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Finding Fulfillment In The Cloud Era

David Powell of TekLinks says in order to maximize efficiency and returns, solution providers need to begin to consider what he's calling the "fulfillment model."

TekLinks grew up as a traditional VAR selling hardware and software to end-users and offering support for those solutions. If TekLinks sold a SAN, the customer really didn’t know or care if that SAN came from Ingram, Tech Data, or Arrow. They just wanted to solution that the SAN helped provide.

Since those early days, TekLinks has transitioned from a traditional VAR model to a full service VAR, managed services provider and cloud services provider. TekLinks owns and operates three data centers and has significant capital invested in the cloud infrastructure housed in those data centers. Now, as we seek to maximize efficiency and returns, we need to begin to consider what I’m calling the "fulfillment model."

As a technology reseller, TekLinks received an order and determined the best distributor to fulfill that order. Now when we sell a cloud solution, we must ask ourselves similar questions -- where is the best place to fulfill this order? Is it on TekLinks’ cloud infrastructure? Should it be with a partner? Is this a service we could white-label from someone else and save our assets for custom solutions that carry a higher return?

These are the questions that the mature MSP/CSP needs to begin asking themselves. If we view companies like Amazon Web Services, IBM SoftLayer and even VMware, with its vCloud Hybrid Service, as ’raw materials’ providers, we should view ourselves as ’finished goods’ providers. The CSP will never be able to provide "raw materials" at the price point of the aforementioned vendors, but they can take those companies’ raw materials, add in some of their own raw materials, and create a ’finished good’ for that particular customer.

Ultimately, this is no different than the way the solution provider works as a VAR. They seek to understand the business problem the customer is trying to solve and then create a solution, using products from several different providers, that is tailored to meet the customer’s needs. Now, instead of creating a Bill of Materials with lots of different manufacturer SKUs on it, the solution provider creates a single offering that may utilize a myriad of different services and platforms on the backend.

In either case, the goal is to present a solution that meets the customer needs, falls within their budget and shows a demonstrable return. As large-scale cloud providers offer more of the building blocks of a solution -- the raw materials -- it is incumbent on the solution provider to put together the finished goods to meet the customer’s needs.

David Powell is the vice president of managed and cloud services at TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based solution provider. He is a featured speaker at the XChange Solution Provider 2014 conference, running March 2 through March 4 in Los Angeles.


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