Channel Trends and Developments to Watch in 2021

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Published January 22, 2021

As the impact of COVID-19 resounded across the globe, organizations, large and small, looked to technology vendors and their channel partners for help to adapt, innovate, and accelerate new ways ahead. 

As our most practical instincts kicked in, unforeseen technology changes, including some that had previously been left unattended, were suddenly required overnight. Agility and creativity became the order of the day and will continue to be major driving forces in the year ahead.

According to IDC surveys in EMEA, conducted during the first wave of lockdowns, 61% of channel partners believed that COVID-19 would be a driver of digital transformation. Furthermore, 46% said the pandemic escalated their own transformation efforts.

The pressure is clearly on for organizations to implement the tools and skills needed to thrive in whatever brand of normal lies ahead. This will create a range of opportunities for channel partners. Here are some of key trends and developments to look out for in 2021:

Stronger partnerships  

In 2021, the channel will need to collaborate more than ever to orchestrate solutions that fulfill customer needs, budgets, and environments. It’s difficult for a channel partner to meet all the needs of a customer on their own, especially when it comes to multiple geographic locations and complex vertical requirements. This is where strong technology alliances come into play, allowing vendors like F5 to provide on-premises, hybrid, and cloud solutions. They key is to ensure that applications remain secure, available, and properly managed, wherever they are located.

Empathy to the fore

Empathy and understanding have infused business operations and decisions in a unique and powerful manner since the pandemic started. This stance will become even more important as we all move forward. Remember, the way you act now will be remembered for years to come.

Shifting to a service-orientated approach

With the move to modern application architectures and the cloud, the role of the channel in serving customers has changed dramatically. We’re no longer in the world of land and renew. Today, delivering everything as a service is what’s expected, and there’s been a shift in focus towards the delivery of a full service offering. That is not to say that business models have completely changed, but the relationship between solution provider and customer is deeper than it’s ever been before. This year, there will also be a growing need for greater flexibility throughout the channel, as well as a diversity of payment models, including as-a-service and subscription-based approaches.

Ultimately, channel partners will become much more consultative and attuned to specific customer challenges. They need to be less transactional and operate more as a business consulting partner. This will help to secure existing business opportunities, as well as unlock new ones driven by accelerated digital adoption.

Customer obsession!

There has been much talk about “customer obsession,” but in 2021 everyone really needs to walk the talk in this direction. As a result, organizations are rigorously reassessing how resources are structured, and customers will be seeking channel partners that can help them develop their own digital products and services. We’re moving into an increasingly complex ecosystem where the emphasis has shifted from specialization to innovation and creation. So, expect a lot more collaboration and iterative working going forward. Additionally, it is worth noting that customers are also becoming more tactical and are scrutinizing costs, which will lead to an even greater emphasis on ROI.

Investment in key growth areas

In the coming year, vendors and partners will likely double down on investments in key growth areas such as digital transformation, cloud computing, and security. Specific trends to note include surging demand for support when migrating from monolithic to microservices-based apps. According to NGINX’s annual customer survey, the proportion of businesses building apps with microservices jumped from 40% to 60% last year. More than half of respondents are using microservices in some or all of their apps. As a result, we anticipate more investment in open-source container orchestrators, as well as API management.

Use of related technologies like WAF and Service Discovery are also on the rise, and so too is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Forrester’s European Predictions 2021 report forecasts that more than 60% of B2B sellers will be enabled by AI and automation in 2021. This will likely encompass growing demand for a variety of solutions including those that evaluate online transactions across a variety of telemetry, environmental, and behavioral signals to accurately understand user intent and block human fraudsters—before the fraud occurs.

Another area to look out for is the emergence of Edge 2.0. In other words, the next stage in the evolution of the edge will come with powerful multi-cloud capabilities to serve the demanding requirements of enterprises and service providers. Generally speaking, the current 1.x generation of edge solutions are outgrowths of CDN-focused networks. As such, they are not designed to support enterprises’ heterogenous, multi-cloud infrastructures, or to provide the required levels of security to protect enterprises against emerging attacks.