Delivering the full stack

Tech Access on forging new partnerships for success and expansion plans for the region

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Delivering the full stack The prospect of getting to grips with Oracle, not always seen as entirely partner-friendly was a challenge, says Ghalib.
By  Mark Sutton Published  September 8, 2011

Appointed as Sun Microsystem's only Channel Development Provider (CDP) for the Middle East in 2001, value-add distributor Tech Access built a successful business around Sun hardware systems, investing in certification for data centre-level deployments, along with a smaller portfolio of additional vendors.

With the acquisition of Sun by Oracle, announced in January 2010 however, the VAD which had previously concentrated on a predominantly hardware-focused vendor, suddenly found itself dealing with one of the biggest software vendors, and its software driven approach.

Shomail Ghalib, president and CEO said that the prospect of getting to grips with Oracle, not always regarded by some in the channel as entirely partner-friendly, was a challenge, but one that now presents the company with exciting prospects.

"I think we have dealt with that very well, we have weathered the storm," he said. "I think having a software vendor digest a hardware vendor, has been a learning curve more for [Oracle] than anyone else. All credit to them, they have reacted to the obstacles, it is a massive task. It is still changing, it is quite fluid.

"Because we were the only Sun CDP (channel development provider) at the time, we bore most of the brunt of that transition, and I think we have now not only integrated well into Oracle, but have aligned ourselves with the software business. It is exciting for us to see the growth in the Oracle software business, and approaching a whole new set of partners, with the integrated solutions stack," Ghalib added.

Following Oracle's integrated approach, Tech Access, which was appointed as an Oracle VAD for the MENA region in October last year, is now addressing the market with the full Sun-Oracle solution stack of hardware and software components.

Ghalib says that despite questions as to whether Oracle might take more business direct, that has not proven to be the case, and the software vendor has a clear channel strategy.

"It is defined, they are very channel-centric and they have moved everything predominantly to indirect, other than the key named accounts, so from our side we don't see anything different," he said.

The opportunities with Oracle-Sun are obviously greater than before, Ghalid said, with the potential to sell a wider range of solutions. Tech Access has been increasing its skills base to address the software business with Oracle, and the company is also developing consulting services around Oracle, another area where it sees good potential.

The VAD agreement also gave Tech Access impetus to expand into new markets, particularly across North Africa, where the company was already present, but was beginning to see even more uptake through Oracle, until the political situation in various countries had an impact.

"[Business] was going very well, we had some good traction in Libya, Egypt was doing very well, and unfortunately circumstances are such that we have had to reassess. We are still supporting Egypt, we are still physically there, we have an office there supporting the Levant, but we had to look at how we can rebalance our business, and try to find the difference from some other territories, which have picked up really nicely for us," Ghalib said.

The markets that have seen renewed focus for Tech Access include Kuwait, Qatar, and particularly Saudi Arabia, where the company is building on its existing office to increase presence. The company has invested in sales people within Saudi, for both east and west of the Kingdom, and has also been conducting partner mapping, to identify which partners it should align with according to industry and geography, and to indentify any gaps and how it can attract new partners. Tech Access is also working with different types of partners, such as systems integrators and consultants and looking at how it delivers value to each type.

"Providing value is very subjective according to the level of partner, we talk to SIs in a very different way to someone we look at as a strategic partner that we might have to drive [the deal] from start to finish," Ghalib said. "We don't just look at specific enterprise-to-mid market players, we look at SIs, we look at consultants, we have done staging services for big multinational companies, it really depends on what they are looking for and how we can help align to their business requirements."

Tech Access has also made investments this year to continue build out of its channel, in areas such as pre-sales technical skills, and more investments in marketing to partners,

Earlier this year, the company announced the first stages in the roll out of a new loyalty programme, with the aim of attracting new Oracle partners and to cement relations with existing partners. The Partner Loyalty Program allows partners to choose how they are rewarded, through business and leisure incentives, so that they can best tailor the programme to incentivise their staff.

The company has also begun the roll out of its Partner Connect partner portal. The portal, which integrates with Tech Access own ERP system, provides partners with 24x7 live sales order tracking, financial updates, and marketing support capabilities, and the company intends to add more services in future.

"We are trying to give them information that we believe they should have, the whole cycle of the financial side, the status of their orders, and the ability to talk to our logistics, pre-sales and other teams. That doesn't mean the human interaction goes away, but they can see the status of orders, they can raise any issues at a very early stage, and it helps us manage expectations very well," Ghalib commented. "So far, the uptake has been excellent."

With the injection of Oracle solutions into its portfolio, Tech Access is looking to capitalize on selling an integrated solution, but it is still looking to add one important element to the portfolio, namely networking technologies.

"We don't have a network piece today, which is a gaping hole, we are working aggressively now to try to address that," Ghalib said.

Tech Access has a number of vendors that it wants to work with in the space, and will be able to be fairly selective in its choices, as it is not an area where its existing partnerships conflict. The company is looking to a best-of-breed approach, and will be looking at adding both ‘big ticket' vendors, and specialist vendors in areas such as security and unified communications.

With the pending addition of networking and security solutions to its portfolio, Tech Access is also looking towards another new area, cloud computing. With the portfolio in place, Tech Access will be able to use its distribution business as a sales engine for cloud services, to provide access to markets. Additionally, the family company that owns Tech Access has invested in a data centre in Bahrain, which Gahlib says could be used to deliver cloud services to the region.

"We understand cloud, we understand where it is going, we are already talking to a couple of companies around those services, we are looking at managed services, we are looking at data centre services. We are starting to take steps towards that, for the benefit of our channel," Ghalib said.

At present the company is identifying its own lead team for cloud, and then will look to recruit the vendors that will help to deliver that, and to identify which industries and business sectors offer the best potential for cloud services. While he admits that the uptake may be slower in this part of the world than other territories, Ghalib believes that the potential for cloud computing to build on Tech Access' business is clear.

"Cloud is one of our growth areas, it allows us to come in and add more value to our channel, and to help them engage with their customers," he said. "If we can get both [cloud and networks] kicked off in the next twelve months, I will be really happy."

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