James Reed, Managing Director for Endpoint Solutions at Tech Data, explains how the distributor coped with COVID-19 and its plans to focus on ten core service offerings to help channel partners enhance efficiency, drive sales and achieve business objectives
Tech Data’s customer base is comprised entirely of resellers across the entire gamut from traditional SMB, mid-market corporate and enterprise resellers, MSPs and SIs, consumer-based e-tailers such as Amazon through to telcos. From a technology perspective, Reed describes Tech Data’s offer as one which covers all routes to market by partner and by types of technology – from the datacentre to the living room. The portfolio is substantial, spanning consumer-based mobile smartphone technology, print supplies, to cloud-based software right through to cloud infrastructure such as Amazon Web Services. The company employs approximately 1,400 people in the UK and serves a customer base of around 7,500 resellers.
PrintIT Reseller (PITR): When the UK went into lockdown, the industry saw a surge in demand for technology, printers, laptops etc. to enable people to work from home. Do you believe technology sales will now decline?
James Reed (JR): We certainly saw an uptick around those areas of business, and I do see that continuing. I’m pretty optimistic that the next couple of quarters are going to be strong. If you look at working from home or educating from home, people will need to continue to upgrade mobility solutions, on the print side, all-in-one printers will be in demand, and peripherals such as headsets etc. will also be a strong investment area.
In the main, feedback from some vendors and partners point to the fact that a lot of the initial purchases were not fit for purpose, so I think that we can expect a second wave of purchases for the right product. Secondly, as lockdown restrictions begin to get lifted and people return to work, then I believe there’s going to be a very strong review of IT infrastructure. That will lead to investment in ensuring workforces are really, really efficient and able to work well from home.
Businesses will be looking at accelerating investments in cloud infrastructure to allow that to happen and that’s partly why we predict that the as-a-service model is going to take off. Without committing capital expenditure up front, organisations will be able to improve their digital abilities and their own working capabilities. There is also the advantage of reduced spend on hardware onsite by moving infrastructure to the cloud.
PITR: Your people are now all working from home, how has that worked and have there been challenges associated with logistics to overcome?
JR: We had already invested heavily in our tools and infrastructure, which meant that prior to lockdown, we were able to migrate the whole of our organisation to working from home, and it has worked really well. The ‘challenge’ as you suggest, was on the logistics side, because as a distributor, we have to have people in our logistics centre, managing the flow of inventory and configuration. From a very early stage we put in place a number of measures including temperature checking everyone entering the logistics centre and we created two shifts, rather than one.
Obviously, there’s been some challenges around deliveries too, although we have continued to achieve 99 per cent next-day delivery. So that’s been really good, and support from our suppliers around making sure that happens has been great. We’ve had some some small increases in failed deliveries, for example where the end customer is not onsite or the consumer is not in, but that’s an incredibly small proportion of the deliveries we make.
The current climate is definitely not business as normal, this is an accelerated business, we’re very pleased that our entire workforce have been able to continue successfully servicing the market and that we have continued to meet our customers’ SLAs.
PITR: How are you supporting partners in what is one of the most difficult trading environments they have faced?
JR: Naturally we have to keep inventory coming into the warehouse. Obviously that’s been impacted in different technology areas, depending on where manufacturing takes place. The closure of plants in China saw a delay in output, but also presented an additional challenge of how does product get to us. The situation is improving now and a lot of product is being shipped by air.
We’re doing everything we can to support our partners by holding inventory positions as well as we can. We’re also trying to help resellers, passing on additional cash offerings from vendors where we can and working with them around payments and credit, because we know it’s a challenging period. We do see our role as not to simply supply product, but to add value and service, and some of that is just to help partners through this tricky period.
PITR: What in your opinion will be the biggest challenges facing the channel in the coming months?
JR: The next biggest challenge is going to be how we get everyone back into work, by that I mean back into offices. Apart from logistics, we as a company are functioning effectively as a home working organisation. But there will be a transition back and I think that’ll be a transition for all of our partners too. We are here to help them figure out what the new normal will be for organisations selling to customers, and how we can support that.
That’s an exciting challenge because some of the stuff we would have done to enable partners in the past around training, face to face training or technical training or sales training, we will have to consider how we do that in a different format. We have a lot of external sales people, who are used to having face to face engagements with partners, we will be looking at how best to make that resource available, effective and safe in the new world.
PITR: Looking ahead to the postCOVID era, where do you see opportunity?
JR: What comes next is going to be different to how we’ve engaged previously. As sites open up and businesses get back to working in the office we will start to see installations get booked back in. I think there’ll be a lot of large infrastructure and enterprise print opportunities landing again, so our focus will be on how we can best serve our partners to capture these new opportunities.
As mentioned earlier, I expect the future shape of the business to change to an as-a-service model. We have invested in lots of different high growth areas. Cloud infrastructure and technologies for example are a big focus for us and we also believe that the mobility opportunities are still huge. Cloud is predominantly subscription-based, but we also expect to see acceleration of instances where hardware, including print, is sold as-a-service.
We have invested heavily in that space around tools, people and the processes behind that. For example, using our In Touch website, a reseller can create a basket of products – both hardware and software – and the platform will convert that into a monthly price over 24 or 36 months. We also utilise residual value partners across all technology, that enables our resellers to go back to the end customer with a really good attractive offer with residual value included. That’s an investment we made four or five years ago and, prior to COVID, it was really starting to accelerate.
PITR: Tech Data offers its resellers a whole range of services and resources, all of which are geared to supporting them to increase sales, make more profit, reduce cost and deliver enhanced end-user customer satisfaction. Can you tell me more about the just launched Trusted Advisor campaign?
JR: The Trusted Advisor campaign is designed to make customers aware of the full range of services and support available to enhance their efficiency, drive sales and achieve business objectives. We have selected ten value-add services to promote initially – the ones we believe most partners would benefit from using in their day-to-day business. Many of these services would be too costly, challenging, or time consuming for a partner to develop and run on their own. Our Trusted Advisor strategy is our promise to help our partners achieve their goals.
The ten services include:
*InTouch: Tech Data’s e-commerce platform. Customers have access to realtime pricing and availability, promotions and bids, order tracking and account management.
*StreamOne: the channel’s leading cloud aggregation platform for quotations, provisioning, management and billing of cloud services.
*Software Store: dedicated area for building accurate quotations and managing customer licensing orders and renewals.
*Tech-as-a-Service: enables resellers to offer hardware combined with software and services in a subscription package.
*Tech Data Renew: comprehensive trade-in programme for all products.
*Technical Services: extensive portfolio which partners can offer to their own customers, including pre- and postsales advice, consultancy and support, migration, upgrades and training.
*Logistics Services: industry-leading logistics and stock holding capability.
*Enablement Programmes: Accelerate & Practice Builder helping partners to develop specialisation in specific vendor solutions and next generation technologies, and to transform and accelerate their business.
*Tech Data Communities: Tech Select & Tech Data Advance providing partners with a way to interact, share ideas and learn from each other and from Tech Data’s own experts.
*Tech Data Channel Academy: free sales training resource that all Tech Data customers can use to get their teams up to speed on the very latest solutions and technologies from a wide range of vendors.