The Amazon Way: What Solution Providers Can Learn From The World's Cloud Computing Leader

Amazon did not set out to become a cloud computing company. The online retail giant knew the cloud platform it built to solve its own IT problems was valuable, but it had to put that theory to the ultimate test and to have external customers was the only way it would get real, critical feedback on what is now known as Amazon Web Services.

Today, AWS is unavoidable as one of the largest cloud computing provider in the world. Solution providers can learn from Amazon's forward-thinking, customer-first mindset, John Rossman, a former Amazon executive and managing director with Alvarez & Marsal Business Consulting, told a packed audience of solution providers at The Channel Company's NexGen 2017 Conference and Technology Expo on Tuesday.

Rossman, author of "The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company," said that Amazon stands out because of its "obsession" for making it progressively easier for customers to consume retail goods and digital services, rather than being motivated by beating the competition. That, he said, is an important takeaway for many solution providers who are in the midst of changing or evolving their own businesses.

"Amazon pays attention to competitors, but they set out to serve customers in new ways, and it just so happens that it often impacts others," Rossman said. "They never go in thinking they are going to disrupt anything. They want to attract customers versus locking them in, and that's a worthy cause."

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Amazon is very different than many technology companies and solution provider organizations in that it took the retail giant and cloud provider years before it ever turned a profit, said David Thompson, a hardware sales executive for Apex Computer Systems, Inc., a Cerritos, Calif.-based managed services provider.

"That speaks to their resolve and determination to be successful," he said.

Apex, which partners with large providers such as Microsoft, Lenovo, and IBM, knows that partnerships with any third-party provider can be stressful when strategies or priorities on either side change. For an industry heavyweight like Amazon, this stress can be magnified for solution providers, Thompson said.

"Being the larger of the partners, they are in control. You do it their way, or you're not a partner. But it’s ultimately a win for them to work with partners and pass the goodwill around," he said.

At the same time, it's important for solution providers that partner with industry giants such as Amazon to look to the future and have their strategies for future growth mapped out without relying on one large partnership, he said.

"With the way Amazon stacks their priorities, you may come out on the short end of the stick if it's not to their advantage, so you have to be prepared for that if you're going to join in. You have to have a contingency plan," Thompson said.

For its part, Amazon has always been a company that is looking to the next big thing, Rossman said.

Amazon was always a technology-first company and willing to invent to stay on the bleeding edge of computer sciences, Rossman explained. For that reason, the industry giant can avoid bureaucracy and move quickly, a typical challenge that faces many of the largest IT providers.

"As Amazon does, assume your business five years ago is not your business today," he said.

But unlike Amazon, solution providers can't compete on cost. Instead, partners looking to the future should be placing their bets on new, innovating areas early so that in five years, the solutions will be ready for primetime and profitable, Rossman said.

Borrowing words from Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos, Rossman reminded the audience that innovation is a series of failures. "By the time you realize there is a market there, you may not have an opportunity to be at the forefront of that market," he said