Channeling new energy
Empowering partners to offer end-to-end solutions and getting them to dominate the hard-to-reach midmarket and SMB accounts.
Because the IT market is continually changing, there is no perfect channel for very long. But there is a way to get very close to one, and it requires leadership at the very top, a team of loyal executives that believe in the goal, and a commitment to take feedback from the field and build a channel business that is easier to work with.
In nearly a year after taking over as executive director and general manager of Dell Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META), Driss Elougmani has been doing just that and he is enjoying his role and interactions with reseller partners and clients.
Consider these recent events: a streamlined distribution channel, a new deal registration automation system and an opened-up product portfolio across all countries in META for all Dell’s distributors [Aptec, Metra Computer, Mindware and Redington Gulf] to sell.
From client, data centre, cloud solutions, software, services, consulting, support, converged infrastructure, mobile to security, Dell has become a state-of-the-art technology resource that businesses rely on to run more efficiently. To think of Dell as a PC vendor is to think of Apple as a Macintosh company.
“A lot has changed over the last 12 months. Dell has been working on transforming itself and the channel ecosystem around it. We are confident we have the right strategy, the competitive advantage and a disciplined focus on executing,” Elougmani beamed. “Above all this, the entire team across the region is infusing new energy in the channel.”
In 2015, Dell restructured its business across the META geography to have one operation headquartered in Dubai with the exception of the company’s South Africa business.
“It came down to the fact that Dell has seen significant growth across the burgeoning economies of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. To strengthen our regional presence and grow our channel partners’ pie, we combined our businesses in this region to create one new business operation in 2015,” he reflected. “In bringing together people, capabilities and strengths into one business, we have created a scalable and agile company with specialist resources operating across the entire META.”
He said the new Dell entity across META is a company that is increasingly relying on partners to provide more products and services to enterprise, midmarket and SMB customers.
While Dell has made several big shifts in the life of its business to adapt to new technology from the time it shipped the first PC in 1984, some critics in the Middle East argue that the company hasn’t moved fast enough.
“While we started in the PC hardware space, the business of Dell has always been about enabling potential,” he added.
Elougmani said contrary to belief that the company is not evolving fast enough, since going private in 2013, Dell has had the ability to execute strategies more aggressively and that has fuelled creativity in the channel.
Elougmani pointed out that as part of Dell’s commitment to partner productivity, the company is investing heavily in systems that support its work with the channel. “We provide tools in areas such as lead management, deal registration, training, certification, compliance, ease of navigation and mobility,” he said. “Some of our most recent improvements include deal registration automation, price and quotation automation, partner order tracking, increased services capabilities, improved warranty terms through the ProSupport programme and an automated, integrated line-card landing page.”
He emphasised that Dell is increasing investments to empower the “future ready channel” by focusing on four key areas namely partner development, solutions enablement, business model enablement and ease of doing business. “The best game plan any channel partner in the IT industry could have to help themselves, is an ecosystem that gives them the fluidity to easily adopt, adapt and evolve according to their aspirations, capabilities and position in the market,” he said.
Looking at Dell’s track record, some partners question how Dell, a company whose DNA is so deeply rooted in hardware can continue to win in a network and IT infrastructure market that’s racing so quickly towards software.
“I would say maybe that was a question or concern partners could raise in 2006, not 2016,” Elougmani stated. “We are not only ‘continuing to win’ in the networking and infrastructure market that’s racing quickly towards software, but we are in many ways leading this evolution. We are also bringing some of the best software solutions we’ve ever had in our portfolio.”
In the networking market, added Elougmani, Dell has been pioneering innovations in open networking and software-defined solutions. He added that in storage, the company has one of the most diverse software defined storage (SDS) array. “We are feeling great about the shape of the company now and we will continue to invest in the channel. If that means being aggressive in the enterprise business or PC sector, we will do that,” he said.
While many of Dell’s peers are also undergoing significant changes in the region, the vendor’s long term strategy and quest to become an end-to-end solutions vendor remains unchanged.
Elougmani said the company together with its channel ecosystem is working towards gaining more coverage, geographies and competencies.
Given that nowadays there is a lot of emphasis from traditional hardware vendors on becoming software companies and upping their stakes, Dell on its part, acquired several software companies prior to it going private in 2013.
Elougmani pointed out that software offerings have been quickly made available in the Middle East and the company is seeing a lot of business in this space. “Dell needs to be seen and is seen as an end-to-end technology solutions company,” he said. “I also think I understand why as end-to-end technology requirements get more complicated, customers will rely on vendors with capacity and capability to deliver holistic IT solutions.
“To give an analogy, you may go to a doctor with a recurring migraine, but the problem happens to be something in your stomach and without an end-to-end view, the health practitioner would not be able to make the correct diagnosis,” he explained. “The stomach specialist comes into the discussion after and most likely is a team member within the medical team.”
Elougmani said likewise, a customer may want a software-defined-storage solution, but to evolve from their traditional IT environment they need an expert who understands the ecosystem and can help them evolve. “Without an end-to-end view the IT partner would not be able to make the best diagnosis and customers know that too,” he said.
Given the rapid pace at which IT is evolving in the region, it’s difficult to predict what the next-generation channel partner [VAR, solution provider, and SI] for Dell will look like. What’s even harder is how their businesses will change and the skills they will need to have to succeed in the market.
Elougmani said when Dell engages channel partners, it looks for three key things namely energy, engagement and exploration. “We expect our channel partners to become trusted advisors to customers and that requires an ability to both ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ on end-to-end solutions providing,” he said.
He added that the skills Dell looks for in partners include: consultative selling, translating technology to business impact, project management, problem-solving and business-planning. “Future partners will have to be well vested in IT and business consultancy,” he said.
Looking ahead, Elougmani said Dell has been fortunate that customers and channel partners are proactive and have made note of the Dell evolution. “We see healthy engagements that are both solutions and hardware-focused,” he said. “But of course, behind any change there needs to be a campaign of awareness. The formation of the new META organisation helps to accelerate this awareness and we have a healthy thrust in this regard.”
Elougmani explained that the biggest transition Dell partners should be undertaking right now in the Middle East is in value-adding and services where margins are still high and healthy.
He said to do this, channel partners need to evolve and embrace solutions consulting, solution integration and professional services. “Business is all about seasons and cycles. My message to our channel partners is to take advantage of the new META organisation structure as a larger pie dampens the impact of economic, currency and geo-political volatility currently prevalent in this geography,” he said.
Elougmani added that partners should also take advantage of cost-effective technology and lead the conversations with customers on business objectives. “In our region, with all the digital developments and regional aspirations, it’s not so much ‘no growth’ but rather, ‘how we grow’ responsibly given the business climate and prevailing market conditions,” he said. “Dell has innovative IT products and solutions that uniquely meet the needs of any organisation and this is our competitive edge for channel partners and customers.”