Despite, or rather because of, its many challenges 2020 was a transformational year. Along with business disruption, cancelled projects and distressed customers, it brought new opportunities for resellers/MSPs and reinforced their value as trusted advisors to businesses of all sizes. The events of the last 12 months have clearly accelerated underlying trends, notably digital transformation, and these will continue to influence investment decisions in 2021. But what else will 2021 bring? Will we face more of the same challenges and opportunities as 2020, or will we finally conquer COVID-19 and start re-building the economy with confidence and imagination? Over the next 16 pages, we ask the experts for their views on where resellers and MSPs should concentrate their efforts in the year ahead.
A world of opportunity
Gary Sievers, Senior Director of Channel & Alliances,APJ, Veritas
1. New opportunities for the channel to support remote workers
Three quarters (76%) of CEOs in a study by Fortune and Deloitte say that they will need less office space in the future as organisations around the world transform themselves, following the shift to remote working prompted by the COVID pandemic. With companies closing some buildings and more workers operating far away from any kind of corporate facility, new opportunities will emerge for channel businesses to offer their services. From laptop provisioning and repair to in-country data hosting and management services, there are plenty of functions that have the potential to transition to the partner community in the absence of a physical corporate presence. Ensuring that data, which has become disparately spread across remote infrastructures, is protected, available and stored compliantly is a great place for resellers to start.
2. AI will free resellers to focus on adding value
Over the course of 2020, AI and machine learning have become more pervasive, and we expect that to continue well into the New Year. In the data protection space, bots will play a bigger role in monitoring the success of backups and in self-healing should file copies become corrupted. With this bread-and-butter activity handled automatically, channel partners that manage this on behalf of their customers will be free to focus on value-added activities instead.
3. Extended multi-cloud complexity will increase reliance on the channel
Recent Veritas research shows that the average business is using more than 11 different cloud providers to build its networks. This diversity allows organisations to acquire best-of-breed features and drives down costs, but it also introduces management challenges. We foresee businesses becoming more reliant on channel partners that can overlay third-party management and protection solutions onto these cloud environments so that consistent policies can be applied across their networks. There’s a real opportunity for resellers to partner with vendors of cloud-agnostic solutions to simplify reporting and ensure holistic best-practice can be enforced.
4. A new talent pool will open to the channel – but beware the feeding frenzy!
We’re all hoping that 2021 will see COVID-19 beaten and enable a more normal return to work. However, the new ‘normal’ may not be the same for every company – some will want their teams back in the office five-days a week, others will want them to work from home full-time, with most opting for a hybrid approach between these two extremes. As a result, there is likely to be a period of worker migration as employees vote with their feet and find employers whose idea of the working week matches their own. We expect to see a lot of talent on the market in 2021, which will be a great opportunity for channel businesses to acquire the skills they need. Now is a good time to think about the talent your business needs and how to attract it. What sort of packages are you offering? And do your vendors have reliable products with a decent margin? Getting this right early on may help you later in the year. Cloud skills, in particular, will be in short supply in 2021, following the huge uptick in cloud adoption due to the pandemic. While this is likely to create competition amongst channel businesses for talent, it is also a huge opportunity for resellers to provide services that augment the abilities of over-stretched in-house teams.
5. Cloud protection conversations will open doors for the channel in 2021
2020 was the year of cloud and digital transformation for businesses around the world. As organisations rushed to empower a newly remote workforce during the pandemic, many businesses condensed years of modernisation plans into deployments that lasted only a matter of months. In the rush to deliver improvements in the production environment, security often fell by the wayside. In our survey, 64% of businesses said they felt their security transformation had failed to keep pace with their IT complexity, highlighting a resiliency gap that leaves them vulnerable to attack. We expect recognition of this risk amongst IT leaders to translate into spending in 2021 as they look to close the gap. Channel businesses that start sales conversations by offering cloud protection solutions should find a receptive audience in the New Year.
6. MSPs need to get ahead of their own transformation gaps
It’s easy to think of challenges and solutions in a binary way: businesses have technology challenges and the channel provides solutions. In 2021, it’s going to be more important than ever to remember that technology challenges can affect us all. The transformation gaps that 64% of businesses highlighted in our research are also starting to appear in the networks of Managed Service Providers (MSPs). It’s critical for these to be closed if MSPs are not to face enormous reputational damage. Cybersecurity will remain a hot topic throughout 2021 and MSPs should make sure they’re on the right side of the story, closing their own gaps first so that they can provide reliable solutions to their customers.
Will 2021 be a better year for the UK IT channel?
Naresh Chouhan, EMEA Marketing Director, Cloudian
2020 was a challenging year for the channel. Revenues were down nearly across the board, with Covid-19 affecting almost every player, from vendors and distributors to resellers and MSPs. But is there light at the end of the tunnel, and will 2021 be any brighter?
The challenges of the pandemic have demonstrated the need for resilient, scalable IT infrastructures, in which continuity can be ensured and total costs easily kept under control, so we can expect many sectors and technologies to show renewed strength next year.
However, IT requirements have been fundamentally and potentially permanently changed by the pandemic, and end-users will demonstrate this in 2021 through their buying choices.
These will likely take the form of investment in solutions that provide better backup support for the SaaS tools businesses now increasingly rely upon (notably Microsoft 365) and better and more reliable defences against the increased threat of ransomware. Every participant in the channel needs to be able to cater to these demands or run the risk of being left behind.
What will drive growth in 2021?
In the 12 months from September 2019 to August 2020, the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) handled more than three times as many ransomware incidents as in the previous year, with local government, healthcare and education all hit hard.
Expensive and high profile incidents, such as the attack on Redcar Council, which was reported to have cost £10.14 million to put right; the aggressive targeting of backups; and an increase in the number of phishing attacks have raised doubts about the effectiveness of traditional methods of ransomware prevention and highlighted the difficulty of eradicating human error.
Considering these risks, we expect more end users to invest in solutions like immutable data backup that prevents hackers from tampering with ‘locked’ data, driving growth for the VARS and MSPs that can provide them. We also see significant growth potential in Disaster Recovery as a Service, Storage as a Service and Office 365 backup services.
What risks lie ahead?
Though opportunities abound for the channel, it would be foolish to ignore the challenges ahead for partners that cannot adapt. We expect demand for traditional block storage to continue to decline as end user needs change.
For example, the need to derive maximum value from data through the insights provided by analytics tools has made advanced metadata tagging essential – a capability provided by object storage but not traditional block storage.
In addition, we anticipate that MSPs and VARs that are not sufficiently prepared for installing physical systems while complying with social distancing regulations could struggle in 2021. As government regulations can change overnight, organisations are advised to appoint a special committee to make quick and informed decisions about how on the ground IT teams can adhere to social distancing protocols.
Just because 2020 was difficult, does not mean 2021 will follow suit. Many buyers in the finance, insurance and legal sectors recognise the need for increased investment to tackle the threat posed by ransomware and were just waiting for the pandemic to stabilise before taking action.
This caused a degree of lag that the channel should benefit from as growth returns in 2021 – as long as they reflect the new requirements of the market and supply the products that customers want.
A changing landscape – Chris Martin, EMEA Channel Leader, A10 Networks
The next 12 months will see a period of consolidation and growth for the channel. Every vendor should be looking at how they have adapted their working practices, internally and with partners, especially during the peak months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Applying such learnings should make for a far less turbulent year in 2021. In fact, most organisations have accelerated their digital transformation plans which has hopefully led to opportunity and growth for the channel.
Some partners may already have seen revenue declines in traditional, mainstream technology, and they should focus on developing new technologies and solutions for their customers that are suitable for a completely different way of working.
Key growth areas will be cloud migration, addressing network security concerns, IoT proliferation and a lack of agility and visibility throughout the IT infrastructure. The adoption of 5G will see the scope of partnerships change as it brings innovation and access to new revenue streams. There will also be significant growth opportunities in vertical sectors, causing vendors to focus on partners that have specialist skills in particular areas.
Threats for the channel in 2021
Working practices have been irreversibly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with upwards of two-thirds of UK adults set to work remotely in the future. This has introduced an extended surface area for cyberattacks.
The enterprise perimeter has not only expanded but become much more distributed as many employees no longer work inside the traditional network perimeter. Organisations need to re-assess how they defend their networks, users and data. Likewise, service providers will experience increased demand to provide higher security and availability for their subscribers.
Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why strong partner relationships are critical. Some organisations, especially large ones, will prioritise scalability, flexibility and an efficient multi-cloud transformation; others will simply need advice on how they can make a smoother and more secure transition to a remote workforce.
Article to be continued tomorrow…..