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NTT America Channel Chiefs: ‘Born In The Cloud’ Competitors Are Coming

Lorna GareyNTT America set some ambitious goals for its Global Solutions Channel Partner Program when it launched the initiative at Cloud Partners in September 2014, including signing on 15 top master agents across the country.

Now, a year in, they’ve achieved 60 percent of that objective ahead of schedule. Nine masters are on board, and Kevin Goodman, NTT America’s senior director of strategy, and channel lead Rob Westervelt told us that two more deals are imminent.

“We are in the final negotiations on the agent agreement, the final red lines,” says Westervelt. “In fact, both of them I think have been approved and are sitting on the CEOs’ desks to get signed off on.”

NTT America's Rob WesterveltSecuring those John Hancocks should help them meet another stated goal: Achieve 25 percent to 30 percent of 2016 revenue through the channel.

“We definitely feel like we’re on track for that,” says Westervelt. “I’m actually pleasantly surprised at how quickly the funnel emerged and the size of the opportunities that we’re starting to get visibility into. I’m extremely optimistic that we’ll achieve those goals by the end of 2016.”

Goodman credits the fact that it’s not every day a $100 billion-plus Global Fortune 100 with the breadth of NTT’s product and services sheet launches a channel program.

“There are a lot of large opportunities where partners were scratching their heads as to how to tackle them,” he says. Where once an agent was parceling out those deals, “now you’ve got one contract that you can use to tackle the network, tackle the data center, look at the cloud strategy, and also add on collaboration and security, because those are all areas that we play very well in. With everything else channel partners have to manage, knowing that they don’t also have to have a big sprawl of vendors in these accounts has been a huge plus.”

NTT America's Kevin GoodmanAs for what’s next, Goodman says they’re working on a new partner portal with a centralized directory of services, but for now the plan is to be hands-on.

“I think it’s very important in the beginning to have a personal touch, which is why we put people in the field across the country,” he says. “We have a director in the East, a director in the East, and a director Central. They have a team supporting them that includes network and cloud engineers.”

As we get further into 2016, partners will gain access to more support technology, including tools and content for training and customer education. Also on tap for next year is an expanded focus on the subagent community.

Goodman says the masters they’ve signed on have global strategies, extensive cloud plans, dedicated cloud teams and people who can tackle complex deals —not something that can be said for all solutions providers.

“Once we have our masters all done, how do we find the right …

… subagents that we can go deeper with as well?” Westervelt asks.

OpEx Is King

One technology they see driving the need for education is SDN, along with related NFV services that move firewalls and other applications into the cloud. The driver? Customers pushing to extend the cloud OpEx model up and down the stack. Many solutions providers, however, are scrambling.

“Typically in the channel we’ve counted on us driving things into customers for adoption,” says Goodman. “Think back as far as when cloud voice was a new technology; that was really led by the channel.” Not so with many new cloud applications and services.

“We’ve seen that being driven from the customers themselves, and to some extent, the channel’s playing catch-up,” he says.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The two agree that this is an opportunity to take more of a consultative role, doing discovery jointly. But don’t fall too far behind.

Another driver for NTT’s channel program is the globalization of business.

“If you look at some of the big events that the top master agents and other large channel partners in the field are having, it’s a lot of concentration around going international and having the global strategy,” says Westervelt. “There’s more demand now from the subagent community to have a global play in the portfolio.” He says NTT Communications’ infrastructure, comprising 140 data centers worldwide, is a draw for established VARs, MSPs and advisers in general.

Of course, globalization brings challenges as well as opportunities, as evidenced by Microsoft’s ongoing fight with the U.S. government around a search warrant for emails stored in its Dublin data center and concerns over state-sponsored industrial espionage by China. Customers more and more want to know where their data is sitting, how it’s protected and who could demand access.

Governments are taking a harder look at data sovereignty, and data sovereignty acts are popping up across Europe right now,” says Goodman. “Having a view into that is an advantage for us, because we can be one step ahead when customers or channel partners are looking for advice.” He recommends, for example, being aware of the differences between data on a private versus a public cloud.

Hard-Won Lessons

Speaking of learning, ramping up a channel program from scratch is an education in itself.

“A lot of the lessons have been around tackling the awareness gap that we have in the channel,” says Goodman. “We’ve been talking about cloud for a long time, but it’s evolving so quickly that the channel strategies around it are playing catch-up.”

They say this is a call to help channel partners cut through complexity by ramping up enablement programs.

“How do we make them have a succinct story around the …

… total solutions that we provide?” says Goodman. “How do we fine-tune this so that we can get the right partners the right messaging? We’re very selective with the partners we brought on, so that helps, but it’s still a big challenge.”  

“We believe in ‘teach a man to fish,’” adds Westervelt. “Go out and train folks, go out on sales calls with them, and then enable them to do a lot of it on their own, because agents like to be as self-sufficient as possible.”

The two offer some advice for partners:

  • Develop a plan to support customers doing business outside the United States. “It takes a little bit longer to get last-mile quotes and put the entire solution together,” Westervelt says. “Domestically, there are lot of tools available, and you can automate and get pricing.” That’s not the case when you’re dealing with China, Singapore or Tokyo, where the company has data centers.
  • Understand just how fast technology is evolving — and how clued in your customers are. “We’re all aware of the Internet of Things and all of those trends around connective devices and wearables and 3-D printing,” says Goodman. “All of those things are going to require more data to be shifted around faster and more securely than ever before.” Hybrid cloud, which is a topic of conversation in the C-suite, is part of the answer. “It really plays back into that whole security question,” says Goodman. “There are some things that should live in public and some things that should live in private.” For partners looking to manage a hybrid cloud, visibility from a single pane of glass key. 
  • Use security as a starting point for engaging outside the CIO and IT team. “It used to be rogue IT was where people were doing small projects outside of the technology group,” says Goodman. “But now there are major projects happening outside the technology group. From an adviser or consultant standpoint, you’re having conversations with people in the C-suite that weren’t involved in technology discussions before.”
  • Neither sees shadow IT going away because tech is so important for all areas of the business. So use it to your advantage. Given how much it costs to recover from a security breach and the immeasurable impact on customer confidence and the brand, security is natural entry point for an adviser to engage with business leaders.
  • Finally, don’t stand still, because “born in the cloud” channel organizations are coming for you. They’re agile, and while they may not have deep network and circuit backgrounds, they make up for it with next-generation technology expertise. “A lot of the biggest channel partners really are trying to change their businesses, and I think we’re well-positioned to help them do that,” says Goodman.

“We’re going through a major shift in the industry,” he says. “We’ve seen it happen before, and some partners find that their business models can’t support that shift.” Maybe they don’t have the expertise to deal with the new questions customers are asking, or maybe they’re simply happy in their niches. But don’t think for a minute that you’ll get breathing room. On the contrary, says Goodman: “I think that the speed of change is just going to continue to accelerate.”   

Follow editor in chief @LornaGarey on Twitter.


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