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View from the Channel: With Keith Ali, Group MD, Creative ITC


A fast growing IT infrastructure and global cloud services provider, Creative ITC designs and delivers managed services and cloud solutions that help clients maximise the value of their IT investments and achieve business objectives sooner.

Through its purpose-built VDIPOD platform, Creative ITC is a leading provider of VDI and desktop-as-a-service solutions for heavy data users and global project teams in the AEC, finance and healthcare sectors. It also provides a range of cloud enablement solutions, including data centre technology, and multi-award- winning cloud services covering everything from security, backup and disaster recovery to infrastructure, network and storage.

At the end of last year, Creative ITC launched a channel partner programme giving other channel businesses access to its extensive networking, infrastructure and cloud expertise, technical support capabilities and technology solutions. Here, Group MD Keith Ali gives his view from the channel.

Technology Reseller (TR): How’s business? Better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future?
Keith Ali (KA): Creative ITC has enjoyed continued commercial success in turbulent market conditions, tripling in size over the last five years. We’ve established a global footprint across five continents, opening five new datacentres in the past 12 months alone.

For Creative, the best is yet to come. We’ve enjoyed phenomenal growth and I know the stage is set for that to continue. This year will see us step up another gear on our growth journey. We’re in investment discussions to fuel our development through both organic and inorganic routes. Watch this space.

TR: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?
KA: To help clients futureproof their IT and overcome challenges when modernising IT systems, we’ve developed a Modern Application Platform (MAP) based on kubernetes, designed to de-risk legacy system updates while stretching budgets through container orchestration and performance improvements. It’s a single-stop solution for updating older software to the very latest languages and frameworks, while simplifying scary and costly cloud transitions.

There’s also rising demand to make IT simpler to manage and less costly. We understand aaS (as-a-Service) solutions need to align with future needs and dovetail seamlessly with existing IT investments. Hot on the heels of infrastructure virtualisation, application virtualisation is snowballing. Yet compute and storage – and therefore virtualisation – are coming closer to the edge. This increases the need for greater workload mobility, automated operations, and improved performance and resource availability.

These are some of the main drivers behind our focus on developing more tailored, scalable solutions for customers.

TR: What recent wins are you most proud of?
KA: I’m proud of Creative’s continued commercial success, but it’s not just about the financials. Establishing our channel partner programme is not only contributing towards our growth but, more importantly for me, it’s also clear evidence that our business strategy is paying off.

Tapping into Creative’s award-winning managed services and AEC industry expertise, we’ve helped deliver our VDI solution with one partner and are now working together on extending the customer relationship with further managed services and a cloud-hosted rendering solution. We’re helping another partner to transition an architecture client from legacy on-premise infrastructure to more agile cloud-based managed services. And, working with another partner who identified an opportunity to provide additional services, we’re offering improved technical support to their client via our 24/7 managed UK service desk.

As well as partnering with other resellers in areas such as DRaaS, BaaS and DaaS, we’re working alongside one of the UK’s leading distributors to deliver a range of cloud solutions to their partner community.

When we were building Creative, I wish we’d had a partner who really got what we were about and could help us on our journey. I’m immensely proud to be in a position now where we can offer that kind of much needed support and expertise across the channel to help other companies to grow, while we continue to go from strength to strength ourselves.

TR: Where is business proving most difficult?
KA: Attracting and retaining the best talent is more challenging now than at any time I’ve ever witnessed. It’s not that the talent pool has evaporated – more people are being attracted to IT – but the fact that technology has rocketed up the corporate agenda, creating an unprecedented range of opportunities.

Growing reliance on technology is great for the channel, but it’s also brought fresh challenges. Hybrid working is both liberating and demanding. We’ve all had to maintain team culture and wellbeing while working apart and, while the new work-life balance is welcomed, demands on employers have evolved hugely.

The new wave of people entering our industry have greater opportunities and expectations of their jobs, salaries, lifestyles and employers than ever before. With more opportunities than people, they’re in the driving seat, often enjoying a choice of job offers, jumping ship if they’re not happy and seizing higher salaries with every move.

Salary has always been a broad measure of skill and experience. Now, rising expectations of entry and mid-level candidates are narrowing traditional salary bands, making recruitment and selection harder than ever. It’s increasingly difficult for channel businesses to pan for gold among the rocks.

It’s a widespread issue across the channel and certainly not sustainable. It’s not an easy nut to crack, and rather than us battling against each other, upping bids to snap up the latest individual, we need to work together to find a solution.

TR: How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?
KA: Growing customer demand for IT systems that are easier and cheaper to manage is fuelling the growth of MSPs. At Creative, we’re expanding our portfolio of award-winning managed services by developing further solutions tailored to meet the evolving needs of clients in the AEC industry and other sectors.

We also recognised the market opportunity to set up our channel division, opening up new income streams for our business while supporting other IT companies on their own growth journeys. The programme makes it easier and quicker for our partners to deliver new services for their clients, opening up fresh conversations and previously unexploited revenue opportunities for them. Our partners can access new managed solutions, additional technical support, our cloud expertise and global service capabilities so that we all enjoy the mutual benefits of growing revenues and relationships.

TR: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?
KA: Resellers are being forced to keep pace with an ever evolving mix of on- premise, public, hybrid and multi-cloud IT infrastructures for their clients.

Hyperscalers Amazon, Microsoft and Google continue to dominate the cloud market, accounting for approximately two thirds of global cloud revenues (excluding China), and are growing at a faster rate than smaller cloud providers. So, it’s no real surprise that vendors are increasingly focussing their efforts on public cloud technologies from these three big players.

Many VARs and MSPs aren’t in a position to do anything other than offer clients public cloud solutions. Not only are most not able to instigate a private cloud offer of their own, but the growing emphasis by vendors on public cloud is compounding the situation. From NPD and solution development to leasing and consumption models, everything is becoming more and more geared towards public cloud.

The channel is being forced in one direction – towards the hyperscalers – and that can’t be healthy for competition.

TR: Could vendors and distributors do more to help you overcome these challenges? And if so, what?
KA: With the global cloud market expected to be worth nearly $600 billion this year, concentrating on the hyperscalers leaves a huge share of the global cloud industry at risk of being ignored. Vendors need to be more aligned with VARs and MSPs who are seeking to carve out niches for their businesses in increasingly difficult industry conditions, helping them to maintain specialisms, relevance and credibility in the market by developing other competitive cloud solutions.

Ofcom is currently probing into the hyperscalers as it assesses competition in the UK cloud market, looking into features that limit innovation, bar entry and hamper growth in cloud services. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact of their recommendations on the channel.

TR: Are customers become more demanding, and if so, in what ways?
KA: It’s part of business (and human nature) to want more for less, and that demand drives continued innovation and healthy competition – and that’s how it should be. The problem is the growing disconnect between customer expectations and the bigger picture.

We don’t live in a world where the laws of supply and demand remain unaffected by other forces, so growing uptake of IT solutions doesn’t automatically drive down prices. In the real world, everything is costing more: materials, transport, skilled labour, energy – you name it, prices have gone up, making it more costly across the entire IT industry to deliver solutions.

It’s a mounting challenge for the channel to manage customer expectations and ensure margins aren’t eroded away entirely in the fight to win deals and increase market share.

TR: If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be and why?
KA: People make companies, and I’m hugely proud of the talented team we’ve built at Creative. But as we grow it’s becoming harder for me to spend as much time with everyone as I would like. One of the benefits of having been in the industry for many years is that I’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. I’m also proud to have honed my mentoring skills to help individuals become the best they can be. Leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility, and I’d love to be able to spend more quality time with each and every individual.

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