Recently I was honored to be chosen for the sixth year in a row as a CRN Channel Chief, though not for the reason you might think. An honor like this is simply a reflection of a larger strategy that Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) put in place several years ago. The industry is moving at a record pace, and to keep up with the industry we, as a company, must be engaged and involved with all facets, even to the point of shaping its direction.

Channel StrategySo, it’s not just being recognized as a CRN Channel Chief, but it’s also my participation on the Channel Partners Advisory Board and, for the broader industry, on the CompTIA Vendor Advisory Council. It’s being named by Jay McBain as the 37th most visible channel leader in recognition of my efforts in the industry. By playing these highly visible roles, I meet regularly with peers throughout the industry and get a good feel about the direction we’re heading and, more importantly, how the industry needs to evolve.

The industry is undergoing a radical change. Companies are moving workloads to the public cloud at an accelerating pace. Many of our customers, especially the larger ones, must do so in a way that takes advantage of a bi-modal IT infrastructure. They have legacy infrastructure that must be maintained, but they are also investing in cloud-native applications as part of their overall digital strategy. It’s the balance between those two that allows Sungard AS to shine, and, as the head of Sungard AS’ channel efforts, I know we need to evolve our partner program to meet both these needs, and meet the changing needs of our partners.

The Rise of the Master Agent Model

One big change taking place in the channel is a shift away from the traditional VAR model and toward one centered around master agents. This is part and parcel of the shift towards the cloud. Systems and software sales are the hallmark of the VAR model, while cloud-native solutions are much more in the telecommunications model. The VAR Guy recently interviewed Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of CompTIA, an industry association closely aligned with the traditional VAR model and focused on the technical certifications needed to support on premises solutions. Thibodeaux spoke about this shift in the industry towards the agent model:

“We’re in a period now where [VARs] can kind of transition from the traditional MSP, break/fix, selling software licenses business to a recurring revenue model based on the cloud-based provision of services. Where I don’t think they’re equipped is the next wave that happens after that when someone needs an IoT system set up or a smart city deployment or a smart AI system. I think that’s where they’re less equipped.”

In this race to see who will be the leading partners in cloud, VARs have the edge in terms of technical competency and breadth, but master agents are gaining a lot of ground because they’re nimbler. They know how to establish contracts with 50 different service providers, and they’re building sales enablement tools that agents can utilize to quickly respond to a customer request.

While master agents may come from the world of telecom, they have clearly made the transition into the cloud world and are emerging as a major channel for selling cloud-native solutions. In response, Sungard AS has developed a competitive master agent program, with resources dedicated to our relationships with master agents and with marketing tools, fee structures, and business processes that meet their needs.

The Challenges and Opportunities for VARs and Master Agents

As Todd Thibodeaux makes clear, the VARs are still a vibrant part of the industry and remain an important channel for reaching customers. But VARs cannot afford to be complacent. Even if on premises solutions remain a significant part of the overall solution mix, it’s clear that cloud is driving the conversation. VARs need to evolve their go-to-market model and build relationships with service provider partners who can help sell hybrid solutions to their customers.

Master agents, for their part, must recognize that customers are increasingly relying on them to provide the backbone of their IT infrastructure. That makes it essential for master agents to pick service provider partners with the experience and product portfolio required to deliver highly resilient production IT services. A lot of companies talk a good game about resiliency, but they lack the experience to be able to back up their claims. It’s important to work with partners with a demonstrated history of reliability and resiliency.

The Role of Sungard AS and the Channel

I feel we have a unique value proposition, one that has driven the success of our channel program. Our value proposition is two-fold. First, we are the leader in recovery. Whatever production solution a partner puts in place for a customer, Sungard AS will be able to deliver a recovery solution that ensures business continuity. Sungard AS has a well-earned reputation of doing this for over 30 years, with many kinds of systems, including a variety of cloud architectures. We have the people, processes and tools in place to provide a full range of recovery services to meet any circumstance.

On the production side, we understand how to set up a resilient and available IT infrastructure, and we have the tools and services needed to manage around public cloud providers. If customers want to move some workloads to AWS, VARs and master agents both want a service provider partner that can help manage that AWS service, ensure it is architected for resiliency, and help manage the recovery of that AWS service. On the other hand, for those workloads that aren’t appropriate to move to the public cloud, you want a company who has their own solutions and expertise to deliver them for you in a hosted private cloud environment. Sungard Availability Services has that capability.

Winning awards and accolades is gratifying, but it’s all the work that goes on behind the scenes that makes or breaks a company. Delivering resiliency in a digital world is what we deliver, and this is the best reward we could ask for.