Buckle Up for a Wild 2018


There’s no rest for the weary. 2017 might be in the rearview mirror, but that’s no reason for partners to ease up on the gas.

Business transformation is in full swing and savvy partners are already crafting new services, looking at where in the market they’re best positioned to make an impact, and how they’re building the right skill sets for their firms.

Industry watchers see plenty in store for 2018 that will keep partners in motion. Scroll through our gallery below for some crystal-ball gazing.

Datapipe's Robb Allen

Do-or-Die Time for Smaller SMB Resellers, VARs

With numbers dropping globally, huge demographic headwinds driving retirements, insolvency numbers creeping up, and a buyer’s market for M&A activity, smaller traditional IT companies will need to transform to survive.

New line-of-business buyers are making most technology decisions today and are demanding hyperspecialized business, industry, geography, sector, segment and business application-technology skills to reap the rich downstream benefits.

— Jay McBain, Forrester Research

Verizon's Nicola Palmer

Compelling Security

In 2018, MSPs must have some compelling security offering, which includes a data protection/data privacy type of approach, or they’re going to be vulnerable to losing customers. They’ll either walk away or be taken away by MSPs who offer a rich security service.

— Charles Weaver, MSPAlliance

RapidScale's Scott Ward

Partnering Gets Personal

2018 is going to be the year of “Partnering is Personal." Vendor organizations are realizing that their partners' business models are all different and there are actually individuals in the partner organization that execute demand-generation activities, sell solutions and provide support. The “partner” doesn’t do these things … the people (individuals) in the partner [businesses] do. So, what does this mean?

  • Expect to see: More individualized enablement — by partner as well as by person. We will see partner "types" and "tiers" in programs to be minimized — in favor of more individualized engagement blueprints.
  • Expect to see: More vendors building and fostering a "community" within their partner ecosystems — or treating their ecosystems more like a community. And the individuals in the partner [business] will join the communities to learn, share and support prospects and customers. The vendors (and possibly aggregators and distributors) will develop the community forum and stoke it with content and collaboration. Individuals connecting with other individuals.
  • Expect to see: Referral programs will make way for the growth of true agent programs among traditional vendors — where the vendor rewards an organization/individual not only for the sale, but for the ongoing support and satisfaction/management of the customer.
— Diane Krakora, PartnerPath 
TPx's Minner and Bowman

Machine Learning

Machine learning and deep learning are going to become increasingly important over the next year. The delta between customers that are going to ask partners how they incorporate machine learning and deep learning to take advantage of the data that they hold – to get better insights and be more predictive in their businesses – will increase. Partners have to invest in resources that understand how to use those tools.

Even more obvious is having an analytics practice.

— Cyndi Privett, Viewpoint Research

TPx's Minner and Bowman

Eat the Dog Food

Yes, solution providers should expect that their customers will want to have the right systems, the right applications, and the right networks in place to facilitate the required data collection that will be able to power more embedded AI applications within their environments.

However, this assumes that the solution provider not only become more educated about what’s available and what’s real and what’s not when it comes to AI and machine learning, but that they themselves will do their best to incorporate those capabilities into their own organizations to improve their own efficiency and functionality to serve their customers’ needs. More customers will expect their vendors and partners to serve as examples to demonstrate that these things are working, they’re real, and that they [vendors and partners] can provide true best practices.

We saw this with cloud computing. Partners needed to incorporate cloud into their own operations in order to become more knowledgeable and more skilled at helping their customers make the right decisions about moving to cloud.

— Jeffrey Kaplan, ThinkStrategies

ZyXEL's David Soares

MSPs Out of the Shadows

The days of MSPs working in the shadows and doing their technical things and not having oversight are gone in 2018. There’s so much attention on data privacy, things like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) being passed, which require so much transparency from MSPs, that MSPs need to change or risk the consequences.

— Charles Weaver, MSPAlliance

Microsoft's Gavriella Schuster

Long-Tail Strategies Finally Get Chucked Out the Window

After years of trying, vendors now realize that the long tail of partners (80/20 rule) is not a ripe group of firms, that with just the right magic touch, would turn into gold partners. Instead, they are a casual set of companies that are really focused on something else. A partner that only comes around once a year to do a deal might still be a loyal partner and you may enjoy 100 percent wallet share — they just aren’t that into you. Instead of dumping them, figure out how to manage them less expensively and when that yearly opportunity starts to take shape, go all-in for the time period required to win. Rinse and repeat.

— Jay McBain, Forrester Research

Microsoft's Gavriella Schuster

Professional Services: Up the Ante

For data center-focused partners, professional services moved away from simple installation and maintenance long ago, and even managed and cloud services won’t be enough moving forward. Partners will need to up their game even more in 2018, and be ready to provide design and architecture guidance as their clients embark on digital-transformation initiatives that upend traditional data centers.

— Kevin Rhone, Enterprise Strategy Group

BCN Telecom's Keith Mullins

IoT Channel

In the same way that we see a cloud channel now, expect to see an IoT channel in 2018. This year, cloud and cloud partnering hit early majority, I think we’ll begin to see that happen in IoT next year. IoT has already moved to early adopters and over the next 12-18 months it’s going to get more mainstream.

—Theresa Caragol, Theresa Caragol Consulting

BCN Telecom's Keith Mullins

Move Quickly, but Slow Down

The pace of innovation isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon, putting more pressure on partners to satisfy the needs of their customers. At the same time, there are lessons to be learned in the industry that should send a signal to vendors as well as partners. One prominent example: GE is recalibrating its goals in 2018. The lesson here is that if you try to move too fast and outpace the decline in your traditional business, then you could find yourself having to take a step back to regain equilibrium.

—Jeffrey Kaplan, ThinkStrategies

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