New Intel Global Channel Chief Seeks To ‘Keep Evolving’ Partner Program Amid Software, AI PC Push
In an interview with CRN, new Intel Global Channel Chief Trevor Vickers talks about his plan to ‘keep evolving’ the Intel Partner Alliance program as the chipmaker continues its push into software and services on top of establishing AI PCs as a new category with its Core Ultra chips.
Intel’s new global channel chief has spent almost 25 years at the storied chipmaker, but he’s taking a humble approach to his new role leading strategy and execution for one of the most important ways it makes money: through distribution and channel partners.
In an interview with CRN—his first as the new vice president and general manager of Intel’s Global Partners and Support organization—Trevor Vickers said he doesn’t want to “dramatically change” the company’s Intel Partner Alliance program, which launched in 2021 to centralize and improve relationships with a growing number of partner types, from VARs to ISVs.
Instead, Vickers said, he wants to “keep evolving a lot of what” his predecessor, John Kalvin, has done in the program’s first three years as the semiconductor giant continues to focus “more on value-based selling and outcome-based selling” that involves selling an expanding set of software and services on top of Intel’s growing portfolio of CPUs, GPUs and other chips.
The company is also seeking to challenge Nvidia’s dominance in the AI computing space, not just by selling GPUs and accelerator chips as well as software that helps businesses develop and manage applications but also by establishing the new category of AI PCs.
But for Vickers, any decisions he makes will stem from what he hears from partners.
“We are nothing without our partners, so I will get up out of bed every morning and remind myself of that, so I'm very much looking forward to getting to know our partners, understanding the opportunities and challenges through their eyes and then figuring out how we can help,” he told CRN.
Vickers (pictured above) was named Intel’s new global channel chief on Jan. 8 by Christoph Schell, chief commercial officer and general manager of the company’s Sales, Marketing and Communications Group (SMG), which is where the Global Partners and Support organization is housed.
Vickers said he decided to take the job in part because he “had a desire to tackle the next challenge and get to learn something new” in further developing his career.
But, having previously led Intel’s Business Management Group under SMG, Vickers said he became increasingly intrigued by Kalvin’s partner organization by gaining a “cursory understanding of what John and his team were chartered to do.”
“I always found it really interesting. I liked the fact that it’s getting closer to customers, closer to partners,” he said.
Vickers Will Help Lead Intel’s Continued Push Into Software And Services
Vickers is taking over the Global Partners and Support organization at a critical time for Intel.
The semiconductor giant is not only in the midst of CEO Pat Gelsinger’s ambitious four-year comeback plan to restore the company’s chip manufacturing leadership, which is supposed to give Intel’s processors and other chip products a significant boost in performance and efficiency.
But Intel is also seeking to augment its chip design and manufacturing business by selling software and services as well as working more closely with ISVs—a vision Gelsinger first laid out in CRN magazine’s October 2021 cover story. There is an important role for the Intel Partner Alliance program to play in these areas, not just in signing up VARs and systems integrators to sell these software and services but also getting ISVs enrolled in the program.
“[It’s a] good time for the company as we pivot to focus more on value-based selling and outcome-based selling and those partnerships with the [global systems integrators] and ISVs, they're becoming that much more critical,” Vickers said.
Kalvin, who is now leader of Intel’s new Go To Market Operations group, told CRN that value-based and outcome-based selling is more broadly about delivering “more value to the end user that’s buying the product,” which is what many channel partners do now.
This way of selling includes new Intel software and services offerings, like Intel Granulate, which is cloud optimization software that can recommend optimizations to improve application performance and lower costs—optimizations that could include using specific features within Intel CPUs.
Then there’s the Intel Developer Cloud service, which lets channel partners, among ISVs and other kinds of partners, access the company’s latest Xeon CPUs, data center GPUs and Gaudi AI accelerator chips so that they can build and test Intel-based solutions for their customers.
Kalvin said Intel plans to release “more and more services” over time, which will provide “incremental value” as well as “incremental revenue opportunities and margin opportunities” for partners.
This initiative means it will be up to Vickers and his team to figure out, “how are going we going to take these to market through the partner ecosystem?” he added.
What Partners Hope To See From Intel’s Channel Efforts
A leader at one of the largest IT distributors in the United States said Intel’s channel organization, under Kalvin’s leadership, has done a great job consolidating previously disparate partner programs and “simplifying” the way partners interface with the semiconductor.
This has allowed Intel to create one of the “best-in-class programs” in the channel, Michael Schwab, co-president at Harrisburg, Pa.-based D&H Distributing, told CRN.
What has also made Intel Partner Alliance stand out, according to Schwab, is the program’s growing emphasis on pre-integrated solutions that bundle together hardware and software products so that partners can get customers set up with IoT, hybrid cloud and hybrid work applications much quicker.
With Vickers now at the helm of Intel’s partner program, Schwab wants to see the new global channel chief make a stronger push to communicate the effectiveness of pre-integrated solutions that the chipmaker is selling with and through partners.
The distribution executive also thinks Vickers will play a critical role in Intel’s campaign to market and sell the emerging category of AI PCs, which are PCs, mostly laptops, that come with advanced AI capabilities thanks in large part to the inclusion of a neural processing unit (NPU) within the central processor.
On top of convincing the market the importance of AI PCs for a wide range of workloads, the semiconductor giant will also need to contend with fierce competition not just from AMD but also Qualcomm, which plans to launch laptop chips with advanced AI capabilities this year.
“I think part of it is going to fall on Trevor’s shoulders to deliver those messages through the Intel Partner Alliance program, create the reward structure and enablement structure for success,” Schwab said.
The leader of a major North American solution provider told CRN that while Intel is a solid partner, he believes the chipmaker needs to improve the accessibility of information it makes available to partners, especially with the emerging AI PC category bringing with it new concepts and applications. He said this is despite Intel’s efforts to simplify matters for partners.
“They have tremendous content, tremendous documentation, tremendous reporting. But it's very difficult to surface that in a way that is consumable,” said Harry Zarek, president of Ontario-based Compugen, which is No. 62 on CRN’s 2023 Solution Provider 500 list.
Zarek said Intel should also increase marketing efforts for its GPUs, which generally aren’t as powerful as the ones from market leader Nvidia but can do well in growing AI use cases, like model fine-tuning.
“Intel has nothing to be ashamed about in terms of where they are [with] GPU. Not everyone needs the latest GPU from Nvidia. Depending on the workloads and the use cases, the functionality they've got is good for where we are in the early stages of AI,” he said.
Kalvin Explains Purpose Of His New Go To Market Operations Group
Schell assigned Vickers to lead Intel’s Global Partners and Support organization, so that he could move Kalvin to a fresh role as general manager of the newly created Go To Market Operations group, which brings together previously disparate operational teams under SMG covering elements like order processing, product delivery, pricing and market development funds, according to Kalvin.
“We were looking at how do we want to best serve our customers going forward, the partner ecosystem going forward and optimize our org structure to do that,” he said.
Kalvin said his group will cover additional functions that will support other parts of SMG, such as the Global Partners and Support organization as well as other teams across Intel.
“Think about how do we train our sales force, make sure they have all the content that they need, the compensation systems, the [customer relationship management systems],” he said.
“In Go To Market Operations, we'll have all of our data systems and data architecture for all of our customer data, our digital transformation, and digital capabilities. Now this works in partnership with the Intel.com team and the IT team. So it's not completely standalone, but we're centralizing those operational elements and our partner operations all together,” he added.
A big portion of these functions is coming over from the group Vickers previously led, the Business Management Group, which focused on things like running operations globally as well as revenue management forecasting and manufacturing capacity strategies, according to Kalvin.
“The goal is simply to execute well for our customers and our partner ecosystem around the world,” he said of his new Go To Market Operations group.
With Intel’s growing focus on selling software and services, Kalvin said his team will have to “evolve our go to market operations to be able to support more and more services offering and more software. And so that'll be part of the core work that we'll do going forward.”
Kalvin ‘Proud’ Of His Team’s Progress With Intel Partner Alliance
Looking back at his three years at Intel’s global channel chief, Kalvin said he’s proud of the work his team has done with partners “making technology that makes peoples’ lives better.”
“If you think about the improvements in health care driven by technology or education driven by technology, or think about three years ago, we were in the midst of [the] COVID [pandemic] and how we enabled people to work remote,” he said.
Over the first three years of Intel Partner Alliance, Kalvin said, his team was able to double the net promoter score with partners and make several program improvements, including a redesigned Intel Partner University and making the points system more widely available.
Kalvin said his team has also increased the number of ISV partners in Intel Partner Alliance by a factor of 10 over the past three years.
“This will continue to be a push for Trevor as we expand beyond the traditional hardware ecosystem more and more into software. It's increasingly important, especially when you look at new areas like AI,” he said.
Important strides were made with the support side of his organization too, according to Kalvin, particularly with how support staff consistently met or exceeded “very aggressive” stretch goals for how much effort it takes for customers to resolve an issue with Intel.
“I think we do a great job in our customer experience. The data tells us that. Our customers tell us. I think it's one of the reasons they buy,” he said. “That team won an Intel Quality Award while I was the leader of this organization. It has less to do with me and a lot more to do with the team,” but that's the highest honor that an organization can achieve at Intel.”