New HPE Aruba Channel Chief On How Partner Experience Gives Her An ‘Outside In’ View: Exclusive

‘I think a part of me always wants to look at a subject area and opportunity with this view of what if we did things this way? What if we looked at this as an opportunity for us to grow and learn and change? [Now], I’m bringing that sales side into the Aruba channel because I have the view from the trenches. I’ve been with the customers and clients and the partners over the past four years so I can bring some of that knowledge to the worldwide team and maybe support them in looking at things a bit different,’ says HPE Aruba’s newly crowned channel chief, Lene Skov.

Lene Skov

Lene Skov

HPE Aruba Networking in June crowned a new global channel chief.

Lene Skov, HPE Aruba’s regional director for northern Europe for the last four years, was named vice president of worldwide channels following the retirement of worldwide channel chief, Donna Grothjan. And Skov, for her part, has big plans for partners.

Skov has channel in her blood. Not only does she have more than nine years of experience at HP, and later HPE and HPE Aruba collectively, she’s worked for a number of software companies and even had a two-and-half year stint at a channel partner organization that just so happened to be one of HPE’s largest solution provider partners in Denmark. That valuable channel experience, she said, gave her the experience of looking at business from a partner perspective and exposed her to the challenges and opportunities that face the solution provider community.

Now firmly in the global channel chief seat, Skov has been listening to partners for the last 12 weeks. Her “North Star,” she said, will revolve around bringing a renewed sales focus to the channel team to arm partners with the resources they need and the support from the company as they go after emerging market opportunities around things like Networking as a Service, SD-WAN and security-minded networking deals.

She sat down with CRN to share her vision for the channel, the things that partners can expect to stay the same, and how she’ll harness her experience to help partners go after what she sees as the biggest areas of opportunity that exist today. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

How will your software, sales and channel experience help you in your new role?

I [previously] ran northern Europe for Aruba Networking from a sales point of view. We have a very diverse region [and] I would say that the North is known for its ability to be first movers on a lot of technologies. I’m very proud of the way that we’ve worked and the fact that we managed to grow revenue year over year for the past four years. We have essentially managed to grow and build the SaaS business and Network as a Service business in that region, and I think that’s given me a good lift to where I am today. I have a very strong background in software, I have been in the industry since 1996, and have primarily been at software companies and vendors of all sizes. I joined HP Software back in 2011 and was with HP for six years until HP Software was sold off. Then, I decided to leave and try to look at the business from the outside in, so I chose to join Atea, a huge Nordic partner of HP and I joined as VP of software and cloud. I kind of got the opportunity to look at their business and at the vendors, so some of the things that I’ve seen inside the walls of a vendor, not only for HP but the other vendors I’ve been at, now suddenly I was on the other side of the table, managing a number of vendors and getting the opportunity to look at what is actually difficult for the partner and what is it that we need as a company for support. Then, I rejoined HPE but for Aruba as its director of sales for northern Europe. I kind of came in with a renewed view on what is it that we do and what it is that we might want to focus a bit more on from the partners’ point of view. Because as we are transforming the business [like we are] doing right now with outside-in view on the partners, what is it that the partners need to do different? What is it that we as a vendor need to support the partners with? I brought a lot of that into my sales job in northern Europe and the fact that they were interested in experimenting and offering new technology to the customers and how could we best help them. I think that kind of brought me back to the vendor side, but I did get a lot of insights working at the partner side.

I also have an executive MBA in change management, which I think is a big driver for me as I thrive with change. I think a part of me always wants to look at a subject, area, and opportunity with this view of what if we did things this way? What if we looked at this as an opportunity for us to grow and learn and change? I think I brought a lot of that into my work in HP. [Now], I’m bringing that sales side into the Aruba channel because I have the view from the trenches. I’ve been with the customers and clients and the partners over the past four years so I can bring some of that knowledge to the worldwide team and maybe support them in looking at things a bit different.

Where are the big areas of opportunity for HPE Aruba partners right now?

If we look at the changes and drivers that are going on in the market, we have instability in some parts of the world -- which we will always have. We have customers that are looking for different ways to secure their business and we have the OPEX/CAPEX discussion. We [also] have a lot of the customers are now looking for business outcomes. They’ve been really analyzing in their business and saying, “Where does it make sense for us to invest? Where does it make sense for us to maybe outsource?’ I think you can say that we’ve always seen this in the industry in cycles -- going back and forth between insourcing and outsourcing. But I think especially on the back of COVID, those drivers have accelerated the need for change, so partners have an immense opportunity right now to partner with us [because] we have a strong market strategy and so does the partner. So, how do we merge those two? And how do we, as a team, listen to the customer and understand what it is that the customer is looking for? Because the customer has a strategy on insourcing or outsourcing. [Customers] are investing in areas and are building their three-to-five-year IT investment plan. I know that all of our partners are deep diving and understanding how best to address these challenges for the customer. So, I think that we can be side by side with the partner and support them in those changes and offering hybrid solutions -- I think that’s a fantastic area for them to grow in right now.

Adding to that, if we look at how our portfolio is expanding, Aruba, from a product portfolio, offers an end-to-end secure networking solution for customers. We can actually support the partners in bringing that full-on solution to the customer instead of them offering point solutions. [Partners] are looking for ways of making more money and being profitable in their projects and in the way that they offer services to the customer. If they can offer one broader platform from one vendor, knowing that from being on the partner side, this is an area we can help them and where they have a great opportunity. In a broader sense, there are lots of opportunities for them right now. It’s leading to that transformation opportunity.

What’s your vision for the HPE Aruba channel?

Honestly, taking on this role, I felt like I had some very big shoes to fill. I’m a size eight and I think I felt like I was a size four. [Donna Grothjan] has done an amazing job right and created the platform and built the program up and really created the foundation for the outstanding channel programs that we have at Aruba serving our 55,000 partners. What I have done in my first 10-12 weeks is I’ve been listening a lot to partners and distributors. I’ve been traveling and seeing them, and I have been just taking in and learning from the team. I’ve done a lot of reflection on where we’re going next. I absolutely have a vision of driving and supporting the partners into selling more and being more profitable. So, coming from sales, sitting in the trenches, looking at what we’re doing with the partners and how we support them in driving their profitability, I think that is one of the things that I would like to bring into the worldwide channel at Aruba. I would like us to kind of look at the business areas with a hint of a commercial edge that we have maybe not have had in the past in a sense that there’s a lot of newer business areas for the partner. How do we [make sure] that they are being profitable in this process? I have a clear vision of where I want to go, absolutely. I have my North Star. But I also have spent the first months adapting to my role, picking up all the impute that I could get, and trying to get a fair picture of what is going on and what is needed. For me, it’s not a race. It’s about me coming up with the right kind of strategy for FY 24 and it being a part of the process with my team, but absolutely also getting the feedback from the field from partners and distributors.

Channel trends today

Channel trends today

Should partners expect any channel programming changes?

No, we’re not [changing the program], I can be very clear that. We have our award-winning program that we have been building for four years and we are getting closer and closer with HPE in our hybrid cloud offerings. We are constantly working on making it easier to work with us as a partner because at the end of the day, you want to be able to secure that ease of collaboration. So, we will not change a lot of that.

The big bets we have for Aruba for FY 24 is our EdgeConnect solution with our recent acquisitions in security. We also have our data center network play with the Pensando switch. I think you could call them emerging markets for us. I think a lot of the work with the partners will center around how we enable them. How do we prepare them for bringing those solutions to the market so that they can refine their offerings to the customer and that they’re capable of having those discussions with the clients. That’s the same challenges we’re always facing our sales force, and partners are facing that with their sales force. I think from a partner program perspective, we’re continuing down that road with hybrid cloud. Then, from a solutions point of view, we will absolutely try to address the partners capabilities in new areas for us and kind of build on their capabilities. [We also] hopefully will be able to recruit new partners because with the security investments we’ve done, we absolutely need to look into the security market because I’m sure there’s a lot of partners that we couldn’t have partnered up with that we can kind of now go and address them with the new security solutions. I would say expanding the partner community will definitely be one of the areas we’re looking into.

What are your goals for your first year at the helm and what’s your message to partners?

That’s a great question. I would love to see us being the transformation partner for partners, I would love to see as being able to secure the partners when they are going out on an order, in terms of meeting customers’ needs, that they feel that we are standing just next to them. So I would like to see if I can drive a little bit more of a commercial edge to the channel sales in Aruba, where we kind of support the partner selling solutions through everything we do -- enable them, support them in bringing the solution out to the markets -- it’s all about bringing a solution to the customer that secures the business outcome [and] secures the success with the partners that helps them to grow. For us, like for everybody else, it’s all about orders and bringing more orders in, so I want to help partners in building [their] pipeline. How do we support you in closing your deals in the pipeline? So, kind of more of a sales-y drive, I would say. And I think it’s the perfect timing because I’m not trying to change what [Grothjan] has done in the past, I’m trying to add on and support us in adapting to the new opportunities and drivers in the market with NaaS, security, SD-WAN EdgeConnect. Those drivers are all part of this secure network that the customers are looking for and if we could just support the partners and actually delivering that into a solution, that would make my day.

I will definitely be encouraging [partners] to have the courage to go with us and embark on this journey with all of our new solutions for emerging markets. I think that coming from the partner side, I know the drivers that makes the partner successful is that they are able to provide the right solution at the right price at the right time, and there’s been a lot of investment if you look at how we expanded our portfolio. We will support them in bringing our products to the market and I hope that I can [ensure] that they feel that we are we are standing next to them and we are trying to deliver the business outcome as a team and as a trusted adviser, so that they can be that trusted advisor for their customers at the end of the day, because that’s what will differentiate them from their competitors.