Building And Enhancing Xvantage Platform Is A ‘Perpetual Journey’: Ingram Micro’s Kirk Robinson
Ingram Micro’s Kirk Robinson tells CRN there’s no expectation the distributor would ever say, ‘OK, we’re done’ when it comes to adding new capabilities to the Xvantage platform. The goal, he says, is always to make sure the focus is on helping partners grow their business.
Success Computer Consulting’s Brent Morris doesn’t think he’s ever gotten this level of involvement and interest in his company from an organization as big as Ingram Micro.
“We do not produce the kind of revenue that would even register as a blip on Ingram Micro’s map,” Morris, vice president of business development at the Golden Valley, Minn.-based MSP, told CRN. “But they’re listening to us, and they’re implementing the changes that we recommend. The partnership level is different and more valuable than any other organization we’ve worked with.” Morris and his business partner Bruce Lach, president of Success Computer Consulting, were early adopters of the Irvine, Calif.-based distributor’s Xvantage platform, which launched last September.
Through automation intelligence and machine learning, Xvantage aims to provide a personalized experience with data insight tailored to each Ingram Micro partner. That’s on top of the real-time transactional benefits such as up-to- the-minute order status, tracking, renewals, subscription billing and real-time customer service capabilities.
The mass popularity of Amazon.com has people used to easy online orders that ship quickly with a clearly defined delivery time, Morris said, and that’s the type of experience Ingram Micro is now delivering to partners.
“All of that stuff didn’t exist as cleanly prior to Xvantage, and now it does,” he said. “The life that I’m accustomed to outside my job [as a consumer] is now very familiar inside my job.”
Lach told CRN that it’s “almost unbelievable” how quickly the Ingram Micro team adds functionality and makes changes to the platform.
“It’s refreshing to see that there are no releases, no next version and no downloads—it’s just there,” he said. “It’s so refreshing to have that as part of the experience as well.”
Kirk Robinson, executive vice president and president of North America at Ingram Micro, told CRN that it’s all about being partner-focused.
“We’re spending a tremendous amount of time with our partners making sure they understand Xvantage and all the functionalities that we’re bringing to them,” he said. “It’s really to help them be more efficient and effective in how they run their business and how do we enable them to grow their revenue and their profit through all the functionality we’re delivering through Xvantage.”
Learning from the data inside the Xvantage platform is key to discovering what’s working, what’s not and what Ingram Micro can do to make it better, according to Robinson.
“On both sides of the coin, what it’s doing for Ingram Micro is taking away the low-value work and allowing our associates to focus on high value, where that same thing is happening for our partners,” he said.
The Evolution To Become ‘A Platform Of Platforms’
Xvantage will continue to evolve and deliver more for partners to help them succeed.
“I would say we’re ahead of where we thought we would be today,” Robinson said. “This is a perpetual journey because we’re constantly looking at working with the partners to make sure we’re hitting all the needs they have and hitting needs they don’t know that they need. There’s no timeline as to when we’re saying, ‘OK, we’re done.’ I would say we’re very, very pleased with where we’re at and directionally where we’re heading.”
Sanjib Sahoo, executive vice president and chief digital ofcer at Ingram Micro, said partner and vendor feedback on the platform has been critical to its success.
“We are also seeing engagement from our partners as well as vendors in how we are building capabilities,” Sahoo told CRN. “It’s not just platform success but feature development to utilization to solving business problems and engaging their business,” he said.
“A year ago I said it’s a platform and ecosystem. It’s actually evolved to become a platform of platforms. There is a platform for our partners, there is a platform for our associates and there’s a platform for our vendors,” Sahoo added.
Mark Essayian, president of Irvine, Calif.-based MSP KME Systems, said Ingram Micro is “truly trying to transform themselves into a platform company.”
“I think the big difference here is that they’re understanding that they can’t be a website and a warehouse,” he told CRN. “Distributors are the financial arm. They make sure that I can get product and they’re stocking it—and all that is critical—but they’re really trying to save me time and trying to engage with more of my people. They’re actually trying to use technology and people so that they can be further embedded into my organization.”
Like Morris, Essayian sees Ingram Micro moving to an Amazon-like model, where Xvantage is more than just a buying engine.
“That’s not suggestive selling, that’s not, ‘Do you want fries with that?’” he said. “That’s, ‘You’re buying a notebook. Would you like to know about an extended warranty? Would your customer like a docking station? Here’s the right one.’ It seems [like a] little [thing], but it’s not,” he said.
“I like the fact that they give us information from a marketing perspective,” Essayian added. “I think most resellers just don’t do marketing very well. So we get this information that we can look at and say, ‘I can actually do something with this.’”
And the actionable insight is a key differentiator. On his personalized user interface in the Xvantage platform, Essayian can see what products are selling for his customers and what products and offerings are trending across the entire platform.
“As a CEO, you want to know what’s hot,” he said. “If somebody’s selling a few thousand of these notebooks, maybe I need to introduce it to my customers,” he said. “Spend a few minutes inside of their insight because how many times does a CEO sit down and have data at their eyes instead of their gut?”
Building Stronger Business Alignment
Driving “shiny technologies is pointless” without driving business value, according to Sahoo.
“Having technology built first and adoption second does not work,” he said. “[We are] plugged into the business, bringing the operational knowledge as the product is being built. As technology is maturing we’re working on aligning the business, aligning the partner feedback and driving value creation and adoption. That is a continuous agile process, which is very different than the general approach.”
For Robinson, organizational alignment entails looking at how Ingram Micro is set up structurally. It’s about the skill sets and talents and making sure the distributor continues to align with its partners and vendors in a way that lets it interact with them around the platform and all the teaching it offers.
“Beyond Xvantage, we realign to be [partner]-focused,” Robinson said. “It just so happens to align perfectly with what we’re delivering with the Xvantage platform. The reason we do it is because we want them to partner with Ingram Micro, and we’re excited about what we’re seeing and how they are partnering with us.”
Also key is continuing to look at the financial options partners need to go out and close more deals.
“We’re listening to their needs and getting creative in how we can find solutions for them to go win more business. We’ve been a leader in that field,” Robinson said. “It’s continuing to look at the trends in the market and how we continue to take a leadership position in helping our partners.”
And when it comes to professional services, Robinson said Ingram Micro is investing more into those offerings because it is hearing from partners that they need help.
“They need help with data migration and cloud migration, and that’s why we’re making the investments to help them understand and consult with them on the best way to move forward to solve those needs for their end customer,” Robinson said.
“We’re always trying to look at where the puck is going,” he said. “It’s how do we make the right investments to make sure we’re ahead of the curve for our partners. We’re willing to take risks and look at building out capabilities, bringing in talent certifications and everything else needed to be there for our partners, and they rely on us for that.”
The Xvantage Total Experience Is Key
Ke’Airra Speigner, account manager at Lanham, Md.-based NGEN, an honoree on CRN’s 2023 MSP 500, uses Xvantage every day as her go-to platform.
“They’re always responsive, and the shipping time is the next day,” she told CRN. “I remember once my manager was out and I was trying to get some licensing completed for a client. Ingram Micro just helped me right away.”
Speigner soon discovered the seamless, frictionless experience it offered when ordering products for customers. “One of my favorite things is how it has all my orders right there,” she said. “So if I see something that’s back-ordered or the order didn’t go through, as soon as I log in that’s the first thing I see.”
And the Ingram Micro team makes the process of procuring products frictionless as well.
“I love how they check in,” she said. “If we’re going back and forth too much about something through email, they’ll pick up the phone and call.”
While Xvantage is a platform to transact on, Sahoo and Robinson both emphasized to CRN that what’s important to them is the total experience.
“Imagine in distribution a partner on a Sunday is watching a game. They’re feeling hungry and order food through an app and can track when the food is coming,” Sahoo said. “The goal is how could we create a consumerization of modern experience for our partners? How do we make Monday the same as Sunday and make it a fun day for our partners?”
He also likened it to TV streaming services and the personalization they offer consumers.
“How do you create a Netflix-like experience where partners are different but when they come to our platform we understand, with AI and data, what they want and create a very personalized experience?” he said.
“That is what we aim for,” he added. “Make it simple, easy and bring consumerization into distribution.”
“We want to put our digital hat on to make sure that we can solve problems for partners’ business,” Sahoo said. “We want them to be better by understanding the platform. Be aggressively digital and amazingly human.”
The experience the Ingram Micro team is trying to convey through its Xvantage platform is described as an “ease-of- use, meeting-the-needs-of-our-partners-type platform” that is efficient and automated.
“It’s not just that we’re able to remove some of the low- value work, we’re removing it for them,” Robinson said. “Now they’ll be able to look at their different teams and where they’re spending their time and move their associates to more valuable work.”
The self-learning platform is currently available in 14 countries and growing, according to Sahoo.
“It’s not only the speed, but the speed into business around some of the automation,” he said. “What we’ve built is now helping [partners do business] in minutes. Even a 5-year-old can use it. We want to make complex things simple to make sure it’s easy, and that’s the beauty of the experience.”
Partners Are Seeing The Diference
A recent Xvantage win for Chris Norris, COO of Zachary, La.-based MIS Technology Group, was the ease of use he experienced when ordering Cisco Meraki products.
“In the past with other vendors, getting to the process of just placing the order was several steps long and it took awhile to get a quote, get it approved and get it shipped,” he told CRN. “Now we click a button, we place the order and the pricing is already there. That’s been awesome.”
Before using Xvantage, Norris had previously stepped away from the ordering process “because it just took too much time.”
“I had to run the business and to have to fight through getting quotes … I had to step away,” he said. “I was used to the old way, but then when our purchasing [team] said, ‘Hey, come check this out,’ I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It was just a whole new world compared to the way things were just a year ago or even still is with some vendors.”
He echoed Robinson’s comments about how Xvantage will allow a quick, easy experience “for the things that can be quick and easy.”
“Then reserve the human touches for the more complicated deals that need a little bit of love to get it built,” he said.
Success Computer Consulting’s Morris said it was really helpful to expose his staff to an enterprise rollout of brand-new technology that’s transforming the partner ecosystem.
And speed and consolidation are everything, he said. Solution providers also described Xvantage as fast, easy, tailored and modern.
“It’s focused and truly partner-centric,” Morris said. “We’re finally using a platform that is a fit for the way we operate.”
Lach said he enjoys that it brings hardware, software and licensing all onto one platform in one view.
“I like its speed, its quality, and it’s nonrepetitive,” he said. “When you see those things happen, you actually get people to complete jobs. I hate to say it that way but if you have to click through 20 times to find out when 20 things are shipping, you tend not to do those things.”
The Future Of The Experience
Throughout the rest of 2023, Ingram Micro is working on adding even more capabilities to the Xvantage platform such as quoting automation and configure-to-order features. “The recommendations and insights are there—we’re taking the feedback loops and making it crisper,” Sahoo said. “What you’ll see is more operationalizing of the capabilities and merging it with a business operation. That’swhere our focus is right now.”
Part of Ingram Micro’s “perpetual journey” with Xvantage also involves continuing to educate partners, looking at where the complexities within the platform lie and continuing to build in the features they need, according to Robinson.
“How do they transact? Where can we take that friction out? How do we get the automation and efficiency?” he said. “It’s really working with them on how we can help them grow their business. The Xvantage platform is giving us the ability to work with our partners and move from transacting to interacting at the end of the day.”