Ahead Of The Curve: How Ingram Micro Is Helping Partners Thrive

In a world being disrupted by emerging technologies, Ingram Micro Chief Country Executive for the U.S. Kirk Robinson says the distributor is helping solution providers stay on the forefront of markets such as IoT, security and digital transformation with its investments in technology prowess, tools and financing options.

When Managed Business Communications recently signed a massive digital transformation contract with a grocery store chain, it knew it wouldn’t be in the trenches by itself.

The project to provide a Meraki wireless network overhaul, add leading-edge location-based services and do things like generate relevant coupons for shoppers as they move around a store would be impossible for the 24-person solution provider to handle on its own.

But it wasn’t alone. Instead, the Hackettstown, N.J.-based Cisco Meraki partner—whose biggest project until then was a yearlong Cisco product sale and configuration worth $18 million—ran boldly into the project with help from Ingram Micro, said Ernie Dellamo, president of Managed Business Communications.

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The full scope of the project was bigger than anything Managed Business Communications had done before. The solution provider in July won the $11 million award for phase one of the project, which called for deployment in 370 stores. Work started in August and was finished by October. Phase two, with another 650 stores, is slated to start in March, and Managed Business Communications hopes Ingram Micro’s support will also help it get that project, Dellamo said.

In the first phase of the project, Ingram Micro provided a cohort of technicians from its services group, with sometimes three technicians per store for two nights in up to 40 stores per week.

It was a team effort, Dellamo said.

“Our staff supports the Ingram Micro people,” he said. “We do the configuration and tech support, while Ingram Micro removes the old technology and installs the new.”

In addition to Ingram Micro technicians, Managed Business Communications depended on other solution providers it knows through Ingram Micro’s Trust X partner community to help with the digital transformation project.

“We’re a smaller company. If we go head-to-head by ourselves against larger IT companies, we’re the little guy,” said Dellamo. “But if we have a buddy like Ingram Micro standing behind us, supporting us, customers know we can handle the project.”

Dellamo’s partnership with Ingram Micro illustrates how far the distributor will go to help its solution providers stay ahead of the curve when it comes to bleeding-edge technology like digital transformation, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and 5G networking, among others.

“The good distributors are true business partners,” said Scott Johnson, owner and chief operating officer of KLH Managed IT Services, based in Minnetonka, Minn. “They’re working with you, not only from the traditional distribution of product, but they’re working with you from the marketing, and they’re working with you with business intelligence, business training and sales training. They really are a full business resource for you to help grow and manage your business.”

For many solution providers, Ingram Micro is that “true business partner”—helping them focus on solving problems for their customers.

The top trends that will impact distribution through 2025 will include, in order of importance, security, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cloud, the Internet of Things, and big data and analytics, according to a survey of distributors, solution providers, business users and venture capitalists released by the Global Distribution Technology Council in September.

Ingram Micro’s wide-ranging capabilities can help moderate the disruptions solution providers face from emerging technologies, said Kirk Robinson, chief country executive for the U.S.

“We’re in an industry where sometimes there are fancy acronyms or names and it takes a little while for people to figure out what that really is,” Robinson said. “With IoT, we sat back for a little bit. We saw some of our competitors making moves, naming people VP of IoT. We wanted to take our time to understand how does a partner make money.”

Ingram Micro is supporting partners looking at IoT by thinking beyond the mere selling of sensors to the development of a full solution, including interpretation of the data, the artificial intelligence and the machine learning, Robinson said.

“It’s [looking at] how can you use the data to become more intelligent about a certain solution [to save] the end user cost or allow them to become more efficient,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, we sell IoT.’ … It goes all the way through the full solution. This is what the data can do for you, and these are the dollars that it can save you.”

The cloud, meanwhile, has spurred massive changes that are disrupting traditional IT processes, Robinson said.

“We’ve invested $500 million of our own money to build out our own cloud capabilities,” he said. “I think that might be more than our competitors. We saw that as a priority for our business and partners, and that’s paying off in our ability for our partners to see the cloud path that they need to take.”

Digital transformation, as seen in Managed Business Communications’ grocery store deal, also has the potential to cause a lot of disruption, according to Robinson.

“I think digital transformation is another one that people are trying to wrap their heads around,” he said. “And that, to me, is helping companies become more efficient through the use of technology. And every company goes through it, Ingram Micro included. So we’re looking at the size of Ingram. What are we doing to become more efficient with these technologies, and how can we help our partners with that also?”

And solution providers shouldn’t forget to prepare for the upcoming 5G technology revolution.

Deborah Gannaway, principal with DG Technology Consulting, Tampa, Fla., said the move from 4G to 5G will create more bandwidth on which to hang new services. The solution provider, which has a security and compliance focus, will have to explore the ways to take advantage of the transition and learn new ways to protect data, she said.

“5G will change the landscape for network management and security,” she said. “It will take five years or more, but we are already looking at how it will impact us. … Ingram Micro is ahead of the game. It continues to look forward, and is a large business that not only protects our business but [protects] us as partners as well.”

Helping Partners Thrive

While Ingram Micro continues to serve partners via its traditional core business, its focus on emerging technologies continues to strengthen as it looks for ways to help partners thrive in a world of disruptive technologies, said Paul Bay, executive vice president and group president of the Americas for the distributor.

Ingram Micro in 2012 acquired Promark Technology, a value-added distributor that brought it a team focused on emerging technologies and started its emerging vendor initiative, especially in the storage arena, Bay said.

That focus has grown to the point where Ingram Micro in September held its first IoT Summit at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters.

The interest and capabilities that solution providers show in regard to IoT is at about the same level as it was for cloud five to seven years ago, according to Bay. It’s a point at which education and support from Ingram Micro can help jump-start a new business or practice area for its partners, he said.

Distribution plays an increasingly important role in the deployment of both physical goods and emerging technologies like IoT, cloud and software, and is taking on more and more of the end-user work on behalf of vendor partners, Bay said.

Vendors increasingly come to Ingram Micro to assist with the deployment of new technologies to help ensure customers get the level of service they expect while giving solution providers the opportunity to provide the services they can with their team’s existing skill sets, he said.

“So we have to hire up those skill sets,” he said. “We can do the aggregation within our Centers of Excellence to be able to deliver that and make sure [customers] get the same experience that they get today from their solution provider or the vendor.”

For distributors like Ingram Micro, this is an extension of the capabilities it has traditionally provided to solution providers who have always needed help with certain skills or resources, Bay said.

“Why did distribution originally even come about?” he said. “It was working capital. We had inventory. We were able to aggregate those solutions, give the technical support.” In an increasingly virtualized world, the emphasis has shifted from sales support to things like customer experience, which Bay called the single most important part of the IT business today.

“On the large deals, whether it’s smart city, or these big implementations that are [going] to a subscription-based, recurring revenue [model], what’s the customer experience?” he said. “[Vendors need to] take the same experience they have given to their large Fortune-whatever [customers] down into the SMB segment, midmarket segment, out to that end user. How do you make sure that customer experience and the technology and implementation is driving the business outcome?”

That kind of support, rather than taking away from solution provider opportunities, actually increases them, Bay said.

Increased complexity in the marketplace means that distributors and solution providers will not be disintermediated, he said.

“With that, they have to figure out what they’re good at, and go place their bets,” he said. “The days of, ‘I’m going to be all things to everyone’ are gone,” he said. “So what is your expertise? And then how do you tie in those other pieces of the solution? This industry’s got to get much more comfortable with a connected ecosystem of partner-to-partner.”

Bay recommends that solution providers lean on Ingram Micro to help make sure they can deliver on all of the promises they make to customers.

“Whether it’s partner-to-partner, whether it’s services we’re delivering, whether it’s an ISV that’s delivering that service, we have visibility into all of that,” he said. “And we can make sure that [solution providers’ customers are] getting the experience that they said they were signing up for.”

A Finger On The Pulse Of Emerging Technology

One of the ways Ingram Micro stays ahead of the curve is via a partnership with Vation Ventures, a Denver-based provider of services to help technology startups reach markets as a way to facilitate meetings with venture capitalists, said Karl Connolly, chief technologist at Ingram Micro.

“They have a good portfolio of emerging companies,” he said. “We have an evolving line card. It’s nice to get an early look at some of them. … We have a finger on the pulse of technology before it comes so we can forearm our partners.”

Ingram Micro also gets an early peek at hundreds of startups with potential channel-focused value via the Comet Competition.

Now in its second year, the Comet Competition last year evaluated over 300 startups that were developing technology specifically for the IT channel. In the end, 12 finalists shared a total of $300,000 in cash prizes and over $1.5 million in go-to-market support.

They included companies developing channel-focused technology related to hybrid cloud, IoT, behavior-based and other security technologies, large-scale 3-D printing, medical triage, Salesforce-focused user experience, and even bidding and custom packaging tools for ecommerce.

“[The Comet program is] for future potential partners that our solution providers are looking forward to being able to deliver,” he said. “So today, there’s private equity money all over the place. This really is a way to open it up on a global basis to bring those that may already have some venture backing, some that don’t, and give them an opportunity. And there’s no criteria on what the type of opportunities those ISVs can be bringing forward. So there’s a huge spectrum of different solutions that are being brought forward.”

Community Efforts: Partners Supporting Partners

Another way Ingram Micro helps partners navigate the potential riptides of disruption is by building communities of solution providers who provide support to each other.

Solution providers cite two communities in particular— the midsize and enterprise-focused Trust X Alliance and the SMB Alliance—as ways for them to pool efforts to build business with emerging technologies.

DG Technology Consulting’s Gannaway said she is looking for help from Ingram Micro to navigate the changes, in part through the Trust X Alliance community, where Ingram Micro and partners meet regularly to discuss innovative security solutions.

“We learn from other partners,” she said. “We compete, but we also look at how to work together in areas where we don’t have as much experience. The more we work together, the better the quality solution we can apply to customers.”

For Managed Business Communications’ Dellamo, the Trust X Alliance provides the ability to tap into other partners’ expertise when it comes to new and emerging technologies.

“We don’t see other partners in the [Trust X] Alliance as competitors, but as partners,” Dellamo said. “So if we need help anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, we can tap into other partners.”

The SMB Alliance, meanwhile, provides a community where smaller solution providers can bounce ideas off their peers, said Paul Hager, CEO of Information Technology Professionals, a Madison, Wis.-based solution provider and MSP.

Hager cited the case of a longtime remote monitoring and management vendor partner, Level Platforms, which was acquired by AVG Technologies, which then sold the RMM technologies to Barracuda Networks, which last year was acquired by Thoma Bravo.

“RMM is the most important tool for MSPs,” he said. “Can we just Google for help in a case like this? Instead, for help, we go to our SMB Alliance peers to get ideas and contacts.”

Help From A Business Partner

Ingram Micro is really showing up as an IT business partner with a wide range of services and resources that go beyond buying and transacting products, said Jennifer Anaya, vice president of marketing for Ingram Micro.

“Over the years, we’ve established, for example, technology engineers who can help [partners] before a sale happens to make sure they’ve got the right mix of products within a solution that they’re going to talk to that business [user] about,” Anaya said.

The decision to seek help from a company with 32,000 employees that can offer a hand with new technology initiatives is a no-brainer, said Sam Barhoumeh, CEO of ReadyNetworks, a Chicago-based MSP with 180 employees serving a global customer base.

“Why would you not use [Ingram Micro] as your own people to grow your business at no cost?” Barhoumeh said. “You’re a startup. You have five people. Here you go. Here’s who you should call. Welcome to your extended family. They are there to help.”

Ingram Micro in essence expands a solution provider’s bench with its own personnel who have been vetted to ensure that they can help partners deliver services to their clients, Gannaway said.

“The services have been huge for us,” she said. “That’s allowed us to grow our business so much. It has really helped us expand out of a small area and grow so we can go to a customer and have the capability to go deeper and wider with our current base.”

For instance, Gannaway cited the example of IoT, where the increasing number of devices being connected to networks is forcing businesses to look at new ways to protect those networks. Ingram Micro offers technology from traditional vendors like McAfee to new artificial intelligence companies like SentinelOne, and recently introduced her company to Forcepoint.

Forcepoint helps leverage intelligence to provide security alerts, and Gannaway’s company is already doing proofs of concept with the vendor, she said.

“Ingram Micro realizes that the traditional approach to security doesn’t always work,” she said. “There are great technologies out there, but vendors need to innovate around new threats.”

Creative Financing Helps Partners Close Deals

From a marketing standpoint, Ingram Micro is looking at how to help partners wrap their stories around why they’re the best ones to provide a particular solution to their clients, Anaya said. And that, she said, includes financing.

“Maybe that end business needs to have different options in terms of whether they’re outright buying that product or if they’re going to ‘cash-flow’ it in some kind of as-a-service standpoint,” she said. “If it’s a multilayered solution, we’re [offering] financing solutions where we can provide an invoice down to that end user on behalf of that partner, where they can layer in all the product transactions and services as part of that invoice.”

Financing is critical when adopting emerging technologies, and Ingram Micro offers a unique program to finance reserve instances, said Ron Dupler, CEO of GreenPages Technology Solutions, Kittery, Maine. Customers normally have to pre-pay for cloud instances, but Ingram Micro is now financing those instances, he said.

“Now we can turn them into a monthly spend for customers,” he said. “Applying Ingram Micro’s financing to the cloud is a big help for digital transformation projects.”

For smaller partners, financing is a critical issue, said Darren Gottesmann, director of U.S. SMB sales for the distributor.

This is particularly true for larger deals where the solution provider may need to bring in expensive products and services, Gottesmann said. For those situations, Ingram Micro can get creative with financing options including terms, credit card payments, leasing, or maybe an arrangement where Ingram Micro collects payments from the end-user customer directly, he said.

In a disruptive IT world, solution providers have to understand how to go from moving products at a certain cost and getting paid within a certain number of days to selling annuity programs, Ingram Micro’s Robinson said.

“Do they have the capability to understand how to sell them?” he said. “Do they have the right sales force? We’re going through it too. Everybody is. There are new challenges and disruptions out there. Now, we have three- to five-year annuity deals, and now you have to sit down and look at the risk of taking a five-year annuity deal. Sometimes there’s risk involved for the partner, and a lot of times, the risk is falling on the distributor.”

The vendor community is also going through that transition as disruptive technology takes hold, Robinson said, citing Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise as two companies transforming to meet today’s new demands.

“There’s a lot of, ‘Get comfortable being uncomfortable,’” he said.