In browsing through the glossary of channel terminology, the age-old definitions remain.
Whether it be value-added reseller; managed service provider or system integrator, perhaps independent software vendor, born-in-the-cloud specialist or consultancy house - the ecosystem is defined by lines of demarcation.
Yet as new technologies take centre stage, driven by new customer buyers, the boundaries segregating partners are blurring.
Instead, an ecosystem is emerging more reflective of the contemporary channel, a channel in which labels are looser and lacking in definition.
“We have a program for our resellers, system integrators and cloud service providers for example, but we know that our partners no longer classify themselves as such,” observed Darren Sullivan, senior vice president of Global Partner Strategy and Business Operations at Dell Technologies.
“Those labels don’t resonate as much anymore because partners are using multiple routes to market to solve customer problems. We’re making sure that we recognise this shift in the channel.”
The transition will no doubt take time, with such definitions embedded in channel psyche for more than 30 years, driven by technology giants such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell, among others.
Likewise in the media, with channel publications such as Computer Reseller News (CRN); VAR Insights; Dealer World; Reseller News and MSP Insights putting partners in categories since the early 1980s.
Despite being acknowledged as industry standard since the channel began, is such an approach now out of date?
“This is a legacy construct and the industry is moving away from that approach, which is especially the case in a multi-cloud environment,” Sullivan added.
“It’s an industry-wide phenomenon which is largely driven by the industry dynamics around multi-cloud because partners have to be positioned to support on-premises workloads, public, private, hybrid and all of these different constructs.”
According to Sullivan - speaking to Channel Asia on the sidelines of Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas - partners are now engaging in multiple ways with customers, whether through reselling infrastructure, hosting as-a-service or integrating systems.
“It now feels more like a partner ecosystem rather than a number of tracks of partners,” he observed. “And this transition is still taking place today.
“Partners are no longer just thinking of themselves as a reseller as such, more so a value-added partner for customers which includes multiple dimensions in how to solve problems. We’re right in the middle of this channel change.”
While not a new concept in the channel, the notion of collaboration is emerging as a leading trend across Asia as partners of all shapes and sizes combine forces.
For reasons such as technology or geography, the channel is gradually accepting of the view that in a market once defined by intense rivalries and competition, a better together approach now represents a viable strategy.
“Partners now realise this and there’s a real power in the channel today,” Sullivan said. “There’s as much power in partners partnering together than necessarily partnering with a vendor because the ecosystem is capable of creating huge opportunity.
“Our role is to help create an ecosystem that helps partners accelerate growth by working with us, but also take advantage of all of the capabilities housed within it.”
From a Dell Technologies perspective, Sullivan said Cloud Partner Connect is a tool capable of linking up resellers with cloud service providers, designed to drive innovation at the end-user level.
“This is to help resellers not just think about driving an on-premises sale to their customer, but also to work with the needs of the customer and partner accordingly, while also gaining financial benefits,” explained Sullivan, adding that resellers will also gain revenue credit from such deals toward tier attainment.
“It’s a small element but we want to keep finding those opportunities to connect partners to partners and capitalise on the skills of the ecosystem.”
Yet connecting partner A with partner B is seldom so simple, given the complexity created by a channel transforming from a linear supply chain into a spider web of providers.
For example, how does a cloud specialist in Singapore find a suitable security partner to team up with in Indonesia?
And perhaps crucially, who carries such a responsibility? Is this the role of the new-look distributor, or even aggregator? Or the vendor?
“It’s a combination of both but we want to lead and figure this out in a way that is compelling for our channel,” Sullivan added. “It’s a win-win for everybody because if we can help connect our partners together, this will help drive more opportunity, growth and allow partners to play in areas of the market that they currently can’t.
“This allows partners to have different conversations and who knows where that will lead. This is front and centre as we think of the partner program of the future, and how we structure our own approach to align to the ecosystem.”
In looking ahead, Sullivan said Dell Technologies is focusing on a new breed of partner, born out of deep specialisation and unique intellectual property.
“We have a whole division focusing on this emerging ecosystem,” Sullivan confirmed. “There are connection points across to our traditional channel but they can be more integrated.
“Take a conversation about an Internet of Things solution, that partner might not be thinking about the infrastructure aspect as front and centre, but when connected to the right partners they can help ensure that solution lands on Dell EMC infrastructure, in addition to the software side.”
For Sullivan, opportunity exists for Dell Technologies to drive change through the channel, leveraging in-house software vendors such as Pivotal.
“Pivotal has completely different partners having different conversations,” Sullivan acknowledged. “Likely those solutions are ultimately going to require some kind of infrastructure on the back-end so we have to optimise the whole opportunity.
“This will lead to us speaking to partners that today we’re not currently engaging with. In some cases, we probably don’t even know who they are. But through ecosystems such as Pivotal, this will create new links into the Dell EMC channel.”
According to Sullivan, the vendor is “actively looking” at the requirements of newer partners in the ecosystem, in a bid to line up programatic elements alongside.
“But we also need to create some kind of consistency of framework,” he cautioned. “Partners can go-to-market through the Dell Technologies partner program which can mean a lot of different things to different partners, but it is still consistent in terms off how we go about it.
"We’re currently having active conversations around the requirements of an ISV compared to a CSP."
For example, Sullivan said a CSP values access to the vendor’s go-to-market sales team, alongside demand pull-through.
“The way we work our CSP program, if you’re in that program there are benefits in the form of rebates etc but they are not the predominant elements,” Sullivan added. “The biggest area of focus is our sellers in our enterprise and commercial segments."
James Henderson travelled to Dell Technologies World as a guest of Dell Technologies.