Monday, I took a six-hour flight from Boston to San Diego to spend time with EMC's North American Partner community.
I'm very glad I did. The new insights are incredibly invaluable.
So, what could possibly be so interesting?
Partners Are The Key
Our industry is in transition -- technology that's built, operated and consumed differently. Call it cloud, call it IT as a service, call it whatever -- change is in the air.
Any time there's a big transition, key skills become enormously important.
Whether they're technology skills, implementation skills, process skills or consultative skills -- people can't more their IT organizations forward until the right skills are in place.
Enter the strategic importance of the partner community. They give us speed and scale that we'd never be able to get on our own. They have trusted relationships with their customers and clients. They're usually very innovative and entrepreneurial.
They define "leading edge" for so much of the marketplace.
Understanding what this community is seeing -- and what they need from EMC and our alliance partners -- is incredibly important right now.
The EMC North American Partner Council
I've been with EMC a long time, and our first few partner councils were rather miserable affairs, to be blunt. That was over a decade ago -- it's an entirely different picture.
This event is about business -- growing and thriving by meeting our mutual customers' needs in new ways. Sure, we're talking about technology as examples of new requirements, new consumption models and new engagement models -- but it's a business-centric conference.
This year, we're combining the RSA security partner community with the more storage-centric EMC partner gang. Turns out there was significant overlap already, with more coming in the near future. There were a lot of people who turned out -- and all very senior leaders at their respective business.
The tone is transparent, honest and collaborative.
We're not here to make a hard sell, or make our partners drink more EMC kool aid. These people have been around the IT industry for many, many years -- they've seen it all, and they know what they're doing -- sometimes, better than we vendors know what we're doing.
VCE and Vblocks
By far, that's the number #1 topic just about every partner wants to talk about.
Some solution-orientented partners have already sold one or more of them, and they see the pipeline growing quickly. A few are service providers who are using Vblocks to power their current and future service offerings.
And few are doing both :-)
Given that VCE is a three-way entity formed from VMware, Cisco and EMC -- and each of these companies already have their own partner programs and processes -- there's understandably a lot of overlap and inconsistency that we haven't sorted out 100% yet.
We were fortunate in having not only myself, but senior representatives from VMware and Cisco who basically lined up with the overall messaging. And the partner-centric VCE team was there to explain partner program progress to date, and be very honest about the work left to do.
Nobody was being defensive -- we all understand that we've got a lot to do to make it easy to do business around Vblocks -- but everyone agreed it was a spectacular opportunity.
Almost too much so, in my opinion. The amount of time we spent discussing and debating the finer points was somewhat disproportionate to the more traditional function-specific solutions: storage, backup, security, management, virtualization, etc.
Yes, backup is a huge opportunity. Yes, fully automated tiered storage is a huge opportunity. Yes, implementing VMware farms is a huge opportunity. But this IT transformation thing around Vblocks -- well, that's just so much bigger.
I guess that's a high-class problem to have -- too much opportunity for our partners to chase.
I get to chat with a lot of our partners during breaks and over drinks. Many of them either know me, or have heard of me. I guess that's one of the advantages of writing a blog :-)
After the initial pleasantries, my first question is "how's business?". At the end of the day, that's what it's all about -- being successful in business by meeting customers and clients IT needs.
Generally speaking, business was "thumbs up!" for just about everyone I met. Existing businesses were doing well, and newer business ventures were showing promising growth. That's good to hear.
Investments in skills and specialization -- whether at a technical, application, project or consultative level -- were paying back enormously. The #1 challenge? Finding good people, and skilling them up in the new model(s). Sort of back to my original premise around partners and scarce skills.
How Do I Help EMC Partners?
Any way I can.
I do business planning sessions with EMC partners. I speak at their customer events. I help to host joint briefings with key customers. I do sales training. I write blog posts for them, and send along my presentations.
You name it, I try and do it.
I wish there was more time in the day, but it's a priority for me. I think they understand and appreciate that. I got more than a few invitations to come out and work with the EMC partner teams -- something I always look forward to.
You might think we'd spend our time talking about products. Nope, not here -- or, if so, only tangentially.
The session I sat through this morning presented three market-oriented business segments (SMB, Commercial and Enterprise) from the EMC field leaders, and spoke to the specific opportunities and investments we were making to make our partners successful in each.
SMB is a relatively new but fast-growing business for EMC that will likely see explosive growth in North America during 2011. Linda Connly did a great job explaining the explicit partner opportunities we saw, and presented it as yet-another-investment-option for our partners to consider.
Our commercial (or mid-market) segment has always been partner-centric -- nothing new here. John Hanlon's team continues to deliver spectacular results year-over-year by growing the partner pie and engaging even more deeply.
The eye-opener for many was the presentation from Steve Crowe, who runs one of EMC's classic enterprise sales divisions. He boldly stated that half his revenue goes through partners, and he didn't think it was enough. He presented several examples where larger enterprise customers were basically being represented by the partner, rather than EMC directly. And he wants more of that.
Moving in the right direction, I'd say.
The New EMC Velocity Program
EMC Velocity is the name we use for our solution provider programs. The initial incarnation of EMC Velocity was a huge step forward several years ago, and is generally well regarded by the broader partner community.
But times change. There's a lot more in the EMC portfolio, and it's turning out to be more about skills and specialization rather than volume targets.
Jeremy Burton previewed the new Velocity program design: it puts far more emphasis on being really good at what you do (e.g. specialization), rather than the more traditional measures of revenue.
Not that we're entirely opposed to large amounts of revenue :-)
The partners are also noticing the renewed emphasis in advertising spend -- they're seeing our "Journey To The Private Cloud" campaign everywhere, and they think that's a good thing.
Meet The Competition
Many solution providers have multiple competing products on their line cards, including EMC's competitors. As a result, they're an excellent source of qualitative perspectives on how some of our competitors are doing out there.
Some familiar names in the storage business appear to be losing differentiation, momentum and critical talent. Good for us, not so good for them. As one example, they tell me that selling the full stack is very much in vogue, and waving around a theoretical blueprint (or incessantly thumping your chest as to why your storage will cure cancer, solve world hunger, etc.) isn't as effective as selling an integrated next-gen stack product.
As they tell me -- things change.
How Are We Doing?
Perhaps the most important question I ask our partners is "how are we doing, and what should we doing better?".
The answer: they think we at EMC are doing better than most in creating opportunities for our partners. In fact, almost too much opportunity -- they're a bit dazzled as to all the things we're doing, and what they should be doing.
I got a lot of questions about the whole Greenplum thing, for example. Yet another huge opportunity for our partners to go consider.
The one area of improvement they'd all like to see is for EMC to improve the ease of doing business. We've made huge strides on the people side: investing in the right teams, and making sure that everyone in the organization understands that having successful partners is key to EMC's future.
Where we're lagging behind is the online systems and process tools. Again, we get credit for the areas we've fixed, but there's still a lot to go do. We get it.
Why Should You Care About EMC's Partners?
If you're on the customer side, you might be wondering -- why should I care about all of this? Fair question.
Back to my original premise -- it's all about important skills and services. To move your IT organization ahead, you're going to need broad and deep expertise in a variety of areas that are relatively new topics.
And if we can put qualified partners in front of your team that have the expertise and the credibility and the chops -- you win. As do we all.
To all of you who are EMC partners -- thank you for building your business on us.