Lenovo's Kevin Hooper: Our Vision Is To Be The ‘Most Trusted Data Center Partner In The Industry’

Kevin Hooper, president of North America for Lenovo’s Data Center Group, spoke with CRN about driving deeper into enterprise and SMB accounts with his plan to attack the data center market alongside a reinvigorated channel strategy.

As Kevin Hooper steps into his new role as president of North America for Lenovo’s Data Center Group, he understands that to achieve his goal of making Lenovo the market leader the company must expand its reach with partners. Hooper brings to Lenovo decades of executive and top-level channel experience working for IBM, NEC and Hewlett-Packard. The channel stalwart, who joined the company in February, talks about driving deeper into enterprise and SMB accounts with his plan to attack the data center market alongside a reinvigorated channel strategy.

CRN: What is your channel strategy and vision to win more accounts and drive sales for Lenovo channel partners?

Kevin Hooper: Lenovo needs to show up in more places with more customers. We cover a significant number of solutions, but I’m particularly interested in artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, IoT, VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] and DevOps. These are the types of conversations that my customers’ CIOs are having with anyone that can provide some value to help them solve their business problems. I have a very specific message: Lenovo’s been a good partner, but we’ve been a targeted partner around a specific set of accounts. I’m looking to expand that out by unstacking my resources, having significantly more conversations with channel partners around accounts, and how we can jointly bring value from their services portfolio augmented with our services portfolio and all of our solutions to specific customers.

I want to show up with more customers and with more channel partners and help to grow Lenovo’s presence in the market. We have this vision to become the most trusted data center partner that’s out there. We are in 25 of the biggest universities in North America right now, but as I asked my team, ‘There are over 4,000 universities in North America, why aren’t we in the rest?’

What new resources will you be providing to the channel?

We are investing in field resources, and we’re investing in call center resources to engage with channel partners. … We’re not really changing our resellers’ approach since we’ve always been a channel-friendly company, but what we haven’t always done is expanded our reach to touch many more customers. We are taking our existing resources and unstacking them so, rather than the traditional practice at Lenovo of having five, six or seven resources on one sales call, it’s only going to be one or two—because our channel-first strategy is to reach out to the channel partner first before you reach out to another Lenovo employee. So now that channel partner is feeling like they are a value to the investments that we’ve made in their training and certifications, and their levels within the Lenovo Partner Engage Program are being respected by our internal sellers, and we’re looking to bring value on both sides of that equation. Then bring that joint value to our customers.

Lenovo launched its new consumption-based TruScale Infrastructure Services offering for data center infrastructure. How big of a channel opportunity is it?

The opportunity for the channel that is truly unique for Lenovo partners is that TruScale is really tied to the energy consumption of the infrastructure. Some of our competitors out there are tying that consumption offer at the user level, tying it at the application level—but TruScale is really at the lowest level possible within the infrastructure. That metric is tied directly to the operating expense of a data center, which is energy consumption. It’s a tremendous opportunity for our channel partners because in a negotiation with a customer, the balance between Capex and operating expenses is always a conversation that takes place between, frankly, people that just want to talk about the technology and solving the business’ problems. What TruScale does is it provides an opportunity to just streamline that conversation for customers and channel partners around, ‘How do you leverage your infrastructure to solve the problems in your business? How do you leverage your infrastructure to allow you to be more competitive in the marketplace? And how do you get access to the infrastructure in line with how you consume it?’ The answer to a lot of those questions comes down to that energy consumption notion.

Is there a strategy to drive better alignment between Lenovo’s Data Center Group and its Intelligent Devices Group?

We use the same systems and the same operating processes. We do tailor each of our portfolios to each of our channel programs, of course, but when it comes to talking to a customer about anything where it’s people-topeople, people-to-machine or machine-to-machine—there is always an opportunity for us to go in as a joint unit. One opportunity that springs to mind is the concept of video surveillance, which is becoming very, very important in the conversations that we’re having, such as universities using security feeds to try to tie attendance at football games to GPAs and retention of students. There’s a notion in higher education that if a student is more engaged in the social life of a university, then they tend to have better performance at the university, and if they have better performance, then they tend to complete their degrees. So if you think about video surveillance systems, it’s a significant opportunity for infrastructure that has to be flexible. It’s also a tremendous opportunity for edge computing because the processing of the video feeds [is] best done as close to where the cameras are as possible. Lastly, there’s an analytics component. Any analyst will tell you that, at some point, a human has to look at it on a screen. So that opportunity exists.

What is another sort of use case that ties Lenovo’s Data Center Group and Intelligent Devices Group more closely?

Virtual desktop infrastructure is an absolute melding of the two sides of client devices with software-defined infrastructure to provide a level of security and maintainability for the best desktop experience within businesses. That solves a key set of problems because there’s a tremendous amount of costs associated with maintaining desktops now. That concept is absolutely where we meet both in front of the channel as well in front of customers.

Do you have any new go-to-market plan or program focused on winning more market share from your data center competitors?

There’s a specific focus on small and medium business that we’re going to deploy in named accounts who have done business with Lenovo over the last three or four years. We’re going to deploy a 90-day license to hunt with Lenovo resources with a select set of channel partners. It’s a little bit more than SMBs, though. So I have 10,000 named accounts across Canada and the United States. I’m looking to pull from that group of accounts, as well as the 75,000 accounts we have in our CRM, that would broadly be classified as small and medium business.

What’s the game plan to attack these 10,000 accounts by arming partners with this ‘hunting license?’

We are going to take a set of named accounts, names of customers that have done business with us over the last few years, and we’re going to proactively reach out with that set of names and engage directly with a select list of channel partners to say, ‘Hey, look, let’s go play in these accounts for 90 days. Let’s go try to formulate an attack strategy typically around those solutions [AI, big data, blockchain, IoT, VDI and DevOps] to go have some very targeted conversations with those customers. Let’s see if we can’t solve some business problems with them together.’ I wanted to do a complete 180. So instead of a channel partner coming to me with a refresh opportunity, for example, I wanted to reach out proactively to channel partners and say, ‘Let’s go bring value together.’ It’s going to be in 90-day increments. We’re going to be proactively managing that, and I’m making investments and resources on this side.

What’s your message to channel partners?

There’s a channel-first message that I have delivered to my sellers that is a part of the strategy to become significantly more present in the marketplace. We have a vision and a strategy of intelligent transformation, of being the most trusted data center partner in the industry. That trust starts with being able to roll up your sleeves and engage with channel partners in real time.