Lenovo Will ‘Aggressively Take Back’ Market Share In 2021: Steve Biondi

From Lenovo’s upcoming as-a-service strategy to whether technology events will ever be the same after COVID-19, Lenovo’s North American channel chief Steve Biondi tells CRN what to expect in 2021.


Lenovo’s North American channel chief Steve Biondi says Lenovo will launch an “aggressive” as-a-service strategy for channel partners next year with huge plans in store for 2021 to win more market share.

“The segments we’re going after, we’re going to continue to aggressively take back the market share that is ours,” said Biondi, head of channels and alliances for Lenovo’s North American Data Center Group, in an interview with CRN. “We’re really going after the MSP in a whole different way and CSPs in a whole different way that you’re going to start see in 2021.”

Biondi joined the $50 billion PC market leader and data center infrastructure standout in early 2020 after being Avaya’s former global channel chief. He hit the ground running this year by revamping Lenovo Data Center Group’s (DCG) partner program and boosting presales and technical support for channel partners.

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“Next year, we’re going to start to get aggressive in terms of standing up a different way for partners to do as-a-service,” he said.

In an interview with CRN, Biondi talks about Lenovo’s upcoming as-a-service strategy, where channel partners should invest in 2021 as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way customers buy.

What will be one of Lenovo’s biggest launches in 2021?

Next year, we’re going to start to get aggressive in terms of standing up a different way for partners to do as-a-service. Many channel partners are down the path of evolving to be some kind of service-providing entity. Lenovo is going to be very unique in how they can do that. The ink is still wet on that. We’ll be prepared for that in early 2021.

We’re going to really go after this as-a-service more aggressively. Our approach from being very focused and very surgical is going to do us well here. So many people are offering so many things today that it’s confusing. We’re going to solve [challenges] around moving big chunks of data, being able to access it more effectively, being secure and aware of what the edge and IoT really looks like. We are in a pretty good spot here. The segments we’re going after, we’re going to continue to aggressively take back the market share that is ours. We’re really going after the MSP in a whole different way and CSP’s in a whole different way that you’re going to start see in 2021.

Will it be like a TruScale Infrastructure Services 2.0?

[Not exactly] So TruScale is going to have some modifications next year to be able to be channel-led and incorporate the entire ecosystem of the channel. That’s on the TruScale side. The cool thing about that is Lenovo came to me and the channel and asked, ‘What do you want to see in the next release?’ They didn’t just say, ‘Hey we’re going to do this.’ They literally sat down with the channel organization and said, ‘What will work?’

We looked at the landscape and nobody is doing what we’re about to be announcing here. The channel community at large is going to be very pleased that we are continuing the path of channel-first. The TruScale side all by itself is going to be significantly improved from channel consumption standpoint, but then we’re also doing stuff discretely in the channel to allow partners to get access to platforms to stand up their own environments as necessary. We’re excited about where we’re heading. We’re going to be standing alone in terms of what we’re provisioning there for the partners for sure.

Are there any major channel changes slated for 2021?

We’re going to really exploit this service providing discussion around enabling the channel and how that can tie into TruScale and how TruScale is going to exploit the SAP relationship that we have. How we’re going to leverage this AI and data management launch. We’re going to keep running business as usual, but very aggressively. The numbers are suggesting we’re doing the right stuff.

At the same time, we’re going to continue to prosecute the play we’re on. We have the right program. We have the right attack plan. We’re just going to leverage the fact that we are open, have the best technology and people are gravitating to us. We’re going to make sure we’re the easiest to do business with and partners can make great profits on all the stuff that keeps our program going.

Does Lenovo DCG plan to double down on any strategic partnerships next year?

We have a great relationship with Nvidia. We’re going to be the first ones to market with their new A100 chip. No one will be able to claim that. Nvidia saw that the Lenovo platform was the right platform on which to do this. So that’s very good news.

We have great relationships with AMD. I meet with AMD people every week. The guys at Intel at the same. I’m pretty pleased at with we are with our chip partnerships across those three organizations. I’ve only been here less than a year, but what Lenovo’s done organizationally to have the right kinds of partnerships on the hardware and software side -- like with Microsoft, Red Hat, VMware, etc. – we’re in a good spot. We are very focused on solving data center issues and providing solutions to customers. We have the right partnerships around us to pull that off.

I know that Lenovo isn’t the only vendor with [these types of partnerships], but the fact that your seeing Lenovo come to market faster than everybody else out there with the best and newest technology from these chip manufacturers, from these software providers, says something.

If you were a channel partner, what types of people would you hire in 2021?

If I’m a channel partner I’m saying, ‘I need to get into a position where I’m satisfying standing up services for my customers.’ I’d probably go after industry expertise first. People who understand the segment I’m going into and the industry I’m specifically going into. Because it’s no longer going to be about boxes, bits and bytes, and all that – that’s obviously very important – but I’m going to talk to you about, ‘What are your medical records archiving strategy? How do you leverage that to make sure this pandemic really gets behind us? How do you make sure stuff is being stored securely? How do you provision for a remote workforce?’ There’s a lot more complexity around service providing. Then you have to worry about international laws, all kinds of things.

I would say start with industry knowledge, and then go after data scientists, people who know software, people who know how metering works and things like that because that’s a whole new language for these people. Thinking about services and being that trusted services provider is a different mindset.

Has COVID-19 permanently changed anything in the IT world other than remote working?

Customers can now go from RFI (request for information) to deployment virtually, whereas before, they never did that. Now they know it can be done. I think, not all the time, but more often than not, customers are going to leverage that. Because if I’m not deploying a person out, for example, as a customer, I think I could save some money. As a business partner, I now have to determine what’s the right way to go prosecute and provision for that.

The good news is, you’re going to have more volume. Because if I don’t have to worry about sending people out and doing all this stuff, I can now likely handle more deals and more solutions. Is it going to be the new normal? I don’t know, but the nice thing about Lenovo is we’re agile and can adapt pretty quickly. I’m encouraged with the kind of processes [stemming] from this pandemic that we’re seeing. It’s miraculous if you think about it and I think Lenovo will be posed to take advantage of what comes next.

Do you think vendors hosting huge technology conferences will ever go back to normal?

The conferences landscape is going to be a lot more intimate. I don’t think it’s going to be these big giant events where everyone can come. People are going to get a little smarter about, ‘Hey, let just the leaders and the development community go to this event. We don’t need everybody there.’ I believe these kinds of massive tech events are going to start a lot more smaller in scale and more intimate. Companies will gravitate to that. I’m not going to send 10 of my people to some event somewhere because it’s impracticable at this point. But more importantly, I could send two or three there.

I think all of these events will have a virtual slant to them. All the events are going to be hybrid events from now on is my guess. There’ll be less people going in person but more people will have access because virtual conferences work. … I think the hybrid approach to events is going to be the new norm. It will be a lot more intimate for a select few to go, but a lot of people will have access virtually. Now that more companies have figured out the right way to deliver stuff virtually, I don’t think that’s going away.

Just how important was Lenovo’s new data management and storage launch?

We just launched the easy button for AI for people. It’s really as simple as that. For partners, if I have to go put together the configuration of a server, and then add storage, and then add AI and data management technology solutioning – in some cases, I’m going to three or four different configuration sites and four different vendors. Now you can do it all in one place.

We just made it so much easier for the partners to facilitate this solution to customers that are looking to get better control over their edge environments and the data their capturing through all this remote workforce going on – this is pretty cool stuff. We really just launched the easy button for AI for the partners. They can go one place, configure everything, they know their pricing, they know the discount and get support from one place. It’s going to be important in 2021.

It’s going to allow our customers to really manage and make meaningful, valuable decisions with the data that they’re capturing that’s growing exponentially. This new platform is a one-stop shop. Lenovo is well positioned to help customers solve huge data management issues.