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Savvy Partners Are Embracing AI, Security, Cloud: Channel Chiefs

A panel of channel chiefs—from cloud distributor Pax8 and from security vendors Check Point and Proofpoint—shared their channel outlook during a session at the Best of Breed Virtual event.

Many key technology areas that were already growing prior to the pandemic have gotten accelerated, producing an even greater need for solution providers to focus in on areas such as cybersecurity, cloud and AI, a panel of channel chiefs said during the Best of Breed Virtual event Wednesday.

Without a doubt, the IT industry has become even more essential amid the impacts of COVID-19, said Ron Dupler, CEO of Kittery, Maine-based solution provider GreenPages, who served as moderator for the panel.

“Essentially, we kept the world running to a large degree during this,” said Dupler (pictured top left) during the session at the Best of Breed Virtual Spring 2021 event, which was hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

[Related: Hybrid Solution Providers Are More ‘Strategic’ With The Customer Than Ever: The Channel Company CEO Raddon]

Now, the opportunity is to meet the increased demand for digital transformation among customers going forward—using expertise in segments such as AI and automation, advanced security and a variety of cloud technologies, panelists said. An emphasis on speed to market and customer experience have gotten “amplified” in the environment shaped by the pandemic, said Ryan Walsh (pictured bottom right), chief product officer and channel chief at cloud distributor Pax8.

The strong cloud growth rates make cloud an “obvious” area for partners to focus, said Frank Rauch, head of worldwide channel sales at platform security vendor Check Point Software Technologies. “Cloud is here to stay,” said Rauch (pictured top right).

Less obvious is the opportunity around AI, he said. “We need to be able to get smarter every day, every hour, every minute—so I think AI is going to be there” as an ongoing opportunity, Rauch said.

Walsh agreed, saying that solution providers ought to “embrace automation,” fueled in part by AI.

“A lot of people started doing it because of a cost efficiency play,” Walsh said. “We don’t see it that way—we see it as a customer experience play, because customers are demanding it. And AI is a part of that. [Partners should] really embrace it. I think that that’s where the puck is going.”

One solution provider executive who spoke with CRN said that an increased emphasis on AI and automation resonates with what he’s finding in the market.

Previously, artificial intelligence “was a very specialized skill set,” said Douglas Grosfield, founder and CEO of Kitchener, Ontario-based Five Nines IT Solutions. “But now that [vendors are] commercializing or commoditizing AI technology, it becomes a lot more accessible for even a small MSP to bake some form of AI offering into what they’re providing to their customers.”

Cybersecurity will also remain a huge area for solution providers for the foreseeable future, Walsh said during the Best of Breed Virtual panel.

“That’s something that’s going to continue to be an opportunity. We believe in that,” Walsh said. “And so, what we would encourage partners to do is enhance their service offerings around security. Do not leave it behind.”

It’s also not just the proliferation of cyber attacks and threats that is making security such a major opportunity in the channel, said Joe Sykora (pictured bottom left), senior vice president of worldwide channels and partner sales at email security vendor Proofpoint.

“There’s a huge shortage of cybersecurity professionals,” Sykora said. “That isn’t getting any better. So those of you out there that may have started to build out your practice ... or if you haven’t yet, that’s something [to focus on]. You have to embrace it.”

Grosfield said the shortage of cybersecurity experts means that many customers, especially smaller companies, will develop an even greater dependence on solution providers that have strong security practices.

And as awareness of the cyber threat environment continues to grow, “the interest in working with a managed security provider is increasing,” he said.

“It wasn’t that long ago that those conversations were driven by us. We were asking to have those conversations with people—and the feel that you got was as if you were another insurance salesman coming to ‘fear, uncertainty and doubt’ them into signing a purchase order,” Grosfield said. “But nowadays, they’re coming to us and asking to have those conversations.”

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