Image Gallery: TBI’s Big Event 2018

TBI Big Event 2018

TBI’s BIG EVENT — TBI welcomed some 400 partners to its third Big Event today at the Venue Six10 space on Michigan Avenue, overlooking Grant Park. Areas of focus included IoT and cybersecurity — with an emphasis on new TBI University security training. TBI says it’s seeing end-customer spend on security averaging 30 percent of the IT budget, up from 13 percent year over year.

The day caps an eventful few weeks for the Chicago-based master agent: It recently signed satellite internet provider ViaSat and earlier this month added a pair of new channel managers.

Click through our gallery below for pictures and event highlights.

Datapipe's Robb Allen
The Big Event

The Big Event provided attendees with a full day of choose-your-track sessions, a vendor fair, sponsor discussions and keynote addresses featuring speakers from some of the biggest names in the industry, including 8x8, AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Verizon and more.
TBI's Mike Onystock and Jeff Newton
Mike Onystock and Jeff Newton

TBI Vice President of training and marketing Mike Onystock kicked off the day with TBI Vice President of Enterprise Sales and IT Jeff Newton by discussing growth and product trends. TBI has made 50 hires this year, and headcount now hovers around 225 employees serving more than 3,000 signed partners.

“We’re doubling down on the channel,” said Newton. “The ocean is rising.”

Onystok told Channel Partners that the company has invested heavily in learning about the customer journey.

On stage, Newton elaborated on that, calling out TBI's NetSuite-enabled BI system that delivers deep visibility into the customer journey. From that data, he called out some top trends. While CDN, CCaaS and mobility are mainstays, data center services are up 322 percent year over year. And, SD-WAN is a top 10 -- and rising -- product that's delivering MRR to partners: 100 percent of requests that come in for network quotes want to discuss SD-WAN, said Newton.

“We track everything,” he said.
Bob Bigman, former CISCO of the CIA
Bob Bigman

Bob Bigman, former CISO of the CIA, kicked off the day with a discussion of the current state of security.

“I've got bad news,” said Bigman. That is, where there’s code, there's opportunity for attack.

“SDN is a good example of where security goes bad,” said Bigman. Other suspects include APIs, VMs, switch firmware and mobile apps, but his main warning for partners in attendance was around IoT security problems including proprietary and non-standard firmware; TCP/IP stacks resident on devices; and a lack of tools to discover, assess and lock down IoT systems.

“70 percent of devices use unencrypted network devices,” he said. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

In addition, 80 percent of devices and their cloud and mobile application components failed to require passwords of sufficient complexity and length, and 90 percent of devices, applications and connections collect at least one piece of personal information.

Tips TBI partners can take away include applying encryption and strong authentication when setting up IoT connectivity. Bigman also advises insisting on the capability to automatically inventory all IoT devices and configurations; using only devices that enable you to patch the firmware and allow for session authentication, encryption and strong passwords; and minimizing the network exposure of devices. Physical isolation is best, but logical isolation using segmentation is better than nothing.

He also expects security vendors such as Cylance to release within the year “real” IoT antivirus that can discover devices and monitor for indicators of attack.
AT&T's Zee Hussain
Zee Hussain

AT&T Partner Solutions SVP and channel chief Zee Hussain assured attendees that fiber is central to AT&T’s strategy to condense installation times near-term, and to prepare for “game-changer technology” 5G in the not-so-distant future.

“5G is going to cause an explosion in edge devices,” said Hussain. “It’s very important for the channel — 85 percent [of customers] expect to buy [IoT] from a solution provider.”

He called out AT&T's Plano Foundry, where partners can bring customers to create bespoke IoT solutions, as a reason attendees should build those systems on AT&T’s network. Hussain also reminded attendees that they can provision security offerings from providers such as Samsung Knox, Symantec, Akamai and MobileIron as AT&T-branded services and says he’s working to simplify doing business and remove as much friction as possible for partners.

And, he says his team has introduced competitive residuals to make AT&T’s comp plan more attractive.

“Success is about making the right bets on the right providers,” he said. “We have a nine-figure investment in the works” to provide better automation and to serve partners more effectively.

As to the blockbuster Time Warner buy. Hussain says he’s seen some “head scratcher” commentary in tech media that has "no relation to reality."

“You should not see anything change businesswise,” near-term, he said. Also up in the air is where 5G will sit in the channel business.

What Hussain says is not in question is CEO Randall Stephenson’s familiarity with indirect distribution models and the company’s belief that there is a “tremendous amount of return” from an indirect strategy.
Comcast Business's Jody Hagemann
Jody Hagemann

Jody Hagemann, director, next-generation networking for Comcast Business, says she’s spent three years pulling together the provider’s SDN/SD-WAN strategy — and it’s paid off. Every partner we spoke with at the event called out SD-WAN as an important offering for customers.

“That’s where this world is going,” said Hagemann. “This is the wave of the future … at Comcast Business, we talk about this being a ‘generational moment.’” 

That future also includes greater use of SDN, more delivery of services via NFV, acceptance of white boxes and even more focus on security. 

So how do partners talk to CISOs about their concerns over SD-WAN? That's an area we don’t hear much about, but Hagemann has concrete advice:
  • Provide access to their security log data on demand, without hassles or fees.
  • Look for suppliers that deliver APIs and frameworks to make it easy to integrate customers' existing security solutions and processes.
  • Bring to the table a full suite of offerings including consulting and managed services, but ensure you can offer customization, where CISOs can opt out of features they don’t need to minimize the attack surface.
Hagemann says that an SD-WAN demo is in the works and might be available before week’s end for partners to show customers what’s available. 

Comcast’s SD-WAN is built on the vendor-neutral ActiveCore SDN platform; additional virtualized services will be hosted there shortly. Managed VPN is on the road map near term. As to what Hagemann sees as making Comcast’s offering stand out from other OTT SD-WAN providers, she called out the marriage of its offering with "the largest IP network in the United States" as well as a portal for partners and the fact that customers can “bring their own connectivity.”

In response to a partner question about Comcast’s direct and indirect sales, she says she’s working to break down the walls: “SDN has forced conversations that we hadn’t had,” she said.
Verizon Wireless's Matthew Montgomery
Matthew Montgomery

Returning to IoT, Matthew Montgomery, director, business operations for Verizon Wireless, tied millions of things into the theme of digital transformation, which Montgomery defines as, “How do we better reach our customers, with lower cost and better service, securely."

Montgomery's answer built on previous speakers' assertions that partners will be involved in most of these projects.

“IoT is changing because of you -- agents and VARs," he said. "“I would argue that carriers today are becoming platforms, and we’re looking for the product in our partner communities.

He says the “lower cost, better service” goal demands that IoT devices be aware enough to gather data and able to send that data autonomously, and that this data must inform service decisions.

As to 5G, Montgomery says that while 4G isn’t going anywhere, 5G’s “remarkably low latency” will change the way we all work. With the ability to support 100 million devices per square kilometer at gigabit speeds, 5G will transform how surgeons operate on patients, how goods are delivered, how millennials compensate for a lack of domain knowledge and how smart communities support citizens.

(Speaking of Verizon, check out our special Verizon edition of Coffee With Craig & Kevin, where the guys quiz Scott Peterson, general manager and vice president at Verizon Business Markets, about bringing the company’s enterprise and small-business-focused channel programs under one umbrella and plans to allow master agents to sell the Verizon Wireless portfolio for the first time, something that has in the past been “sacrosanct.”)
Business Success Partner Panel
Business Success Partner Panel

“We’re more educators than sales.” … “We’re about credibility.” … “We really understand our clients and what drives their businesses.” ... “We’re more than the guy slinging the circuit.”

Those are some keys to success shared by a partner panel at the TBI Big Event, moderated by our own vice president of sales Brian Snortheim. From left to right, Jim Dunkin, managing partner of DR Solutions; Anthony Wedeven, president, Teldesigns; Mark Stackpoole, CEO, Global Telecom Solutions; and Snortheim shared insights into business success.

Stackpoole says partners need to understand “where the power is” within the new decision-making landscape. However, once you do identify the person with the purse strings, Wedeven says, the possibilities are endless.

“Never before have we had an environment where we could sell what the VARs we competed with in the past could [sell],” said Stackpoole. “Now we’re really jumping in. Whether SD-WAN, SaaS, UCaaS, security -- we can manage it.”

Dunkin adds that partners need to keep up with their own education. A developer may now be in charge of storage, so make sure you can speak a bit of that specialty's language. “Bring the credibility to make him more comfortable,” he said.

On getting that seat at the table: “It’s ok to not know everything about everything,” said Wedeven. “Just remember, it's a journey for them too.”
Big Event 2018 Vendor Fair
Vendor Fair

Platinum sponsors 8x8, AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Verizon as well as a few dozen other suppliers set up in the event space overlooking Grant Park.
SAP's Norman Marks
Norman Marks

“How many of you believe that customers have all the security funding they need?” asked SAP’s former vice president of governance, risk and compliance Norman Marks. No surprise, no hands went up. Marks’ answer to that is to tell the customer’s board-level executives what they need to know so they can adequately fund security programs to manage their specific risk.

How? Assemble information that helps them make informed and intelligent decisions to achieve the organization’s objectives. Don’t use FUD — selling based on the worst possible scenario isn’t reasonable. Assess risk by severity of likely vulnerabilities, identify and classify assets, and rank the threats that may realistically affect critical assets.

“If you never wanted to take a risk, you’d never cross a road,” said Marks. In reality, we weigh the environment and our needs to decide how to safely get to the other side.

And remember, it’s not the CIO or CISO assuming risk, it’s the business. Just another reason for partners to be engaging outside the IT department.
TBI's Bryan Reynolds
Bryan Reynolds

TBI senior manager, post sales, and Channel Partners editorial adviser Bryan Reynolds says selling to millennials is big business: They will soon be the largest cohort in the workforce, controlling millions in spending.

Remember: Millennials are educated and quality conscious; purpose-driven and view tech as a tool; aware of a volatile economy; and early adopters of technology, which is to partners’ advantage. However, getting in the “virtual” door means engaging with them on social media using small, impactful posts. Focus on results, not just efforts. Monitor Yelp and other review sites.

“Get them to fall in love with you first, then maybe you can start dating,” said Reynolds.

OK, now that they’re in love with you, what now?
  • Don’t lecture, converse. Be inclusive
  • Visualize -- use graphics and demos. Let them hold and try products.
  • Manage expectations. Don’t go in there to close a sale; create an experience.
  • Emotional connection and showing a purpose matters.
  • Retain your millennial customers by being hands on -- don't make a sale then disappear until it's time to renew. Good advice for all customers.
(See Bryan Reynolds on the Channel Futures Stage at Channel Partners Evolution.)
Closing Opportunities Partner Panel
Closing Opportunities Partner Panel

In the second of two partner panels, TBI’s Newton (standing) quizzed (l-r) TBI solution engineer Joe Fizor, Bright Technologies president Kha Phan, Cost Containment Solutions owner Steve Reifel and TBI channel manager Eddie Wolfe on how to close big opportunities.

Phan said more than $200,000 in MRR on one deal is a result of walking into the customer site as an architect able to review the network topology. His engagements range from three to six months.

“Mainly we move security from the core to the edge, where everything is happening,” said Phan. “My customers are preparing themselves for multi or hybrid cloud.”

Fizor says TBI’s role is helping narrow down vendor options, keeping customers from needing to do discovery multiple times. Wolfe adds that the master offers a number of comparison guides to, for example, SD-WAN and UCaaS products.

“I ask a ton of questions then shut up and listen,” said Reifel. “It’s more important to find out who’s not a good fit over who is a good fit. Time is money.”
8x8's Dejan Deklich
Dejan Deklich

Dejan Deklich, chief product officer for 8x8, challenged attendees to examine how they’re helping customers collect suitable data for machine learning and, eventually, AI. The problem now is that most data sits in silos — Salesforce, help desk, phone systems, Slack, BlueJeans and dozens or hundreds more.

“This seems like a really ugly problem,” said Deklich, who came to 8x8 from Splunk. “Your systems of engagement and systems of record are separate.”

As a result, a customer may call a support center operator, who has no context around the issue or even the client's overall value or business. That leads to what Deklich calls the “I don’t know” problem.

The answer in context of a contact center — if we hope to get to the point that 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed by chatbots — is a single platform of engagement that spans customers and employees and enables first-call problem resolution.
CenturyLink's Lisa Miller
Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller, CenturyLink's president of wholesale, indirect and alliances, closed TBI’s Big Event programming by talking about trust — the cornerstone of the relationships that drive the channel.

While she cited challenges, from globalization to the entry of new partner types, Miller is upbeat about the future of the channel. In fact, she cited findings by The 2112 Group and other media and research brands that bolster the strong position of the indirect channel.

“There’s no direct sales force that could attack all that opportunity,” said Miller.

However, there are challenges. A big one that came up several times during the event is the fact that purchasing patterns are changing — LOB leaders are being invited to the table over 80 percent of the time for technology purchases, says IDC. That means a sale takes longer.

“You need to able to talk security at the chief security officer level,” says Miller. “And within six short years, most of the people at that table will be millennials.

Within CenturyLink, Miller says she and newly appointed CEO Glen Storey are working on how to disrupt its business from within.

“We are not as efficient as we needed to be,” she said. To respond, the company is aligning its five business units for maximum flexibility while creating an app to more efficiently deploy its 13,000 service technicians.

Miller says the marriage of CenturyLink and Level 3 has created a $24 billion company with 52,500 employees doing business in 60 companies and offering a full slate of consulting and products, 450,000 fiber route miles and about 100,000 fiber-lit buildings.

“We are really proud of our 20-plus year investment in the channel,” she said.

(Miller recently gained new responsibility with the move of her deputy John Delozier to 8x8.)
The Big Event Vendor Awards
Big Event Award Winners 2018

TBI employees voted on vendor honors. Two top company winners were AT&T (left) and Comcast (right).
The Big Event Closing Cocktail Party
Closing Cocktail Reception

The event wrapped up with a packed cocktail reception — and a bit more traffic at sponsor stations. Attendees Channel Partners spoke with appreciated the event being a one-day affair, where they can pick up some new ideas, meet with TBI and key suppliers, and then get back to work.

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