Software is one area in IT today that can drastically reduce the element of risk as one great implementation could be the key differentiator in the IT solutions game.
Today, more than ever, solution providers are taking the plunge, tying hardware products with business applications. Most channel partners are shying away from box pushing alone in favour of offering end-to-end solutions to their clients. This approach has helped them to distinguish their business.
So what does this mean for business applications solution providers that target SMBs in the region?
Saurabh Arora, manager – Small and Medium Business at Symantec Middle East and North Africa, says with most application vendors increasing their focus in the SMB space, Symantec has always been extremely focused and committed to SMBs. “We realise the significance of this business segment,” he says. “We were among the first few to tailor our channel programme to specifically suit the requirements of SMBs.
Arora says SMBs face the same challenges as that of large enterprises although the scale and risk appetite vary. He adds that SMBs need their service providers to be “trusted advisors” that can help them scale and stay competitive in the business landscape.
Arora explains that Symantec partners, focusing on this segment of business, understand this, and are specialists in technologies which act as solutions for end customers. “Our teams work extremely close with the channel, to ensure they are enabled well enough,” he says.
Khalid Khan, SME Manager – Emerging Markets, Avaya, says there are two elements that Avaya is advising its partners on. First, it’s the financial model that they adopt with their end-user customers. “We are encouraging them to provide their customers with a more flexible payment model, such as selling products on a lease basis, paying in instalments, pay for performance model or rental basis,” he says. “This basically helps customers convert capital expenditure into an operating expenditure which is much preferred in today’s financial climate.”
The second element according to Khan is the providing of a full solution. “Customers have become price conscious, and this elements helps them consolidate their purchases,” he says. “Our partners are able to offer complete portfolio of solutions and services and therefore delver better value to their customers in terms of cost reduction,” he says. Khan adds that customers want value, and this can be achieved when the partners integrate the above mentioned elements into their sales proposition.
Basil Daniells, regional director at Epicor Middle East, Africa, Turkey and India, says Epicor has continued to see tremendous channel opportunities in the Middle East market. Daniells adds that as the market continues to mature, more and more companies are considering and implementing business applications across the Middle East region. “This presents significant opportunity for channel partners to present a business application like an ERP solution as an important clog in the wheel of solutions to the end customer,” he says.
He adds that channel partners are entities that provide last mile connectivity where larger IT companies have no presence yet – the support is both in terms of sales and implementation in as diverse market as the Middle East. “IT companies invest heavily in the training of channel partners in order to help them understand the business applications better which ultimately provides a tangible value to the end customer,” he remarks.
Khan adds that Avaya has a variety and a combination of initiatives for its SME focused partners. He explains that post acquisition of Nortel’s enterprise assets, the company has aligned partners that come from Nortel and Avaya to benefit from both sides of the technology, so there Avaya invested in knowledge transfer. “We also have a central marketing initiative through an external source Market Leaders, who help us in lead generating activities in different countries across the region,” he says. “It’s a very ROI based investment that we have made, and the results are shared with our SME partners.”
The other initiative, says Khan, is the local boot camps which Avaya organises for its partners across the GCC. “We have intensive camps for one day, or a more in-depth session for three to five days,” he says. “We also have a rebate programme for our partners who grow revenue and certification through the SME programme. We assist them with financial and marketing benefits.”
Arora says in today’s world information is key in any business environment and no organisation irrespective of size/scale can ignore this aspect today. “Our technologies today cover the three pillars of information – security, availability and management – and we have tailored these solutions to best suit the SMB sector,” he says.
He adds that in an uncertain economic climate – nothing is more valued by partners than predictability and profitability in their business. He points out that predictability comes to the business with knowledge and this includes knowledge about solutions, knowledge about the customers’ environment and most importantly knowledge on how to best implement these solutions in the customers’ environment. “We have started an aggressive “hands-on “enablement programme for partners across the Middle East and North Africa region, which consists of instructor led sessions that help our partners gain deep insight into the various technologies. We are taking the knowledge directly to our partners,” he says.
Arora explains that on the profitability side, with Symantec’s newly revamped SMB Specialisation, partners can be certain of extra margin through the exclusive “Margin Builder Tool”. “SMB specialisation also offers additional tools such as NFR’s, free online certifications, access to technical support, marketing support etc,” he says.
In addition to SMB specialisation, Arora adds that Symantec also has a programme called Simplicity, a portal for the vendor’s partner community to readily access information on Symantec products and solutions.
Daniells says an ERP solution as a business application allows a small and medium business to have a better understanding and an overall insight into the operations of the business.
He explains that when a small business is finally coming out of its shell and ready to enter the “big league” such as, significant growth, growth in personnel, presence in multiple locations, it needs the ability to have the flow of information, critical to the operations available as needed. “Information that tends to come in late often results in a chain reaction delaying decision making process leading to delays in the fundamental operations of a business,” he says. This is where a business application like an ERP solution can help.
Daniells says a SMB should ideally start the adoption of an ERP solution depending upon the type of business it runs, factors that directly or indirectly affect the business and the expected growth in business in the short and long term.
Arora concurs and goes on to say that information is growing at a very rapid pace, the threat landscape has gone through a paradigm shift, what was relevant yesterday is obsolete today! He adds that in the last year Symantec too as a company has gone through a lot of evolution. “Demand is there, more than half of SMBs today, as per research conducted recently, do not have a backup solution,” he observes. “Only 20% of SMB’s use minimal security to protect customer and employee data. The challenge is to reach to as many customers and educate them on the gaps in their security infrastructure and risks associated with that.
Daniells says with its ability to facilitate the flow of information between all business functions within an organisation and manage relationships across stakeholder domain, business applications like ERP solutions consolidate all business operations into a uniform and company-wide system environment. “The principal advantage of such applications is that they provide good insights into the day to day operations of the business, allowing the companies to be more competitive and flexible compared to some of its bigger competitors,” he says. “It also helps the businesses take informed decisions and improve productivity with limited resources and effort.”
Having said that, Daniells outlines that an ideal business application at its roots is based on functionality. He believes a functional business application would mean, it matches your business requirements, it is scalable upon call and takes care of regulatory requirements of the geography it is deployed in.
He goes on to say that a business application is also considered ideal if it is favourable to the bottom line of the business. “This in terms of its reasonable licence fee cost of implementation and maintenance,” he says. “You should take into cognisance the company providing the solution, its standing in the market, its commitment to future support, upgrades and product development.”
With managed services and SaaS models having taken off, are SMBs in the Middle East embracing these business models? What should partners looking to provide SaaS or managed services be focusing on?
Arora says Symantec’s SaaS division, Symantec Hosted Services (SHS), is experiencing rapid growth in the Middle East. “We have continued to invest heavily in this part of our business to match that demand,” he says. “Messagelabs, the managed security services pioneer, acquired by Symantec two years ago, already had a strong SMB presence in the Middle East region, with customers running various mail security, compliance and availability solutions.”
He adds that now under the SHS banner, the company has found that the adoption rate for SaaS in the Middle East is tracking in line with Western Europe and North America, as companies and especially SMB’s appreciate the lower total cost of ownership associated with this model.
Arora points out that the shift to SaaS and Managed Services does create a new set of challenges for the traditional reseller model, however partners that can adapt to this market trend will quickly see the benefit of increased scalability, predictable revenue streams, shorter sales cycles, less technical resource required and less post sales support headaches.
While solution providers have found some success selling hardware products, it?s those resellers that are able to offer holistic solutions that are earning recurring revenues.