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Future of Work, Marketplaces Among Jay McBain’s Channel Trends

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The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to heavily impact ongoing channel trends throughout 2021.

That’s according to Jay McBain, principal analyst of channel partnerships and alliances at Forrester. This week he released 10 channel trends to expect this year.

Forrester's Jay McBain

Forrester’s Jay McBain

“The pandemic created this new remote topology where there are some long-term opportunities after they rushed to get laptops and UCaaS, and everything installed to get them operational, to get it well managed, well governed, secure, more compliant, better continuity — all the other things that partners know how to do really well now come into play,” he said. “The phase two, or the maturity of this remote topology, is a huge opportunity for 2021.”

We recently compiled a list of 20 top UCaaS providers offering products and services via channel partners.

Customer demand – especially medium, midmarket, public sector, and enterprise – later in 2020 shifted to automation, cloud acceleration, customer/employee experience, and e-commerce/marketplaces, he said. That left many parts of the technology channel out in the cold.

“This led the industry into a K-shaped recovery where partners who had skills, resources and prebuilt practices around the business needs of their customers excelled with double- and sometime triple-digit growth, while many VARs and MSPs were down by double digits and relying on government, vendor and distributor funding to survive,” McBain said. “This will persist through 2021.”

2021 Channel Trends

Among 2021 channel trends:

  • The channel will benefit from the changing future of work.
  • Subscription/consumption models go mainstream, but the channel isn’t ready.
  • The embedded/white-labeled future replaces the SKU, and distribution struggles to adapt.
  • Marketplaces, product-led growth and direct-to-customer further challenge resell.
  • Marketplaces start taxing services.
  • Channel process automation (CPA) becomes a reality as most channel program rebrand as ecosystems.
  • Ecosystem recruitment and partner-to-partner collaboration rely on a community approach.
  • Compliance, consolidation and price compression accelerate in the MSP market.
  • Channel revenue management matures.
  • Enablement takes center stage.

Beyond the basic remote infrastructure delivered in response to the pandemic, the channel will capture the opportunity in edge computing, McBain said. The rise of edge computing is among channel trends this year.

“The pandemic has accelerated the importance of edge,” he said. “Also, many of the emerging technologies that we’re watching – IoT, AI, automation, blockchain – involve and are necessary to have compute storage at the edge.”

The Rise of Marketplaces

The first three months of the pandemic prompted more movement in e-commerce and marketplaces than during the last 10 years combined, McBain said. A surge in marketplaces is among his 2021 trends.

“We got to the point where one-third of the U.S. economy was going e-commerce by the third quarter,” he said. “We had predicted 17% of the channel’s business, the vendor’s business, would go the marketplace by 2023. We’re starting to think now that it’s going to happen this year. It’s accelerating because of the pandemic. And now that it’s 17%, it makes a material impact on those partners that rely on the front- and back-end margin of vendors.”

Subscription and consumption models are directly correlated to a marketplace, McBain said. It’s the only way you can consume a metered-type service.

Also, embedded technologies like AI and automation are …

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