Reseller bosses make their tech predictions for 2018

After two years of surprises in the form of Brexit, Trump and another UK election, it is likely that 2018 will be a year of consolidation and implementation for the volatile geopolitical landscape of recent years. This year will be the final full 12 months with the UK as a member of the EU, with those negotiations and the final trade deal likely to affect sentiment all year. Then there is the realisation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25 May 2018, as the preparations of last year are put to the test.

However, there would be great naivety in suggesting this year will be just about swimming in the ripples of recent times. You cannot rule out another UK general election, the escalation of nuclear tensions, and a World Cup to boot (expectations are low for England, so there should not be too much staff absenteeism for games!)

“A healthy channel will need to have business and application language depth” Ben Boswell, Worldwide Technology

Then there is the lifeblood of the IT channel’s endeavour – the technology it supplies and supports. This is a beast so big, it’s hard to know where to start. Firstly, there will be the future of legacy technology – PCs, servers and printers. Will they maintain their appeal in some form, or should the channel be moving further away from them? Then there is the perpetual issue of cloud, and the role it will continue to play this year. While that role will obviously continue to be profound, whether it is hybrid and how it should be secured and supported will persist as major issues.

Then there is the next curve of technology – which emerging technology will flourish and which will fall away? For all the talk of artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing, how much of the channel is actually making money from those areas? And will that change in 2018?

When previewing a year ahead, there will always be more questions than answers, but despite that unavoidable limitation, we asked various channel players what they expect, starting with what will be the major areas of technology that will come to the fore in 2018.

Tech hotspot of 2018

“Public cloud adoption has reached a tipping point,” said Nathan Marke, chief digital officer at Daisy Group. “No longer the realm of the software developer or the funky web app, the functional evolution of all the major public cloud provider platforms, coupled with their landing their platforms in the UK, now enables common or garden workloads to become contenders for transformation. “In my view, although the market is predicting high growth rates for public cloud, adoption rates will in reality be far higher because UK companies will now consider wholesale rather than single workload moves to public cloud.”

Marke said that when you have something better, faster and cheaper, the pull is unstoppable. Couple this with cost, complexity and regulatory issues faced by IT departments and you have all the conditions for an exponential rise in adoption.

“The outlook for the channel can be really positive, but the channel has to be having the right conversations” Nathan Marke, Daisy Group

For Martin Hess, chairman of OCSL, technology will continue to innovate, with five areas in particular leading the way. “Firstly, wearables will begin to become more pervasive across many industries through 2018, with adoption especially growing in healthcare. We’ll see lots of interest from more established players such as Apple in this space as a result,” said Hess. “Related to this, secondly, augmented reality will break away from VR [virtual reality] to become a more widely adopted tech – think intelligent, not hybrid, cars.” For the third tech area to watch, Hess named identity management, as he believes 2018 is the “start of a serious move away from passwords to other identifiers such as biometrics and wearables”, with such adoption already taking place in Sweden. “Fourthly, Blockchain will gain relevance in other areas. Lastly, in the cloud space we’ll start to see serious LoB [line of business] apps moving to cloud. This is driven by IoT [the Internet of Things] growth expanding outside early-adopter tech clients,” said Hess. “Cash-rich giants such as AWS, Microsoft and Apple continue to aggressively acquire starts-ups in all these areas.”

Nick Munro, technology services director of Blue Cube Security, said he sees big potential growth in DDoS (distributed denial of service) mitigation as these attacks become increasingly challenging to deal with. “I also see a shift away from large complex human-heavy SOC tools like SIEM, with the application of AI techniques to more areas of security, and increasing integration and co-ordination between tools,” he said. “We’re seeing this already, with end-point agents adopting AI and learning techniques alongside more traditional detection, and those same end-points acting with network enforcement to contain problems automatically. The skill shortage in cybersecurity, particularly SOCs, may drive adoption of this type of automated response, and of tools that operate largely autonomously as much as possible, which again plays into the AI and integration space.”

Paul Barlow, managing director of Servium, said that while hyperconverged infrastructure will continue to grow, mobility will continue to expand as people want more flexibility. “Cloud will also be further defined – it is not the solution to all IT issues; rather, there are areas that it works very well for and other areas where an on-premise solution is preferable,” he said.

Ben Boswell, area vice president for Europe at Worldwide Technology, said budgets are beginning to move from IT buying centres into cybersecurity. “Business are required to ‘shore up’ their Tier 0 applications to ensure they are protected from breach, also to satisfy compliance and regulations, with GDPR growing ever nearer, and to prevent operational impact,” said Boswell. “Multi-cloud will ultimately win out of necessity for businesses to survive. The demand for rapid execution and delivery will increase, as customers adopting cloud expect payback through datacentre and campus consolidation and technology cessation.”

Channel health

As those various areas of technology come to the boil over the next 12 months, the channel will be looking to exploit them to keep itself in good health. But what will be the major factors which will dictate that channel health in 2018? Marke points to Gartner research which states that in 2018, spend on digital solutions will increase from 20 to 30 per cent of all IT spend, while Daisy’s own independent digital survey of 2,000 UK SMB and mid-market customers conducted in November 2017 showed a doubling of companies having a ‘formal digital strategy’ to 68 per cent. “So while only 20 to 30 per cent of the spend will be in digital in 2018, you can bet your house that 70 to 80 per cent of the conversation will be about digital,” he said. “The outlook for the channel can be really positive, but the channel has to be having the right conversations, selling the right things, and building the skills to fill the skills shortages in digital infrastructure and applications. The 70 to 80 per cent of spend on traditional services still needs to be spent, so no need to hit the panic button. But I would say that customers will be placing their bets for both their traditional and digital spend with companies that can span both – and hold the customer’s hand on the journey.”

Gary Haycock-West, CEO of Blue Cube Security, said he feels the channel growth will come from the SME sectors, driven by GDPR and other regulations. “Now the same rules apply for one-man-in-a-shed companies alongside the big plcs, the same companies will need to adopt better tools and practices to keep them legal,” said Haycock-West. “This may lead to growth coming from cloud-first companies and those that offer SaaS and managed offerings rather than the traditional licence and service sales.”

Barlow said the health of the channel in 2018 will be “good or excellent” as the use of IT continues to grow and hence demand grows. “Brexit will cause some worries; tactically the country will pause for the football World Cup or if there is a general election; but overall business and life goes on,” he said.

Boswell said with the wider political climate threatening to make borders harder rather than softer, the channel may face some challenges in 2018. “However, this is also an opportunity for partners to take centre stage and become drivers of business growth, through concentration of core strengths and technology. In this kind of climate, the channel can shift from value-added reselling towards a wider role in end-to-end supply chain and technology integration,” said Boswell. “A healthy channel will need to have business and application language depth. This is driven by today’s and tomorrow’s economic buyers, who wrestle with the cost of IT as technology becomes an increasingly business-critical issue. Applications at this point are really about assurance, not only in terms of security, but also performance and cost.”

The surprise factor

While such crystal-ball gazing warrants a projection rather than a gospel guarantee, there remains the considerable margin of error that something in 2018 might catch the channel by surprise. To pre-empt such shortfalling, it is important to factor how the channel might be unprepared for 2018. “I’m still convinced that the channel spends far too much time selling technology and not enough time helping customers to enable adoption in their customers,” said Marke. “A great example is UC&C [unified communications and collaboration] – a tech that holds so much promise in supporting 21st century business culture and equipping employees with the tools they need to get the job done in our mobile world. However, the majority of deployed UC&C capability remains unadopted: shelf-ware, gathering dust. Channel partners that have ‘digital adoption’ high up the list of their differentiators will take market share as companies demand a better return on investment in their wonderful new apps and a more invested partnership with their supply chain,” said Marke.

Hess said that overall the UK channel is still too hardware-centric, so emerging disrupters in the new tech areas are threats to those too slow to change. “Technology disrupters riding a wave in the areas I mentioned earlier require a more solution-centric approach and many of those in the channel are not solution-centric in their approach to customers. This needs to rapidly change,” explained Hess.

Gary Haycock-West, CEO of Blue Cube Security, said this might finally be the year of PKI and digital identities. “We all got fed up hearing that year after year, but with increased requirements for encryption and integrity of data, which might have to be proved when challenged, coupled to the race to replace passwords that get stolen painfully frequently, PKI might get a second wind, and it’s not well understood by a lot of folk,” he said.

Barlow pointed towards AI and 3D printing as potential gaps for the channel, with the former growing, but in the main channel there is limited knowledge and expertise, while the same issue surrounds 3D printing, especially around the legal issues.

Perhaps the dominant takeaway from such a discussion is the broad nature of the outlook from our channel commentators. It is hard to paint a definite picture of the year with such variety of opinion. However, such uncertainty is nothing new for the channel, which will once again need to be at its innovative and flexible best to succeed in 2018.

Article written by Trevor Treharne.

Original article can be found here.