US giant's cloud lead warns that customers often seek advice from solution providers but then buy from someone else
Solution providers may find themselves advising clients on emerging technology only to be cut out of the deal, CDW's cloud team lead for integrated technology solutions told CPI in an interview.
According to Eric Ludwig, channel partners can no longer be assured that they're going to win business from clients to whom they present relevant opportunities. It's vital to have upfront conversations with customers about where they are intending to purchase their technology before you get deep into the conversation, Ludwig warned.
"If you take, for example, SD-WAN and this new notion of software definition driving the tactical routing decisions for client wide area networks, we're having discussions with clients around the technology suppliers - firms like Cisco, VMware, Oracle, Silver Peak and others. Yet you might find yourself going down the road to a VMware solution, and you might get to the one-yard line and find out that the client has a long-standing relationship with AT&T, and that rather than purchasing that through you as a solution provider, they're going to buy from AT&T and wrap it into a bundle.
"So if you're not asking those questions upfront, you could be disintermediating yourself from a decision that you're providing advice for."
Given this, Ludwig said it's "really important" that clients are transparent, and solution providers ask the right questions so that "as we make recommendations and we provide advice, we do so with an eye toward how they want to buy it, not just how they want to use it".
The other challenge Ludwig highlighted is the disparate IT decision makers that now exist within the enterprise. The cloud lead noted that even within CDW itself, there are various groups outside the IT department making IT decisions, and the same applies to customers.
"For example, you might see organizations that have technology decisions being made within sales and marketing as it relates to the contact center or as it relates to how they interface with their clients, their CRM, for example. We're finding that finance and coworker services are getting their own IT budgets for workforce management or for payroll, all of which can be consumed as a software through firms like Workday or ADP."
"This means that solution providers are not only faced with the challenge of extending their relationships beyond the IT organization, but also ensuring that there's relevance up and down the lines of business within clients," Ludwig said.
"They need to do this to ensure they are properly advising and articulating and not pigeonholed into procurement of technologies and technology decisions that have already been made."
As for CDW's path over the next couple of years, Ludwig said the integration of the firm is where the channel giant will be focusing most heavily.
He notes that CDW has rebranded its service organization to be integrated technology solutions, with a division called integration services engagement. The aim, he said, is to find client adjacencies and operate within them.
"For example, if a client has an investment in a particular set of software tools, how can we leverage that investment across to unified communications or into the datacenter or out to customer-facing activities? To that end, we're building stitching between the varying organizations, as well as through our varying partner offerings, to ensure that when we're transacting and advising in front of our clients, we understand from a broader perspective what those implications are and how they might impact other decisions, other investments, as well as future decisions and future investments."
Security is one of the key areas where this will take hold, with the channel giant integrating with its traditional OEMs to provide customers with a broader view and a broader protection set, Ludwig said.
This will include elements such as event correlation and behavioral analytics. "Those things tend to be delivered as a service rather than by our clients. There are so many different technologies now that are being consumed as a service, and with security it used to be much more of an on-prem, inward-looking view. But now it's much more of an outward-looking view," he noted.
The security efforts are taking place in the collaboration space, as well as in the infrastructure space, Ludwig added, with his team "singularly focused" on bringing broad line-card solutions to clients "and then offering them the ability of how they want to consume".