Q&A: Qlik's Channel Chief Outlines Partner Program Road Map To Services And Subscriptions

Toni Adams

Qlik is a major player in the $17 billion market for business analytics software, joining Microsoft and Tableau in the leaders quadrant of the 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms. Initially growing on the popularity of its QlikView data visualization application, Qlik is now transforming itself into a business analytics platform vendor with a broader portfolio of BI software and services.

In December, Qlik hired Toni Adams as the company's senior vice president, partners and alliances. Last week at the company's Qonnections customer and partner conference in Orlando, Fla., Adams sat down with CRN to discuss the Qlik partner program road map unveiled at the show and the opportunities he sees for partners of all types working with Qlik in the fast-growing business analytics market. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.

CRN: Tells us about your background prior to joining Qlik in December.

Adams: I spent four and a half years with VMware and [previously] five years with Symantec, all in partner [management] roles: partner enablement, partner marketing and partner support centers for marketing at Symantec.

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CRN: Why the move to Qlik?

Adams: I wanted to be in one of three areas. I wanted to be in either the cloud side, as I was with VMware, or the security side as I was with Symantec, or the third up-and-coming market opportunity, the big data/business analytics space.

And I wanted to join a company that was [working] with partners, and I pursued this opportunity because of my skill set and my experience.

CRN: In the five months you've been with Qlik, what have been your priorities and what has been your focus?

Adams: The priority has been to understand where the company wants to go from a direction perspective and the current state of the partner ecosystem. Just to break it down a bit into three areas: partners, strategy and partner programs, because they typically interrelate with each other.

Then I looked at the operating model. How do we engage with partners [and] do we understand why partners are investing in Qlik? And the third piece was more around the governance aspect: How do we measure our channel [and] do we have the right leading and lagging KPIs [key performance indicators] in place to make the right management decisions around directing behavior in our channel, based on our strategic priorities?

CRN: In your keynote you announced changes to the Qlik software license reseller program, unveiled a new initiative for partners who provide services around Qlik software, and announced the intention to launch an initiative around software subscription sales through the channel. The company also announced 10 specializations for partners. What brought these changes about?

Adams: My focus is around how we drive partner investment in Qlik, which is a [requirement for generating] more revenue through the partner. And it's understanding why partners invest in Qlik. It's the concept that I articulated yesterday at the beginning of my [keynote speech], around simple, predictable, profitable. Those are the tenets, those are the things that have to be right for a partner to feel, "Yes, this is it."

Apart from the product, which is always the most important piece for partners, the program always needs to be simple, predictable and profitable for them.

And it's along those tenets that we've evolved the program to ensure that we keep it simple. Simplicity in their world is, "How do I engage with the customer? How does the customer want to transact? What does my business model look like?" And that's why, on the simple side, we are not just building a business on the license [resell] side, but also on the services and the subscription side.

On the profitability side, the big feedback from partners is that analytics is a line-of-business sell. And their customer engagement [is] with a consulting-type services engagement. [The goal is] to expose our experience in engaging customers in all these horizontals and verticals: retail, health care, finance, banking, etc., to our partners for them to find new deals, accelerate sales cycles and have bigger deals. That's obviously material to their profitability.

And then the last one was the predictability piece, which is also important [in] that we are predictable around what are we are going to do. That's the reason why [we announced] an evolved license program, [and] we are announcing a new services program, and the new subscription program or subscription track [that] is on the road map.

These 10 specializations will be available from launch [in about six months]. And then we have another 20-plus specializations on the road map. I articulated what the rollout of the program looks like, what can the partners do to get ready [and] how much time they have to comply. That level of predictability is just super important for a partner.

So simple, profitable and predictable are the tenets across which we are evolving the partner program. And the feedback from partners has been very positive around predictability, has been very positive around specializations, has been very positive around the services. It's really the three top things they've been asking us for. That in turn, we feel, drives partners' profitability, drives [partner] investment in Qlik [and creates] more productive interoperability with our partners.

CRN: You mentioned wanting to get into business analytics because it's such a dynamic market, a growing market. Take that idea to the channel and partners. What are the opportunities in business analytics for solution providers?

Adams: I think Mark Thurmond [executive vice president, worldwide sales and services] did a great job of outlining that [in his keynote]. There's the traditional BI, with the traditional vendor set that is being disrupted by modern BI, and Qlik is a leader in that space. I think traditional BI, that's the rip-and-replace type of opportunity [for Qlik partners]. That's where we see a lot of opportunity.

Then there's modern BI, where we're clearly a leader in that space. The evidence of that is the Gartner Magic Quadrant, [where Qlik is] one of the three in that leader quadrant.

Then there is customer analytics. That's really what we are articulating onstage, [that] if you are in a specific industry, how you can use the [Qlik] platform and augment or customize the Qlik product to meet very specific customer needs. That's the big opportunity for partners. The value-add of partners comes in through their IP [intellectual property] and customizing that platform for custom analytic requirements from customers in verticals or horizontals or industries. That's the huge opportunity today, right now.

And then the final one, ISVs are trying to drive more value out of their applications. And one of the value tenets is always the data that's in that application and the embedded analytics that create value out of the data.

So traditional BI, great opportunity to rip and replace. Modern BI, we are the leader there, [Qlik and its partners] should be part of every major customer evaluation because we are sitting in the leader quadrant. Then you have this custom analytics piece, which is in the ballpark of what many of our partners are doing today. And then you have this next phase of analytics, which is more around embedded. The opportunity for partners there is really nurturing their developer skills. ISV partners I'm speaking to, they are onboarding developer skills to do that more easily.

CRN: The company has obviously made some pretty significant product announcements here at Qonnections, including Qlik Sense Enterprise 3.0, Qlik Sense Cloud Business and the DataMarket on-demand data library service. What are you hearing back from the channel in terms of the product announcements that have been made here and recently from the company?

Adams: Most of my conversations have been focused around the [channel] program feedback. [But] for a partner, the product is the most important thing. The customers love our product, the partners love the product. So the product, the evolution of the product and what we are showing [at Qonnections] is important to them.

[Partners have said] that more and more of their customers are asking for the Qlik solution to be hosted. Hence, us putting this subscription program on the road map for the partner program. So the Qlik Cloud is important, as is the evolution of NPrinting. The DataMarket, of course, is fantastic. And a lot of [partners] are starting to get that concept of the platform, the extensibility of it, the customizability of it. It's that notion of moving from a BI tool to a platform approach that opens up these possibilities around the use cases in the horizontals and the verticals, which we are trying to inform them of, and make them more productive in the form of specializations.

We are moving very fast. [Partners] have a sense of innovation around the products, as well as how we are supporting the partners.

CRN: And feedback on the announcements you made in your keynote speech on the partner program road map?

Adams: Very good. Very positive. We obviously have our ear to the ground to make sure that between the time of the announcement and the time of the launch of the program [in] six months, we continue to listen to our partners and make any adjustments based on feedback. To date the feedback has been very positive on the high-level pieces. We are continuously in touch with our [partner] base around [details and] clarifications.

CRN: What are your thoughts about what the partner base will look like in the future? Right now you have about 1,700 partners. Is that number going to change? Is the type of partners you have going to change? Will you still have the same partners you have today, but will they evolve? What will the stable of partners look like a couple of years out?

Adams: I think we have a great partner base that has a lot of knowledge. It's a partner base that we want to continue to invest in. It's a partner base that we want to make even more productive than they are today. Hence these evolutionary [channel program expansions] because the reality is they have a license business, they have a services business, and more and more of their customers are asking for subscriptions. So there's a lot of opportunity being a partner of Qlik's to extend their business.

There are areas of our [channel] business that we are looking to expand, specifically on the cloud managed service provider side. Because we have a cloud product, and a lot of our partners are interested in that, we want to get more capacity around the MSP space. Our partners are naturally going to be part of that.

So, to answer the question, it's more around productivity of the current base and augmentation of capabilities specific to cloud managed service providers. We already have, I think, a good set of OEM partners in place. It's more on the service provider level where we need to [add] more capacity.

It's a big jump for reseller partners to [become] subscription partners -- the economic model changes. I had that experience at VMware. We will make sure that we can live in a hybrid world and make the programs available to our existing partners for those that want to move into a subscription model.

At the same time, we will make sure that we have the right capacities. So we are continuously looking for productivity within our base [and] we'll augment based on our capacity planning across all of our partners. It's not just solution providers, it's [systems integrators], OEMs, technology partners. At any time we're assessing and making sure we have the right capacities in place in order to meet our company goals.

CRN: There have been published stories that Qlik might be acquired or undergo a change in ownership. What are you hearing from the partner base? Are there concerns about the company's overall future?

Adams: I'm not having those conversations with partners because we cannot say anything about that.

CRN: A couple of weeks ago the company announced a distribution relationship with Arrow. How does that fit into Qlik's partner strategy?

Adams: This is a specific North American pilot [initiative], and the operative word here is "pilot." We have very mature channels outside the U.S. [But] within North America, we are not at that same level relative to our other regions.

You have to understand the evolution of distribution, from hardware distribution to software distribution, to becoming a technology provider. Distributors have similar goals to tech companies these days. They want to have a slice of the big data analytics market. So [we have] the combination of the distributors having a slice of the analytics market and [Arrow] choosing Qlik as a vendor to do that with, as well as our need to build more capacities, specifically in North America. Distributors have a very good data view -- and Arrow also uses Qlik, by the way -- have a very specific data view into their channel, around the partners that [can] really sell analytics and have access to line-of-business [customers].

So [Arrow has] that partner base that meets that profile for us, that allows us to recruit at scale the right set of partners so that we can drive the capacities that we need, to my former point. That's one area where we have to recruit and we have to recruit at the right scale. And we can best do that with Arrow. And it's not just the recruitment. That's the tactical piece of the bigger picture. The bigger picture is, we are part of Arrow's [efforts to capture] analytics market share and they feel they can best do that with a market leader like Qlik. Also, for those partners that are going to be onboarded through Arrow, we are going to have a good look-after model in place that we can keep them productive under Arrow.

CRN: So you're not moving to a broad two-tier distribution model? Will any partners you currently work with go through Arrow?

Adams: We are doing this with Arrow in North America only. [And] it's new partners only. In the business model we're in, it's an ability to establish a set of partners under Arrow. The partners we are working with directly we will [continue] to work with directly. We made [this] announcement because it's important to us. We do believe we can create solid and healthy [channel] capacity through Arrow with the right set of partners.