In the digitally accelerated COVID-19 environment of 2021 what are the top channel trends that organizations are facing? Here is my take on the channel’s outlook in 2021, and what we can expect to see in the year ahead.
Certainly, the experience of the first and now second lockdown, demonstrates how a gradual economic recovery hinges on a viable resolution to COVID-19, a vaccine, and the continued need for government intervention. The good news is that a vaccine is now being rolled out and that has certainly fueled hope that there will be some return to normality in 2021.
Expect a period of consolidation
Where the channel is concerned, over the next 12 months, we will see a period of consolidation and growth. Every vendor will be looking at how they have adapted their working practices, both internally and with partners, especially during the peak months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Applying these reflections and any learnings should make for a far less turbulent year in 2021. In fact, most organizations have accelerated their digital transformation plans, which has hopefully led to opportunity and growth for the channel.
However, partners may have seen revenue decrease in traditional, mainstream technology as business requirements change. Therefore, partners should focus on developing new technologies and solutions for their customers that are suitable for a completely different way of working, particularly as the pandemic is still very much an issue. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, the environment won’t change that quickly.
Therefore, where will the growth opportunities lie?
The key growth areas for the channel will be around helping customers with cloud migration and the adoption of 5G, including addressing concerns such as network security, IoT proliferation, and lack of agility and visibility throughout the IT infrastructure.
I believe we will see the scope of partnerships change and adapt as 5G brings innovation and access to new revenue streams. There will also be significant growth opportunities in vertical sectors. This will result in vendors focusing on those partners who have specialist skills in these areas, in order to help develop the best customer solutions.
Key technologies in demand
The technologies that will drive channel demand in the year ahead are those that ensure always-available application delivery and security, both on-premises and in the cloud. Enterprises will be looking for technology that enables seamless migration, both to the cloud and between cloud-native infrastructures and hybrid solutions.
Cybersecurity and defense solutions that protect customer networks from increasingly sophisticated attacks that threaten network availability will be in high demand. Likewise, the increased use of automation, AI/ML and DevOps tools that help to simplify IT operations will grow. Technology that helps to secure multi-generational networks throughout the transition to 5G and cloud-native architectures will also see growth. And finally, organizations will be looking for solutions that help protect their investments throughout the ongoing business/digital transformation process.
Naturally, as organizations shift to remote working environments, there will be an increase in using a hybrid approach; we will see a balance of traditional on-premises combined with the use of public cloud resources. The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-generation event that has been the catalyst for irreversible change; organizations will be exploring all avenues for how they can migrate a portion of their mission-critical data to cloud technologies. This will place additional emphasis on management across on-premises and cloud infrastructure and cybersecurity.
Challenges on the horizon
As I mentioned above, working practices have been irreversibly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with remote working set to be the norm in the future. This has, however, introduced an extended surface area for cyberattacks, which in turn makes cybersecurity a key concern for enterprises and a focus for the channel going forward.
What this means is that the enterprise perimeter has not only expanded but it has become much more distributed as many employees are no longer working inside the traditional network perimeter. Therefore, organizations need to reassess and rethink the way they defend their networks, users and data. Likewise, service providers will be experiencing increased demand to provide higher security and availability for their subscribers now that employees and children are working and schooling at home.
Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all approach and this is where strong partner relationships are essential to find the best solution to fit the need. Some organizations will place the onus on scalability, flexibility, and an efficient multi-cloud transformation. On the other hand, some organizations will need advice on how they can make a smoother and more secure transition to a remote workforce.
Keeping businesses and people connected
As we begin the new year, businesses will be thinking about several key focus areas:
- Where can we make efficiency gains?
- How can we manage costs?
- How do we ensure that we invest in the right areas?
- How can we automate more and reduce business risk?
- How can we remain flexible and agile to change quickly when we need to?
The organizations that understand these challenges and are ready to capitalize on growth opportunities will be those who have already transitioned, or are in the process of, transitioning their businesses to remote operations.
However, there are many threats associated with moving to a distributed environment. These include extended or unplanned downtime, data breaches, and data loss, which can all cause reputational and financial harm. The channel is in the unique position of having access to the tools, people and support necessary to keep businesses, and more importantly, people, connected. Vendors that act as enablers for all channel parties to accelerate this shift will reap the rewards of a prosperous channel environment in 2021.