Edge technology supports everything from mainstream personalisation and enhanced real-time insights to faster product and service innovation.
Although there are challenges in the edge journey, Sherifa Hady, Vice President Channel Europe Middle East & Africa at Aruba, says it’s imperative for businesses to adopt edge technology to take advantage of the vast commercial potential they present. In this interview, she talks about how pandemic impacted the channel industry, bringing in more complexity in IT systems and infrastructure, and the key challenges for channel partner management this year.
Excerpts from the interview:
In what ways did the pandemic impact the channel industry?
The pandemic introduced greater levels of complexity into IT systems and infrastructure – there was the new reality of a distributed workforce and fragmented networks. There were also consumer demands, such as touchless interactions. Even customers are now looking at IT infrastructure and the way they consume IT, in a completely different way.
Businesses are now charging their IT departments with the mission of streamlining operations. Reducing operational complexity and network simplification is more important than ever.
And how has the industry adapted to the new market demands?
The biggest adaptation has been accepting the need to transition at speed to react to new market demands. For example, at the peak of the pandemic, suddenly premises had to be repurposed as a hospital, or teachers needed access to networks and resources. Retail businesses had to pivot quickly and ship everything.
Channel partners had to adapt to this fast-changing landscape. They had to adapt to deploy IT quickly in a different environment and switch it on and off immediately. Some partners rode the wave and others found their processes needed some work to give them flexibility.
We have now a SaaS-based economy. How are networking solutions providers keeping up with the changes within the IT industry?
The distributed workforce with a wide number of people working from home (WFH) naturally means more edge products, which introduces more possibilities and flexibility, but also a vastly increased security risk. Cybersecurity has been one of the biggest growing areas of channel partners business in the last two years. To mitigate against the increased security risks, networks need to move towards a Zero Trust approach that helps unify the networking and security infrastructure.
Aruba’s Zero Trust solution helps secure and enable remote workers while removing the cumbersome user VPNs. It accelerates cloud migration by implementing a Zero Trust/SASE security framework. And it also enables IT managers to make intelligent decisions on-premises at the Edge, especially within IoT/OT, healthcare, and networking-heavy environments.
How important is it for enterprises to start embracing edge technology?
It’s vital. Moving processes and applications to the edge of the network is a crucial part of ongoing digital transformation. It’s imperative for businesses to start embracing edge technology immediately to take advantage of the vast commercial potential they present.
Edge technology supports everything from mainstream personalisation and enhanced real-time insight to faster product and service innovation. The opportunities for channel partners to support companies on their edge journey are vast but delivering these new systems, structural adaptations, adoption of innovations and enhanced security is a massive task – and partners need to be competitive, fast and ready to adapt what and how they sell.
So, a shift in mindset and growing awareness at leadership level of the scale and the importance of the task is a critical first step.
What are the top three challenges faced by businesses in the edge journey?
The ability a business has to gain business value from data increasingly depends on its capacity to collect, process, store and analyse it at the edge. One of the main challenges centres on how much data a business has in its system and how quickly it can be
processed. Sometimes systems are set up in a way that makes it difficult to collect data from multiple sources or to process data quickly enough to take action. This can be mitigated by optimising machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), which leads to much faster data processing.
A lack of skills/understanding of edge technologies is another challenge. Aruba’s recent research found that 87 per cent of businesses believe they are missing some skills needed to help their organisation unlock the value of data.
Another challenge is the security mindset; an Aruba survey in 2020 revealed that around three fifths of ITDMs believe that connecting IoT or user devices at the edge makes their businesses more vulnerable. But a quarter also identify improved security as one of the biggest benefits of capturing data from user devices.
Securing edge networks is an incredibly high priority for businesses. Our surveys have found that addressing the security challenges of distributed processing is the number one critical success factor. This means that partners who can help customers find and stop threats faster and make this a core part of the network infrastructure have a unique opportunity to succeed.
With remote and hybrid work models becoming the new normal, what are the technology demands from enterprises? What are the benefits channel companies can provide?
Connectivity, access and security need to be seamless across hybrid working set-ups and the biggest technology demands are for consistent and reliable connectivity and access at the edge. Not all home offices are created equal and since they are now a permanent fixture of working life, businesses must face up to the limitations posed by home broadband and IT infrastructure.
Remote working employees need access to the same network functionality and applications as they do when office-based – so there is a demand to extend the edge of the infrastructure into the WFH setup.
This involves sourcing remote access solutions that deliver fast, reliable network performance and security. Channel companies can provide plug-and-play devices such as remote wireless access points, which make installation effortless for employees and cure a headache for IT teams.
At the same time, security teams must increase visibility, security and control to mitigate against the risks posed by personal unmanaged devices. Channel partners are successfully streamlining security operations using automation and Zero-Trust security models. When this is combined with real-time monitoring, IT teams can detect, isolate, and
close network breaches, and integrate solutions like automatic device categorisation (based on network fingerprint and dynamic segmentation) to provide reliable, effortless control.
It’s important to avoid creating overly complex remote access solutions – these cause security problems because frustrated employees gravitate to digital workarounds, potentially downloading and installing tools and apps from questionable sources.
In 2022, what will be the top three key challenges for channel partner management?
Defining core value: The first challenge centres around identity: a channel partner must see itself as a company in its own right and establish what it wants to be known for and what added value it offers
to customers. Having a stronger identity as a company is also an opportunity for partners to step up and make sure their values go inwards too – embracing the responsibilities of employee welfare and engagement.
Developing a cloud-based strategy: Increased interest in the cloud means that another key challenge for 2022 will be helping customers to successfully migrate to the cloud, in the most effective way. It’s a complex journey and channel partners have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by going a step further to add value and help guide customers through what can be an overwhelming
process. To succeed, partners will need to develop a comprehensive cloud-based strategy to ensure they have the best tools and management software available to support customers.
Creating SaaS offerings: A recent Aruba research found that only 8 per cent of IT decision-makers plan to continue with solely Capex investments, compared to 55 per cent who said they would look at SaaS models. It’s vital that channel partners wake up to this heightened demand for flexible subscription models by broadening their own offerings.
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