Solution providers are building their own offerings and connecting to broader ecosystems so they can be more than cloud middlemen.
Channel companies and IT vendors are all shifting from hardware-based procurement and innovation cycles to a world where software and services are always-on, pay-as-you-go and constantly changing. To stand out, solution providers need to specialize, focus and do more than just resell someone else's cloud capacity.
This month, CRN spoke with vendors that were putting emphasis on helping partners develop their own offerings, with their branding and marketing supporting it. Additionally, vendors are continuing to sharpen their focus on verticals, making it easier for channel partners to add value and specific expertise for companies in specific industries that have unique IT needs.
Microsoft led the charge here. CRN reported this month that Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft's worldwide commercial business, used his keynote presentation at the Microsoft Inspire partner conference to outline how the company is helping partners develop expertise in six priority vertical opportunities –financial services, manufacturing, retail, education, health care and government.
"Customers are asking us to understand their business and marry our technology to help them with their business," he said.
Even inside of the vertical industries, Microsoft said it would drill down to specific industry-focused solutions, helping partners target their sales and marketing efforts to fit, according to Toni Townes-Whitley, Microsoft's corporate vice president for industry. For instance, the company will work with partners to develop nine focused solutions for the health care industry, including care coordination, clinical analytics, operational analytics, mobile care worker, patient engagement, virtual health, medical data storage, remote patient monitoring, and health-focused cybersecurity.
At the same conference, Microsoft unveiled a new online marketplace through which its channel can directly provision solutions from the software giant's technology partners. The new platform, Third Party Offers, aims to make it easier for solution providers to bundle third-party products with Microsoft offerings like Office 365. Solutions providers and ISVs would only have to onboard once through the Microsoft platform, and then they can sell any or all of the connected offerings to their customers.
"They [Microsoft] know that when you mix third- and first-party offerings, it makes them both more sticky and gives VARs more ammunition for making additional margins on services," Jon Ferrara, CEO of Nimble CRM, a Microsoft technology partner, told CRN.
Also this month, security vendor Palo Alto Networks is helping channel companies by encouraging partner-led services. The vendor said there's a new "blended-margin" opportunity for partners to take the Palo Alto Networks technology and wrap their own services around it. This especially applies to cloud services, like Amazon Web Services. Ron Myers, senior vice president of worldwide channels for the vendor told CRN that he sees an opportunity for partners to build a "compelling story" around cloud services that are paired with security using technology from Palo Alto Networks.
The examples above show that with the right kind of vendor help, solution providers can succeed at building their own offerings, connecting to broader ecosystems of technology suppliers and deepening their focus inside of vertical industries. Instead of just being a middleman for cloud services, these firms are finding ways to provide value, solving business problems for clients and managing vendor relationships in a way that helps them stay relevant in a time of constant technological change.