Selling a new channel strategy

Channel director for Hitachi Data Systems, Steve Kelly, was one of several new recruits brought in this year to drive indirect business. He spoke to ARN about the challenges vendors face developing the right partner strategy, his love of start-ups and touring the globe.

What was your first job?

I sold IT when I was 19 for Computerland [PC reseller]. I have always been in sales - I've never done the technical stuff. I tried my hand at being a paper boy, but didn't excel at that.

How did you end up in IT?

I wasn't really into computers as a boy and studied economics in university. But I wanted to make money selling, mainly because it was a people gig. I ended up doing a micro-computer course and went from there.

How did you progress to where you are today?

One of the things I used to do every few years - before we had children at least - was take a year off and go travelling. I made the jump into vendor land in 1994 and worked for Workgroup Systems in Chatswood, which was in what we now call CRM, or service desk. I learnt a lot there and make some great contacts. Dominic Whitehand [WhiteGold managing director] was the tech sales guy I brought over from the UK, for example. I was then recruited by BEA when they were first starting up, which was an exciting time. I got married in 1998 and took a year off to do an overland trip from Nepal to London, then was going to work for IBM in London to help with a new brand they were starting up in the emerging applications/server space called Worksphere. But I decided to come back to Sydney to work with IBM here instead.

Where did you go from IBM?

I did a stint with F5 networks in Asia-Pacific before coming back to IBM. I wanted to have a normal rep job at home as we were starting the family but was also keen to get more involved in channel, so I ran Tivoli's channel for Asia-Pacific. Then the opportunity with HDS came up.

What's your take on developing the right channel program?

It's a maturity cycle - vendors begin on a deal-by-deal basis, then you have the rise of a partner program, which is a formal way of providing partners with discounts. But you wind up saying 'yes' to every partner that brings you a deal and end up with channel conflict. So you always have to be careful how you manage that. Even back at IBM in the Websphere days, the channel model looked good on paper but was a bit immature because it was too big and unwieldy. Some vendors like to have influence partners like the big systems integrators, but the other part of the company starts a services business and you end up with problems.

With HDS we don't have that problem - firstly, because we have deal registration but, secondly, because we've segmented the model.

What do you like about your current job?

Mark Kay [HDS managing director A/NZ] has a vision for what he wants us to do - he has treated HDS like a start-up and fundamentally changed the way this company does business. It's not perfect and there's lot of challenges but that is what I'm used to doing. It's business 'unusual' and that's exciting. Decision making is also local so it's a nimble business and there's investments being made. We've now got 39 people looking at channel and to see the changes in the last few months - it's been very dramatic.

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What is the biggest achievement of your career?

Clearly some of the wins along the way are rewarding. Quite often it's the smallest wins too - it's the fun of doing it. One highlight was winning a deal at Vodafone selling Websphere against a competitor.

What is the focus for you over the next year?

The biggest thing for me is how to build capacity with the channel we have got and what levers can we move to drive that capacity. Once you build the ability for partners to sell autonomously, the rest follows. We're a long way from that and part of this capability is being able to understand who our channel is and then work out a plan for each partner to help them get where they need to go. As a vendor, you have to acknowledge that channel partners are running their own businesses and you need to fit in with that. That takes humility and common sense. We want to build that culture but also set goals and be aggressive.

What do you dislike about the IT industry?

I'm in IT because I think it's the best industry to work in and because you get to be a fl y in the wall in some of the biggest business decisions that get made by companies.

It's not so much a dislike as a challenge, but I'm watching the activity around the behemoths in terms of vendor consolidation and who's buying who. It's what fuels the organic growth but a lot of that is artificial because it's like mining - you strip out all the coal and then the ground collapses around you. What I like about this industry is the innovation developed by small companies.

What's the next big thing in the industry?

Virtualisation and cloud computing. Anyone who disputes that it isn't here already is silly. What we need to do is to stop talking about products and look at the benefits for businesses.

What do you do when you're not at work?

Play with my children - it's all about the kids on weekends. I also read and take pictures. I used to mountain bike a lot and would like to get back into that more. I also love travel - I've just come back from four years in a job travelling in Asia-Pacific. At some point in the future I'll probably do that again.

Do you like gadgets?

Yes. I love my Blackberry. I used to run the pervasive computing business for IBM which included things like speech recognition and in-car navigation and it was a cool business to be in.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was five I wanted to be tree climber.

What's your biggest ambition?

My ambition at some point is to throw all this away and run a start-up again because it's great fun. But there is no grand plan.