Pivotal's Channel Program Has Evolved To Foster A Deep Bench Of Highly Skilled Partners

About a year-and-a-half ago, Pivotal Software launched a channel program in a bid to shift more business to partners as Cloud Foundry became a staple of enterprise development teams.

Soon after, the leading vendor behind the increasingly ubiquitous open source development platform saw the unique nature of that core product required a novel approach to channel development and enablement, Nick Cayou, Pivotal's vice president of global alliances, told CRN on Friday.

Cayou and Pivotal's channel leaders realized the essential partner was a highly trained integrator that could pick up complex engagements from its own engineers and extend the work across the enterprise. Instead of looking to scale sales through resellers, the channel strategy evolved, resulting months later in an innovative new partner training facility in Boulder, Colo.

[Related: Pivotal Releases Commercial Version Of Concourse, An Internal Continuous Integration Tool Capable Of Rapidly Closing Security Vulnerabilities]

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When Pivotal was spun out from EMC and VMware five years ago, as a startup offering a technically sophisticated Platform-as-a-Service in an early stage market, the channel was not considered a crucial vehicle for reaching customers.

"We were largely a direct company with access to traditional reseller channels through the relationship with EMC, our parent company at the time," Cayou said.

As the business matured, however, the need for partners became clear – not so much as a means of reaching new customers but for satisfying the needs of those that had already begun their cloud-native transformations with Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

Pivotal solutions architects would do a lot of the front-end work with clients through the company's consulting arm, Pivotal Labs, to demonstrate "the art of the possible," Cayou said. However, once a few greenfield apps were deployed, clients often pointed out they had hundreds, sometimes thousands, more apps they would like to see re-platformed, challenging the capacity of Pivotal Labs.

"We know when we extricate ourselves from accounts, and bring a partner in if we don’t do it right, that boomerang comes back and hits us in the head," Cayou said.

That dynamic led Pivotal to focus less on the traditional reseller channel, and instead cultivate a network of boutique and global systems integrators. Resources were shifted to training solutions architects, he said.

At the start of this year, Pivotal abandoned an office in Boulder to open a larger facility in the same city, where it based its new Platform Acceleration Lab.

There, partners go through an intensive three-week training curriculum, learning app development with Cloud Foundry, containers, cloud platforms, and the Spring big data framework in a hands-on fashion from Pivotal's professional services team.

The facility has become a magnet for some of the largest global systems integrators, partners like Cognizant and Capgemini that are sending staff to Colorado as they look to transform their practices around cloud-native platforms.

About 90 percent of Platform Acceleration Lab graduates have landed accounts that provide "very margin-rich project work," Cayou said.

"We sort of stumbled into this," he added, but the success of the training program has prompted Pivotal to expand it into new regions, starting with Asia.

"Our approach is to help customers drive software velocity. We always had an opinionated approach as to how we deliver services and work with partners," Cayou said.

Since launching the Pivotal Ready Partner Program in March of 2016, Pivotal has signed more than 100 partners in the U.S. alone.

About 60 are in the lower tier, and the rest are in an advanced program that mandates a certain number of architects and engineers have specialized training on the technology. In return, Pivotal dedicates additional business-enablement resources and training opportunities to those firms.

Bill Chapman, technical director at Stark & Wayne, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based consultancy that was one of the first Cloud Foundry implementers, told CRN that rapid adoption over the last year of Pivotal Cloud Foundry had necessitated a "deep bench" of partners to help the company manage growth.

Since the introduction of the formal program, "the most obvious change has been the frequency with which we are asked to lend a hand to Day 1 and Day 2 Pivotal operations engagements," Chapman told CRN.

"Stark & Wayne will help build reference platforms, services and deployment pipelines with the full support of one of Pivotal’s Platform Architects, and that helps us be fully aware of the long-term needs of the client," he said.

Pivotal's model of bringing partners into engagements early on so they can continue the long-term client relationship benefits both sides, he said.

Stark & Wayne will often work with a client that has already been brought up to speed on the intricacies of the platform and has had some reference applications migrated by Pivotal engineers.

"It becomes a very collaborative environment," Chapman said. "We are there to help where we prefer to be, on the really difficult problems, because the client is already competent with the platform."