Why $80B AWS Is ‘Partner Obsessed’: Selipsky, Borno Leading The Charge

From driving co-selling deals through the channel to upskilling thousands of partners via new training programs, AWS CEO Adam Selipsky and channel chief Ruba Borno are proving that the sky’s the limit when it comes to helping partners succeed.

AWS channel chief Ruba Borno and AWS CEO Adam Selipsky

AWS channel chief Ruba Borno and AWS CEO Adam Selipsky

Justin Copie couldn’t believe it: Amazon Web Services worldwide channel chief Ruba Borno was taking him, the head of an SMB-focused AWS partner, out to dinner to get a clear message across.

“She said, ‘Justin, I want you to break glass. I want you to challenge us where we could be doing things differently. Help us as a company get better,” said Copie, CEO of Innovative Solutions. “I’m just a small but fast-growing partner, with 115 people in western New York. … Here’s the crazy part. She listened and actually ended up making changes based off my feedback. So all summer we broke a lot of glass together.”

Based on Copie’s feedback, AWS created a funding assessment capability inside its Migration Acceleration Program that provides thousands of dollars to partners to assess a customer’s environment and then report back how the customer can most effectively migrate to AWS.

“It’s been a game-changer because now customers have a very clear and low-risk way to understand what their investment looks like before they migrate,” said Copie, adding that the assessment funding has accelerated customer wins for the West Henrietta, N.Y.-based AWS Premier Consulting partner.

“I’ve worked with some of the biggest IT vendors before— I’ve never seen this level of interaction,” Copie said. “Under Ruba and [CEO] Adam [Selipsky’s] watch, AWS’ ... program is now designed to be much more influenced by the voice of the partner.”

[Related: AWS, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Alibaba Top Gartner’s Cloud Magic Quadrant]

Because of the positive partner changes made over the past year under Selipsky and Borno—from driving co-selling deals through the channel to upskilling thousands of partners via new training programs—Innovative Solutions’ AWS sales have skyrocketed north of 300 percent in 2022 compared with 2021.

‘We Are Partner-Obsessed’

When Seattle-based AWS started to roll out its first major products like Amazon S3 and Amazon EC2 in 2006, Adam Selipsky was playing an enormous role as AWS’ vice president of marketing, sales and support, which included responsibility for partner management.

Selipsky said the $82 billion market-leading cloud company has always been deeply focused on the partner ecosystem.

“We’ve always believed since the beginning that having a really strong partner ecosystem—across many different parts of that ecosystem—was an intrinsic and critical part of delivering what customers need from us,” said Selipsky.

Taking it a step further, solution providers said Borno has been driving that strategy at lightning speed into the channel ecosystem of systems integrators, MSPs, resellers and consultants over the past 12 months—with the AWS Partner Network now exceeding 100,000 partners.

With just one year under her belt as AWS’ vice president of worldwide channels and alliances, Borno has already led the charge in pursuing hundreds of thousands of opportunities with channel partners in 2022 alone. She has personally met with over 1,000 partners and customers across geographies, sizes and industries in order to truly understand their needs and find areas where AWS can improve.

“I joined AWS because of the incredible opportunity we have to innovate with our partners in service of our customers,” said Borno, who came to the company in November 2021 after a six-year stint at Cisco Systems. “I’m learning what they’re seeing from the AWS relationship and what they’re valuing with the AWS relationship.”

After injecting herself into the AWS partner ecosystem, Borno has a clear mission: simplify the AWS partner experience, help the channel differentiate itself to increase profitability with programs such as Partner Paths, make training more easily accessible, and create new opportunities via co-selling and co-development with partners.

Her bullish goals are aligned with AWS’ longtime motto of being customer-obsessed.

“Speaking of customer obsession, many of our partners are our customers as well. So we are partner-obsessed. Our partner experience is key to providing our customers with a great experience,” said Borno. “We know that a superior partner experience will result in a superior customer experience.”

The ‘Fearless’ Ruba Borno

AWS partners are hailing the hiring of Borno as one of the biggest and most influential channel moves in the company’s history.

Doug Schneider, CEO of 2nd Watch, a longtime AWS Premier partner, said Borno has almost completely eradicated any channel conflict between AWS’ own services organization and his Seattle-based company.

“Ruba has been fearless in coming in and assessing the situation. I commend her for that. It’s not an easy task to assess the situation and be open to understanding the partners and then getting people to reorient themselves,” said Schneider. “What we’ve really seen manifesting is a change in demeanor. It shows me there’s a lot of goodness to come from our perspective.”

For example, 2nd Watch and AWS’ professional services team recently worked together to land a $100,000 services deal with a net-new customer, a large insurance company.

Not only did the two companies strategize and attack the deal as a team as part of the co-selling motion, but AWS also pushed the customer to leverage 2nd Watch for additional opportunities ahead.

“Now there’s another $300,000 project that’s coming from this as well, and it’s just us doing the $300,000 project,” said Schneider. “That’s what we want to see, and that’s what AWS wants to see. AWS is now about co-selling with their partners and then letting the partner take the ball and expand. … If they trust the partner, they’re giving more ownership of that account to the partner to really expand it.”

With 2nd Watch’s AWS sales in 2022 increasing “at a very, very healthy double-digit” rate and collaboration with AWS at an all-time high, the solution provider acquired Aptitive this year to further boost its AWS momentum. Chicago-based Aptitive was a fast-growing cloud data analytics consultancy that partnered with AWS, Snowflake and other cloud vendors.

Furthermore, 2nd Watch is currently co-innovating with AWS to create a new industry-oriented solution based on its Aptitive acquisition, with plans to co-sell the upcoming offering alongside AWS. “Our opportunities for growing with AWS are extending beyond just the Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer,” Schneider said.

Adam Selipsky Is Driving Co-Innovation

During his first turn at AWS from 2005 to 2016, Selipsky took the company from pre-revenue to a $13 billion business while also launching the AWS Partner Network in 2012.

“This is the 10th anniversary year of the AWS Partner Network as well as the AWS Marketplace. These were the world’s first cloud-native partner network and first cloud software marketplace,” Selipsky told CRN. “We’ve grown to over 100,000 partners from over 150 countries.”

After five years as CEO of data analytics software vendor Tableau, Selipsky returned to AWS and officially took the CEO reins in July 2021. He has been on a co-selling and co-innovation tear with partners ever since.

Selipsky highlighted AWS’ move to team up with Accenture to create the Advanced Customer Engagement contact center solution, dubbed ACE+, where Accenture and AWS create a joint value proposition and bundle their solutions together. Another example includes AWS being a founding sponsor and cloud provider for Deloitte’s Smart Factory in Wichita, Kan.—a new immersive experience center that includes a fully operational production line and experiential labs for developing innovative smart factory capabilities.

“When we have partners who have innovated and created incredible solutions with us and on top of us, then it becomes an easy decision to put that in front of a customer because it drives customer value,” Selipsky said.

“We have a very significant go-to-market capability now across AWS—as you might imagine given the scale of our business—and we have many different ways that we bring partners along with that,” he said. “You can really see the result in individual partners and the success that they’re experiencing.”

Selipsky and Borno are pushing for the formation of new partnerships with ISVs, distributors and other technology vendors to help drive simplicity, co-selling and new customer opportunities.

In 2022, AWS unveiled blockbuster collaboration agreements with a slew of vendors and distributors—from IBM and CrowdStrike to MongoDB and Ingram Micro.

“We’re now working with Ingram [Micro] to accelerate the capabilities of their channel partners to support public sector customers,” said Borno. “We partnered with IBM in May to work with them to ‘SaaS-ify’ [their] software portfolio. Several months later, we’ve already made several of those solutions [generally available] on AWS.”

Innovative Solutions is leveraging the new IBM relationship to drive SMB customers to AWS—a move CEO Copie expects to boost sales and customer adoption. Copie said he was happily surprised when IBM reached out to his company asking for help in moving IBM’s SMB customers to AWS.

“I said, ‘Listen, the only way I’d be interested is if it helps my AWS customers or if it helps customers adopt more AWS.’ IBM said, ‘That’s precisely what we want to do,’” said Copie. “We’re going through this process right now of three companies—Innovative, IBM and AWS—going to market to help every SMB leverage IBM software and do it on AWS versus any other cloud partner. It’s a huge deal. It’s so big.”

Why Partners Are Picking AWS Over Cloud Competitors

AWS was a pioneer in cloud computing and has held the leading market-share position for well over a decade.

In the third quarter, the cloud giant won a 34 percent share of the $57.5 billion worldwide cloud services market, up from a 33 percent share in 2021, according to Synergy Research Group.

Microsoft has been the runner-up for several years now, winning 21 percent of the global cloud services market in the third quarter, followed by Google at 11 percent.

Selipsky said one reason channel partners are choosing AWS versus its cloud competitors is because of Amazon’s massive customer base and market dominance across the globe.

“We are, by a significant amount, the largest cloud provider with the largest business and the broadest customer base across all geographies and industries and use cases,” CEO Selipsky said. “And that provides tremendous opportunities for our partners—and a much larger set of opportunities for partners—than they could have with any other cloud provider.”

Other reasons why partners are choosing AWS versus the cloud competition is due to the company’s “significant investments” in its partner ecosystem from both a short- and long-term standpoint. Selipsky points to the amount of funding being pushed toward training partners, particularly systems integrators.

“Customers insist that when personnel from [systems integrators] show up they be really well-trained and really well-qualified. We’ve worked with and invested a lot ourselves alongside those partners to ensure that their staff are both trained and, in many cases, certified on AWS,” he said. “That makes a huge positive difference in customer success because we take the long-term view with customers and with partners.”

‘Bold Ambition Is Not New To AWS’

A new Forrester Total Economic Impact study found AWS partners that invest in transforming their workforce through reskilling, upskilling and retention programs have a 229 percent return on investment and 29 percent higher gross margins.

One partner that has benefited greatly from AWS’ training push is Atos, one of the largest solution providers in the world with 112,000 employees and over $11 billion in revenue.

Michael Liebow, global head of Atos’ OneCloud business for the French channel giant, said AWS has provided a slew of training and certification programs for Atos that drove down costs and increased customer opportunities.

“Their programs have helped defer some of the costs of training our people,” said Liebow. “We’ve been thrilled to have that investment in our people to get more Atos people trained on the Amazon platform.”

Selipsky and Borno are focused on training and upskilling as many partners as possible.

“Bold ambition is not new to AWS, and we’ve taken that same big mentality and applied it to the skills gap,” said Borno. “This effort pays for itself within the first six months for our partners, so we want to help them with that.”

In 2022, AWS expanded its re/Start reskilling programs across the globe, opened an AWS Skills Center in Arlington, Va., to support in-person learning and launched its new AWS Training Partner Social Impact program, which allows partners to offer customers a broad set of AWS skill development options by accessing government and public funding.

In total, AWS has a goal of training 29 million people by 2025. As of October, the company said it has helped over 13 million people thus far gain access to cloud computing skills through its free workforce programs.

Presidio’s Big Bet On AWS

AWS partners are leveraging these training investments to drive more customer wins and AWS sales.

New York-based Presidio, a $5.4 billion solution provider, expects its AWS sales to increase 45 percent this year after AWS helped train around 500 Presidio sales and technical employees to become cloud-practitioner-certified over the span of about eight months.

“We made it mandatory that every field seller had to get cloud practitioner certification,” said Chris Cagnazzi, senior vice president and general manager for Presidio’s Cloud Solutions Group. “We put together the curriculum with AWS, and AWS fully supported doing small groups of classes for us.”

Presidio now has over 1,000 AWS certifications around DevOps, solution architecture, big data, system operations and security.

Historically known as a top Cisco and Dell Technologies partner, Presidio is now also placing a huge bet on AWS. This year, it formed a strategic collaboration partnership with AWS to co-develop new services and products, as well as drive AWS adoption.

Cagnazzi said the move to invest heavily in AWS is due to the company’s channel push, as AWS now views “the channel as a way to truly scale the business.”

For example, Presidio had a customer, a large professional sports conglomerate, looking to add managed services and improve management of its cloud spending. Although AWS was already in the account and could have pushed the customer to use AWS’ own services support team, AWS fully supported Presidio taking the lead with the customer.

“[AWS] did not blink an eye when we went over a full overview of what our strategy was in the client and how we felt that if we worked together, then we could not only drive for great transformation within the client, but we could also increase consumption of the platform,” said Cagnazzi. “They really partnered with us and helped support us in this managed services offering.”

After Presidio won the services deal, the professional sports customer recently awarded Presidio a new $15 million managed and professional services deal this year to help migrate workloads and create new applications.

“We’re doing some really unique things around building an application for a certain device that they use. AWS was super supportive, and I don’t think three or four years ago we would have had that same experience,” said Cagnazzi.

Cagnazzi said the “interlock” between Presidio, its field sellers, AWS and AWS’ Professional Services Organization was “so tightly knit that the motions from the customer were that we were viewed as one company solving a bunch of problems and outcomes for them.”

Partners Witnessing ‘Evolution In Action’

Atos’ Liebow has been working with AWS for nearly a decade, having previously partnered with the cloud company during his time at consulting giants Accenture and McKinsey. He said AWS is embracing partners like never before.

“One of AWS’ first principles is customer obsession. With Ruba, and with Adam’s return, you’re seeing both customer obsession and partner obsession. It’s a great thing being a partner to see that evolution in action,” said Liebow.

Atos is placing such a large bet on AWS that it has acquired several companies recently, including CloudReach, which was AWS’ 2021 Consulting Partner of the Year for the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Atos and AWS are working together to increase customer opportunities and drive sales around cloud migration, digital transformation and mainframe modernization.

“This notion around partner obsession, I’ve never seen them embrace the channel in quite the same way,” Liebow said. “That’s a top-down focus with Ruba, Adam and the teams,” he added.

With a bold channel strategy and massive white-space market opportunities ahead for cloud computing, Liebow is bullish about Atos and AWS’ future together.

Cloud migration is still [in its infancy]. The large enterprise space has yet to really embrace the public cloud in a bold way,” he said. “The support and alignment with [AWS] is significant in terms of how to bring the rest of the market—particularly large enterprises—into alignment with the investment, the services portfolio and the innovation. So how do you do that? Well, what you’re starting to see in terms of AWS’ partner obsession are programs where AWS is aligned to driving that next evolution.”

One new partner program driving that next evolution is AWS Partner Paths.

Launched this year, Partner Paths provides a simplified and tailored experience to help partners differentiate themselves. The program includes benefits and AWS resources designed for each partner’s strengths and goals.

“Profitable growth requires differentiation that’s tied to their business models. We don’t view our partners as a common consistent group; we want to celebrate their differentiation,” said Borno. “With Partner Paths, we look at their business model and guide them on a simpler journey with AWS.”

As partners progress, there are opportunities to differentiate themselves via competencies around industry verticals, managed services, horizontal offerings and specializations. “We want to make sure that they have the ability to differentiate so that they can solve those innovative, unique challenges that our customers have,” Borno said.

Partner Commitment Will ‘Continue For Decades’

With the majority of customer workloads still on-premises, the revenue growth opportunity in cloud migration and services over the next few years is massive.

Worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is projected to reach $592 billion in 2023, up 21 percent year over year, according to new data from IT research firm Gartner.

As part of that nearly $600 billion, Gartner estimates end users will spend approximately $195 billion on cloud software as a service, $150 billion on cloud system infrastructure services and $42 billion on cloud management and security services.

All signs point to AWS becoming an even more influential company with the strongest foothold in the global cloud market.

With AWS’ annual run rate now exceeding $80 billion, including sales climbing 27 percent to $20.5 billion in the third quarter, Selipsky promises channel partners will continue to be top of mind for years to come.

“We will keep on innovating. We will keep on figuring out how to build value for customers with partners. And we will keep on ensuring that partners have increasingly strong businesses building alongside and on top of AWS,” said Selipsky. “I expect [our partner] commitment to continue for decades to come,” he said.