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Firing on all cylinders

How has Ignition Technology fared since its acquisition by Exclusive Networks? James Goulding finds out from Chief Strategy Officer Sean Remnant

In July 2021 Exclusive Networks acquired Ignition Technology to bolster its credentials as a specialist distribution partner for emerging cybersecurity innovators. In the 18 months since, the security VAD specialising in early-stage SaaS vendors has continued to thrive and maintain its own identity and, in the words of Chief Strategy Officer Sean Remnant, is now ‘stronger than ever’.

“When smaller organisations are acquired by larger entities they can get sucked up and digested, but we’re still here and stronger than ever. We have a separate P&L, a separate management team, a separate go-to-market and are growing very well.

“That said, our new big brother has helped open up new opportunities and relationships that we couldn’t have before, when we were smaller. It has also accelerated our international expansion. We’ve opened up Ignition in France and the Middle East, and we’re looking at DACH in the spring. We were already well established in the Nordics and Benelux and are growing strongly there too.”

A distinct identity

Even though Ignition and Exclusive Networks are both specialists in cybersecurity, Remnant is confident the junior partner can maintain its own identity.

“We are completely independent in terms of portfolio and strategy. What we’re here for is the adoption of fast growing, innovative vendors that are younger either in terms of their scale and revenue or their channel approach. Basically, we can provide that runway into Exclusive so that when those vendors get to a certain critical mass and want to scale out, there’s that Exclusive engine to give them more reach.”

It is still too early in the relationship for vendors to have followed this development path, but Remnant says that having a journey mapped out from incubation, start-up, growth to scale-out is generating interest with vendors.

Business outcomes

He adds that one of Ignition’s big strengths for new technology vendors, which he believes was also an attraction for Exclusive Networks, is its record of simplifying and demystifying very complex, technical offerings by focusing on solutions, stories, messaging and business outcomes rather than just technical pitches.

“Over the years, what we’ve done is really put solutions and stories at the forefront of our messaging and focused more on business outcomes. That’s not a normal way for a distributor to work. In the case of identity management, for example, we would look at stringing together two or three different solutions that provide an offering and then take our partners and their customers on a bit of a journey where they can get some early transactions and engagement just to prove it’s real.”

Identity management is one of Ignition’s key technologies and growth drivers.

“When we first started the business, we looked at the endpoint security market and we looked at the identity market because they were identified as the largest growth areas by all the analysts. At the time, identity was the remit of the Big Four consultancy firms and had not really been taken to the wider channel. We saw an opportunity there and that has been very good to us.”

With continued growth in identity predicted for the next couple of years, vendors such as Okta, BeyondTrust and Sailpoint are going to be key for Ignition.

Cyber insurance

“Another area that’s been really good for us this year is cyber insurance. Our partners have been telling us that their customers either can’t get insurance or their premiums have gone up or the insurance companies aren’t insuring for the amount they were. A lot of insurance companies are basically saying, you must have these technical controls in place and be able to demonstrate you’ve got them before we will even quote cyber insurance.

“We’re taking that to our partners and saying if you are in conversations with your customers about this, you probably need to look at these seven or eight areas and make sure they’ve got coverage, because that’s going to put them in the best position to be able to actually get insurance. That’s been working really well because, again, it’s a business outcome kind of conversation rather than just going in there going ‘oh, you need antivirus or you need identity governance’. It seems to be much better approach.”

New vendors

Remnant, who describes himself as a cautious optimist, also has high hopes for a couple of new vendors signed this year: Abnormal, an email security solution; and AppOmni, a software security management company specialising in the protection of SaaS applications.

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“Part of our skill set is identifying the next big thing. We have probably looked at over 2,500 vendors in eight years – looking at the market space, the management team, how they’re funded, what their burn rates are, that whole diligence piece. I think that is going to be even more important in the next couple of years, when we might see some consolidation of younger vendors or a slightly different business model of investing after revenue instead of before.”

Added value

Remnant says that Ignition’s success doesn’t just come from its ability to keep picking the right vendors, but also from its ability to keep providing and demonstrating value.

“Distribution and the channel have changed quite considerably over the last two or three years and there are now many more routes to market: we’ve got MSPs, we’ve got agents, we’ve got software companies providing marketplaces, we’ve got the hyperscalers. Distribution has become an orchestrator in the middle of all those different routes to market, all of which must demonstrate value.”

Demonstrating value is a fairly amorphous concept, so what does it mean in the context of distribution?

“It means we work hand in hand with partners in terms of end user lead generation; we will happily shoulder-to- shoulder sell with our partners; we will go into end users with our partners to help evangelise and educate them on what’s available, which is of value to our partners, end users and vendors; we will tie solutions together to make one plus one equal three. Instead of going in and talking purely about BeyondTrust, we’ll talk about BeyondTrust, Sailpoint and Okta, and how they connect as a solution.

“It’s a bit cheesy, but added value is about providing hyper-care for our vendors and hyper-care for our partners and customers, which you really have to provide for early-stage technologies and vendors.”

Education and support

Another big part of Ignition’s added value involves helping resellers keep up with developments in technology.

“I think nearly every partner would say there are too many solutions out there and part of our value lies in filtering that out so people can see the wood for the trees. Partners will often have a list of their top 10 vendors and many put Ignition on that list. They may have Palo Alto, Fortinet, Cisco, Juniper, F5 and then number eight might be Ignition. And if they get asked by a customer for something they don’t particularly know about, they will come to us for that technology or that conversation.”

Remnant adds that for technology vendors specifically, Ignition’s added value covers everything from education and training to channel enablement and partner acquisition.

“We provide an extension of the vendor in every area that they need it; we offer pre-sales support, we offer post-sales support, we offer consultancy, we offer marketing, we offer lead generation. We truly are, or can be, an extension to that vendor in every area, especially for younger organisations that may not have all the resource they need.

“These organisations may be getting a little more conservative in terms of headcount, but because they’re still expected to grow at the same rate, they need to leverage other resources. This plays to our strengths with our solution selling, that one plus one equals three approach, being able to work with one vendor and bring another one into the conversation to widen the audience.”

Challenges and opportunities

Remnant considers himself lucky to work in the technology industry, which continues to be remarkably resilient to the challenges facing the wider UK business community.

“I’ve been in this industry for 32 years – I have to look at LinkedIn to remember what my job history was – and over the years technology and cyber have always been fairly resilient. We’ve seen peaks and troughs, but with those peaks and troughs, we’ve seen opportunity. Today, organisations can’t afford to have a technology deficit in cybersecurity. They can’t afford not to invest year-on-year because if they just sit back they will become a victim.”

Recruitment is one requirement that Ignition, like every other organisation, does find challenging, but ever the cautious optimist Remnant thinks even the skills shortage could be easing.

“Depending on what you read, there’s a deficit of three or three and a half million people with cyber skills. I think everyone’s finding it a challenge to find the right people. In the next year or two, we might see a slight change in that. We’ve seen redundancies in a lot of the big tech companies that are retrenching a little, which I think might alleviate things. That’s my personal opinion. But, yes, right now, it is difficult getting the right people and keeping the right people.”

When pressed for other challenges, Remnant thinks hard before suggesting vendors that don’t want to commit completely to the channel but would rather use every available route to market.

“The channel typically only works if there’s trust and transparency,” he says. “Other than that, I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”

www.ignition-technology.com

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