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View from the Channel – With Phil Cambers, Commercial Director, TruStack

TruStack is a provider of end-to-end IT managed services based in Cramlington, Northumberland, with a branch office in Houghton-le-Sprint, Tyne and Wear. Its comprehensive IT offering includes cloud and hosting, security solutions, IT managed services, unified communications, agile working, connectivity, disaster recovery and infrastructure services. Its client list boasts several of the North East’s Top 200 companies, including Muckle LLP and Collingwood Business Solutions, as well as big names from across the UK, such as the Natural History Museum and Vertu Motors. Over the last 12 months TruStack has helped hundreds of organisations implement ‘Hybrid Working’ practices that have enabled them to keep working securely and productively during the most challenging of times. So successful have these transitions been that many customers plan to maintain a Hybrid Working model in the future. Here, Commercial Director Phil Cambers 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?
Phil Cambers (PC): Business for us is generally very good. We have a wide range of clients in both the public and private sectors and are therefore reasonably well protected – if one vertical experiences difficulty we aren’t solely reliant upon them. We also have a very healthy managed services business, which irons out lumps in trading, as well as many lines of business that are consumption-led, such as Microsoft 365.

I would say that business is better than this time last year. This is probably due to the reliance people have on IT and agile working implementations with 365 and the associated eco system of products you need to ensure security, such as MFA, backup and cloud security.

The previous 12 months have been so strong for us, and I’m confident that if things ease as the Covid-19 restrictions relax, things can only go up. We have some really quite relevant solutions that are in demand, so hopefully we’ll see a good future.

TruStack building

TR: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?
PC: We’ve seen big growth in our managed services over the last 12 months, with many clients choosing to give us greater ownership and responsibility of their estates so they can concentrate more on their line of business apps. We’re also seeing strong demand for anything to do with agile working, including a five-fold increase in the number of laptops we shipped in 2020.

Security is the other area we’re seeing big demand. The concept of the traditional LAN has changed so much with the advent of a distributed workforce that many customers are re-visiting their security posture with our guidance.

TR: What recent wins are you most proud of?
PC:  There’ve been so many, where do I start! We have several large law firms we work with and we’ve had some really good wins with them of late. Interestingly, we looked at both traditional virtualisation solutions, with on premise hardware and software (VMware), versus public cloud. On all those wins, the cost of ownership of cloud over five years was far greater than buying on prem infrastructure and wrapping a TruStack managed service around it. Shifting a workload to LaaS (Logging in as Service) just because ‘you can’ doesn’t mean it’s right – especially if the workloads are predictable. Of course, cloud has its place and in the channel we all agree that hybrid is the future.

TR: Where is business proving most difficult?
PC:  I think winning net new logos is difficult at the moment as it’s hard to build a relationship with a prospect purely digitally when you can’t meet and network. That said, it is clearly not impossible, and we have taken on new business in the last 12 months. Conversely, we have done a lot more with our existing base, so the slow-down in net new logos has been more than counterbalanced by the account base taking up more of our other services. Hopefully the balance will redress soon and we can start to get out and network once again.

TR:  How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?
PC:  We are implementing a new system internally based on an implementation of a product called Connectwise. This will allow us to automate much more and link a lot of monthly billing directly with vendors’ portals using APIs. We are seeing much more consumption-based procurement, such as 365, and we need to ensure that operationally we are as slick as possible.

TR: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?
PC:  There are many challenges. However, one of the biggest I’m seeing is vendors becoming much more direct in their approaches to end users. Whilst they often can’t sell direct, I’m seeing some vendors approach my clients for renewals or generally trying to build a relationship directly with them. This not only alienates the managed services/reseller community; it also upsets end users who only want to deal with their preferred reseller. They often don’t care about the infrastructure, only the LOB apps – hence why they outsource. They don’t want to have a conversation with a vendor, as that vendor only forms part of the solution.

Quality IT professionals are in demand, which is another challenge, although good quality human resource has always been a challenge, no matter what industry you work in. One thing the pandemic has shown is that you can employ an individual pretty much anywhere and they can do their job, so you no longer need to limit your searches regionally.

TR:  Could vendors and distributors do more to help overcome the challenges you face? And if so, what?
PC:  We’ve actually had some of our staff poached by vendors in the past, so it would be a big help if they stopped doing that! Whilst we would never want to hold back an employee’s career, we do find it slightly irritating when a vendor makes an approach to them, albeit flattering in a backhanded way that they value our staff enough to want to employ them….I think Distribution has it tough at the moment. With the direct strategy of vendors changing, as I have mentioned, I have seen distribution’s influence diminish over the last few years. It’s not by chance that we’ve chosen to work with distributors that genuinely bring value – be it marketing support, extended credit or technical assistance. I value distribution hugely and am concerned about some vendors’ strategies and where they see distribution fitting in.

Trustack logo

TR:  Are customers becoming more demanding, and if so, in what ways?
PC:  Clients have always been demanding as we are the custodians of their IT, on which their LOB apps run. So there’s always a degree of expectation that we must adhere to. That’s nothing unusual, though; it’s been the case for the 22 years that I’ve worked in IT. Customers pay good money for top quality support and they expect quick resolutions to issues and also ongoing advice and assistance in shaping their IT strategy. I think customers are no more demanding today than they were five years ago.

TR:  If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be and why?
PC:  I genuinely love my job. I am lucky to be part of a board of directors who respect one another and I think that’s hugely important. All my fellow Directors are as passionate and driven as I am, which makes a big difference.

We also have some unbelievably talented staff who I am blessed to work with and who make the journey so much more enjoyable. And I get to manage a few accounts still, which helps me keep close to the real world and aware of the pain points that clients have.

I guess if I could change one thing at the moment, it would be to get out and network as I used to. Being the Commercial Director, it’s important for me to get out and about and build relationships with vendors, distributors, prospects and customers alike.

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