared to capitalise irrespective of what is coming.
“Partners might not think it but suddenly, the market is moving more quickly in the sense that customers want different technologies and they want different technologies now. The only way partners can prepare for that is to be agile enough from a structural perspective to respond.”
As outlined by Iles - a headline speaker during EDGE 2020 - technology waves used to arrive in four-year chunks on both sides of the Tasman, at a time when customers would only then examine the possibility of on-boarding a new vendor.
“That’s not the case today with customers potentially requiring new solutions and services offerings two or three times per year, even on a quarterly basis,” he added. “Therefore, how can partners set up their business to be much quicker in terms of reacting to such a rapidly changing environment?”
Despite the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 - and the sizeable impact on customer investment - Iles is forecasting a “general sense of optimism” as the channel gradually begins to shift focus to 2021. Such optimism is doused in realism however, acknowledging that the path to growth is seldom straightforward.
“The key question to ask as a partner is, are you done with digital transformation?” he asked. “If you believe the answer is no, then there is a great future ahead despite the current environment.”
On the topic of transformation, the market has spoken.
In Australia, Woolworths is pressing ahead with plans to modernise IT infrastructure, AGL is enhancing applications and embracing cloud while Standard Chartered views transformation as “non-negotiable” amid a sizeable shift in technology strategy. For Damian Cronan - chief information technology officer at Nine - technology also continues to operate at the core, becoming “more than just a tagline” at the Australian media giant.
Across the Tasman in New Zealand, technology leaders are shifting from Covid-19 response and recovery to growth and positivity, evident through Kiwifruit giant Zespri recently unveiling plans to embark on a four-year program to digitise systems in a bid to become more efficient and effective.
“There’s a lot of hurt in the market today, and partners are feeling the pressure,” Iles accepted. “But this situation could be used as a positive in that it’s forcing partners to truly assess how their business is structured. Making realistic changes now will allow partners to be better placed to capitalise when the market returns to some degree of normality.”
From a technology standpoint, the umbrella end-user priorities of digital transformation, cloud and security - in addition to collaboration, SD-WAN and business continuity offerings - appear certain to remain leading agenda items as the channel enters 2021.
Not ground-breaking revelations perhaps, but within the context of advancement and to delve deeper into the partner potential, Iles cited application modernisation as a top priority for customers across Australia and New Zealand.
“The customer conversation is moving to application modernisation,” Iles advised. “As businesses move through this challenging phase, they are thinking differently about how they engage in terms of cost savings but also from a customer and employee satisfaction standpoint - and they require a different set of applications and tools to achieve that.
"Customers, and therefore partners, are moving up the stack to focus on applications and how they can capitalise on the potential of data."
Pre-pandemic, and according to Tech Research Asia findings, 90 per cent of local CIOs cited modernising applications as a “strategic imperative”, emphasising the area of potential for forward-thinking partners.
“Nine out of 10 is a large percentage,” Iles added. “And that was pre-Covid-19 so if partners don’t believe applications are important, they are missing the boat. But when we say application modernisation this means the market will move from the workload being a single entity being moved to the cloud, to understanding that this will instead break down into containers.
“Even for partners focused on infrastructure, now is the time to understand how application infrastructure is going to change. The conversation is moving to containers and micro-services, specifically how to deploy smaller, newer and more nimble applications which house a different set of infrastructure requirements.”
Such a shift is creating demand for newer types of partner skills, yet Iles was quick to clarify that embracing application modernisation does not require a dramatic change of channel approach.
“As soon as you say the word ‘applications’, partners think they have to hire 50 developers and a fridge full of Coca-Cola to become competitive,” he acknowledged. “While that might be relevant for some partners, given the current circumstances, this is more focused on the infrastructure being sold in market today.
“We’re not talking about a virtual machine (VM), rather the break down into different components and applications connecting to different data sources. As a partner, now is the time to figure out what role you play within that space.”
Advising the partner ecosystem via media, video link or a virtual conference is one thing however, actually implementing and executing on the potential is another matter entirely.
On paper - and through customer-focused research - the direction of travel appears clear across Australia and New Zealand, but the problem remains, do partners have the appetite to change in such a volatile environment?
“The market had been quite buoyant during the past few years with all revenue and profit graphs moving in the right direction, so in a way there was no real need for partners to change,” Iles said. “Sometimes however the channel requires a radical event to hit the pause button and reassess, Covid-19 has turned out to be that event.
“Obviously there is a lot of hurt in the market today and respectfully speaking, partners can turn this negative into a positive and use Covid-19 as an opportunity to trigger change.”
In other words, Iles said now could represent the opportune time for partners to “slice and dice”, rolling out fundamental business changes in the process.
“Vendors are moving into this space and they need partners, so lean on the vendors for support,” Iles advised. “Most vendors have programs, skills and resources that can help partners get up to speed. This is no different to cloud and the decision to invest all those years ago, the same with virtualisation.
“This has been done before in terms of embracing new technologies, even during such a challenging period. Partners should think about this strategically and leverage the vendor expertise on offer.
“Remember, the customer has a nasty habit of being right most of the time, even if you might think they are wrong. The dollars are moving into these areas, especially now the initial panic phase of Covid-19 has passed - partners can decide to move into this space or not. Following the money has never been a bad strategy for the channel.”
As outlined by Iles, modernisation extends beyond technology however, placing new emphasis on internal structure, approach and processes.
“Most partners are still running the same businesses they were 10 years ago, largely speaking,” Iles cautioned. “Granted, the technology they are selling might be slightly different but the way they are selling hasn’t changed. From sales directors, account managers, pre-sales to scoping the project, adding professional services, putting contracts together and creating proposals - it’s the same approach as 10 years ago.”
In a direct message to the channel, Iles said partners must now assess how to function as a modern business operating at least twice the speed - “even three or four times faster” - in order to keep pace with evolving customer buying patterns.
“Partners have to be quicker, nimbler and more agile and that means different people and different organisational structures,” he advised. “If your first step when thinking about doing something new is to sit down and write a large long-winded document outlining your plans, then you’re missing the point - this isn’t how the market is behaving anymore.
“Why would you write a business plan that is longer than one page? The market is moving too quickly in places. By the time you have written the plan, another partner will have probably executed it.”
“Customers have been behaving like this for a while, hence the need for an agile partner,” Iles said. “Waterfall methodologies are old, no modern business is doing things in sequence anymore because this process takes too long.
“Instead they are splitting off into smaller teams and becoming more agile. Partner businesses should be like software - version 1.1, version 1.2, version 1.3 - in that they are never going to be perfect but at the same time, you’re not going to wait 12-18 months to reach version 2.0.”
Despite acknowledging the value of a long-term plan - to ensure the organisation is pivoting in the correct direction - Iles also outlined the benefits of increasing the pace through monthly or quarterly cycles, mirroring that of the customer.
“The concept of an annual plan is of course a valid idea but partners also need a plan for the quarter,” he added. “Taking a long view is required to figure out which way you want the business to point but everything is happening more quickly in the market.
“Therefore, all internal business processes must happen more quickly otherwise this approach won’t work. If solutions are moving so fast that they enter the market every few months, partners can’t be aligned to an annual process. Now is the time to connect the pace - the pace of the partner with the pace of the customer.”