Westcon Comstor has launched a new digital distribution system, replacing traditional paper-based processes with a seamless online lifecycle management solution.

The system offers resellers a host of advantages, helping them to better manage their customer accounts and interactions.

Westcon’s aggregation platform, Bluesky, is the cornerstone of the digital distribution move, but Westcon’s value-adds go well beyond this, says Leane Hannigan, cloud solution director: southern Africa at Weston Comstor.

Hannigan explains that the distributor offers its resellers and their customers strong technical services competencies.

The company provides support services through a 24/7 hotline and onsite, with device and service monitoring. It also offers education services that include authorised vendor training, Westcon-developed training, and partner-delivered training. Professional services that it offers include solution design, implementation, migration and upgrades.

“We are also in the process or acquiring pure services organisations to bolster our service to our partners,” Hannigan says.

The Westcon Group currently boasts 420 technical engineers, 2 175 technology certifications, 10 global support centres that operate in nine different language. In addition, it has 68 training rooms and, in 2014, trained 7 302 students.

While Weston is leading the Bluesky aggregation with Microsoft licences for now, Hannigan says it will soon add Adobe, Skykick, SymantecCloud and VMware to its cloud services. The infrastructure can be opened up to include security services in the future as well.

Microsoft recently launched its Cloud Services Provider (CSP) programme, where resellers still own the relationship with the end user, including the complete customer lifecycle and attach partner services.

The CSP operates on a two-tier model.

The first tier is where Microsoft works with the service provider partner and the customer on an almost direct model.

The second tier is indirect, and addresses the customer who would usually work with the channel, with partners adding scalability, capacity and services.

Anyone can work in the first tier, but its more cost-effective for resellers to partner with a distributor on the tier two model, Hannigan says.

Tier one partners need to have a lot of capacity and revenue to sustain the model, Hannigan says. They also have to have an aggregation platform that allows them to seamlessly transact with a customer. “They also need to be able to demonstrate and prove that they can support level one and level two in the customer environment. And they have to show a strong services competency across the Microsoft stack.”

Tier two partners, on the other hand, need to offer value-added services, customer support,  single invoice, and customer management at scale.

Westcon Comstor is keen to partner with resellers to make cloud a reality in southern Africa.

Hannigan recaps cloud development to date: “In our day to day activities, we use cloud computing all the time,” she says.

The public cloud sits in the vendor’s data centre; private cloud sits, typically, in your own data centre. Hybrid cloud is a combination of the two.

“We have been in the cloud computing era for the last 10 years – and we are already in the Internet of Things,” she says.

The age of autonomic computing is also well-established, Hannigan says, and will work together with IoT to make uses’ lives easier

“It is going to be huge.”

The cloud offerings available today typically include:

*             Services cloud – where users pay for what they use. It includes services like IaaS, PaaS and hosted solutions, and is delivered though products like Azure, AWS and Microsoft SPLA.

*             Product cloud – SKU based per user, billed monthly and delivered through products like Adobe, Office 365 ad Skykick.

“Not only has technology changed, but we have, and so has our business,” Hannigan says. “So what does the new business look like?

Users can buy direct from vendors, she points out, but recommends that resellers work to prevent this from happening as it could cause the reseller to lose the customer lifecycle.

“If you haven’t considered that your business model needs to change, you have to,” she says. “Businesses today are fast learning that you can’t afford not to change.”

Much of the problem is the process involved in selling software, which is long, slow and cumbersome, but much of this is dealt with by the new set of processes in the CSP programme.

“Vendors have the most innovative technology, but they may not have got it completely right for innovation in business,” Hannigan says. “And this is where distribution has a key role to play.”