In December, Colleen McMillan joined F5 Networks, a provider of cloud and security application services, as their Vice President of Worldwide Channel Sales, after nearly 25 years in the IT industry, including spells at Gemalto, Qlik, Citrix, Dell and VMware. On a quick visit to the UK to attend F5 Forum 2019, she took the opportunity to talk to Technology Reseller about her plans for the channel
Technology Reseller (TR): Please can you tell our readers a little about F5 Networks and how it helps address the needs of businesses today. Colleen McMillan (CM): F5 started as a load balancer in the late 1990s, helping dotcoms to scale their websites. Then, in early 2000, it evolved into an ADC (Application Delivery Controller) company and it became all about security, about balancing complex traffic, about compliancy.
Now, with multi-cloud, customers are looking, first, to manage their applications – which are only growing – and, second, to move some of those applications off premise into cloud, be that Amazon, Google or Microsoft. Customers want to be able to rely on the same performance, load-balancing, security, compliance, whether applications are in-house, onpremise or in multi-cloud, and F5 is now transitioning and working with customers to achieve that.
The other big trend is the incredible explosion of applications. I think it was Forrester that said there are approximately 215 million apps today but by 2021 there will be 1.3 billion. You can’t go a day without using some form of application, whether an Uber or a Facebook or a Starbucks. Everyone is relying on these applications, so not only have they increased in number, but also in importance. We call this application capital.
What’s interesting is that companies always know where their outlets are, where their offices are, how many employees they have. If it’s a trucking management company, they know how many trucks they have. Yet they can’t get a handle on where their applications are, how many they have or how to protect them.
So, we have growth in the number of applications and in their importance and we have customers who want the ultimate flexibility of choosing between on-premise and off-premise. With that comes increased worry about how they can protect and secure applications and deliver the same performance that they were able to do when everything was managed on-site and there were only a few of them. It’s a perfect storm.
TR: What size of customer do you have?
CM: We have customers of all sizes, and that’s what’s interesting about the new products and solutions we are coming out with (see below). Because customers are moving to applications through the cloud, every customer out there needs help in protecting and securing their applications. Regardless of their size, they now run their businesses on applications, so we are working to release products that allow customers to consume our technologies in different ways to fit their budget or preferred procurement model. In the past, it was more likely to be on-premise, but with the cloud there are more options for making these tools available.
TR: The channel has a critical role in raising awareness of these new options. How many partners do you have, and do you sell exclusively through the channel?
CM: F5 Networks has over 3,000 partners globally, around 500 of which are in the UK and Ireland. We do have sales people who work on some of our larger accounts, but 95% plus of our business goes through the channel. We don’t compete with our channel; it’s very complementary.
TR: Are you planning to take on more channel partners?
CM: My philosophy is to focus on, and really invest in, the partners who invest in us. Through our partnerships, we have been able to drive scale and reach and that’s one of the big reasons for leveraging an external channel – how do we get to more customers? So, we work to make sure our partners are successful, that we are aligned correctly and that we are giving them the tools, enablement and other things they need. Our traditional way of dealing with partners has been around a resale notion, but as more and more customers start to buy in a services-type fashion, maybe from a managed service provider, we are working to help partners move to that model.
TR: What are some of the challenges your partners face in moving to that model?
CM: The marketplace is in transition and we are coming out with new products, new consumption models, new go-to market models. Some partners will be very successful at changing and some will prefer to sell in the traditional model around perpetual and on-prem. Because each customer is at a different stage of their digital transformation journey and each customer configuration is unique, we’re making all options available and making sure partners have all the tools and resources they need to sell in the way customers want to consume. So far, we are very pleased with the response from partners.
TR: What plans do you have for the rest of 2019?
CM: We want our partner programme to be as well aligned to the changing market as our new solutions and go to markets. Our Unity programme is an excellent core programme, which suits all our partner types. However, it is primarily focused around resale partners, so over the year we are going to focus on building that out, increasing its flexibility and making sure it is aligned with customer demand for different buying options.
In addition, we are going to be putting very real dollars behind partner development. We are going to invest in channel-focused marketing and demand creation and in partner-facing tools to help them develop, even launching a new partner portal.
The other thing that can’t be overstated is that we want to be very easy to do business with. We are therefore increasing the transparency of communication with our partners and are launching our first ever Voice of the Partner survey. It’s all about listening and learning from our partners so we can do a better job for them. The survey findings will guide the investments we make later in the year.