Partner success in the months ahead will be dependent on state, sector and solution, as the channel carves out new pockets of customer opportunity across Australia.
Amid a rebuilding phase at end-user level, technology providers are stepping up nationwide to help businesses overcome rising challenges related to remote working, cash flow and customer experience.
Central to such efforts will be the deployment of security, SD-WAN, collaboration and cloud technologies, underpinned by a revamped digital transformation agenda.
That’s according to Advance findings, a newly launched ARN virtual roundtable series housing leading partners throughout Australia.
During the launch session, featured providers included Thomas Duryea Logicalis; Calvert Technologies; ASI Solutions; Infront Systems and Oreta, alongside Somerville Group; Digital Armour; MSS IT; Area9 IT Solutions and Secure Agility. Representation spanned New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Launched in early August, Advance is a centralised editorial resource designed to help partners access forward-looking content as the Australian market attempts to reposition for growth. Delivered on-demand, the platform facilitates channel collaboration through access to real-time, relevant and local analysis, complemented by virtual events and research.
Despite ongoing Covid-19 challenges – triggered by the uncertainty of lockdown measures, government stimulus packages and customer budgets – partners are seeking to move the conversation forward to focus on short- to medium-term priorities.
Hence Advance, launched with the aim of helping partners search for pockets of opportunity – and revenue – in the months ahead.
“There’s no playbook for this, we’ve never been through this before,” acknowledged Simon Watt, director of Area9. “From a planning perspective it’s difficult to know what to expect but like most organisations, when you’re under attack the tendency is to circle the wagons and take a more defensive approach with respect to the business.”
Speaking via video link from Winnellie - a northern suburb of Darwin in the Northern Territory - Watt cited the words of Mark Hurd as a message of encouragement for a channel battered and bruised by Covid-19, outlining that ‘great companies excel in tough times’.
Such a quote from the former CEO of HP and Oracle - who passed away in October 2019 - is completed by ‘and in tough times customers turn to great companies’ - emphasising the potential ahead for partners aligned to customer priorities.
“This may or may not be accurate but it’s certainly a good mantra to hold on to right now,” Watt added. “In order to position the business for when economic conditions improve, we’ll be aligning more closely with our customer needs through innovation, talent acquisition and building out our service portfolio.”
State of the nation
In assessing the state of play across the Northern Territory, Watt observed that sectors showing signs of recovery are those currently being underwritten by government stimulus or funding.
“Sectors highly dependent on tourism and hospitality are definitely lagging behind but are showing blades of grass as restrictions lift,” he said. “We’re expecting investment to be subdued during the next couple of quarters due to the consumption of expenditure diverted from future projects to address the urgent business continuity activity resulting from the lockdown.
“Constraints brought about as a result of border controls have also slowed many IT projects, particularly in government, while the commercial sector is mostly still on hold.”
Heading across the border - south-west more than 2600km as the crow flies from Darwin to Perth - the market in Western Australia is currently delivering on the surge in budget spend issued prior to the end of financial year on June 30.
“We experienced stronger sales figures than in recent years for the same period because projects had been stagnant from March to May,” outlined Kelly Webb, director of MSS IT, based in Perth. “Customers are now realigning budgets which were pencilled in last year and figuring out how to make extra provisions for investment in security.
“IT projects are also backed up which is having a knock-on effect on projects that should have been started four months ago but we’re not seeing very much in the way of cancellations at this stage.”
Meanwhile in South Australia, Dean Calvert - CEO of Adelaide-based Calvert Technologies - acknowledged that as Covid-19 cases improved across the state, customer confidence and investment increased in parallel.
“Not to the degree we would normally experience around the end of financial year period however,” he qualified. “Now the virus has picked up again on the east coast we’re finding that customers are still improving in terms of positivity, but are keeping a watchful eye on developments. It’s almost a case of ‘strike while the iron is hot’.
“Most projects that we had scheduled are continuing because they were identified as important strategic works. We’ve still also got project work being signed off and booked in which is positive news for both us and our customers.”
Amid a second wave of Covid-19 cases and new lockdown measures in Victoria, Sachin Verma - managing director of Melbourne-based Oreta - is operating on the frontline meeting current IT project delivery obligations at a national level, ensuring that deployments are completed on time and to budget.
“IT delivery is continuing with a focus on customers delivering essential services, especially around network and security,” he said. “We anticipate that the IT industry will shrink before it experiences a ‘swoop’ recovery, with investment in data centre systems set to decelerate.
“However, the market for infrastructure-as-a-service [IaaS] will grow, as will demand for SD-WAN. Customers will continue to re-evaluate IT strategies and cost savings for some time to come, particularly as the actual impact of Covid-19 becomes apparent.
“As they do, managed services will become more of a prerequisite and we don’t envisage customers returning to normal spending patterns until late 2021-2022.”
In echoing Verma’s observations, Sydney-based Michael Chanter - CEO of Thomas Duryea Logicalis - warned against an immediate return to normality - “not at least 2019 normality, any time soon”.
“The reality is that customer investment patterns have changed, and probably won’t alter for the long-term,” he documented. “At the start of the pandemic, there was a strong shift towards tactical spending on remote working technologies to get staff set up to work from home. The other structural shift is to cloud, and public cloud in particular.
“Customers are divesting themselves of large data centre footprints and physical workplaces, and it’s likely that this shift is permanent. These were existing trends, but Covid-19 appears to have accelerated this motion.”
While technology as a sector is well placed compared to others, Chanter accepted that “all ships will rise and fall” with the economy, with no business immune to such impact.
“I haven’t seen a return to normal from an investment point of view,” added Nathan Lowe, managing director of ASI Solutions, based in Sydney. “The shift to ‘normality’ won’t occur anytime soon while a risk exists of further Covid-19 waves and lockdowns across the country.
“IT project delivery has definitely slowed up as a result of challenges in the economy, but that depends on the industry. Hospitality and associated industries have all been significantly impacted whereas education, health and government continue to roll-out critical projects with most non-critical projects on hold.”
Delving deeper, Maria Padisetti - CEO of Sydney-based Digital Armour - agreed that a return to ‘normality’ is dependent on the sector, with retail and hospitality under significant strain.
“It will be a while before we see any normality there,” she accepted. “The spend has shifted to projects focused on going online. Sectors such as healthcare and aged-care have remained as they were pre-Covid. In fact, some have increased spending meaning we have not been significantly impacted as an organisation.”
Speaking as CEO of Secure Agility, Sydney-based David Abouhaidar outlined pockets of partner opportunity ahead however, insisting that the market is slowly showing signs of recovery.
“But we cannot set the market getting back to somewhat normal by at least February or March in 2021,” he qualified. “And even when the market does return, customers will be looking to do more with less because budget cuts are imminent.
"From a delivery perspective, we have had clients in certain verticals who have used the downtime to knuckle down on critical projects and we have also had clients put everything on hold or cancel due to uncertainty.”
Customer priorities: business
As outlined by Watt of Area9, a collective effort is underway across the business and government community to focus on recovery in the Northern Territory, specifically around rebounding the economy and developing job opportunities.
“Rebuilding is the priority,” he said. “A deep part of our identity in regional Australia is to rebuild. Major industry project investments appear to underline this to a great extent, such as in energy through renewable gas and hydrogen, to mining, resources, defence and infrastructure sectors.”
Embracing the ‘survive then thrive’ approach, Abouhaidar of Secure Agility said customer priorities are directly aligned to that of the channel - “ensuring we get through this with our whole team still on the park”.
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