Enhanced partner managed services capability key to Fortinet strategy

Fortinet drives innovation theme to partners at their Accelerate event, and indicates some potential new opportunities looking ahead.

Jon Bove, Fortinet’s channel chief

Doubling down on new opportunities was the theme Fortinet presented to channel partners at Accelerate 18, their annual event for channel partners and end users. On the channel program side, the message was one of consistency, with some potential new initiatives later this year. Fortinet emphasized the theme of change in channel opportunities, however, stressing the importance of their channel services enablement initiative and continued adoption of their Security Fabric.

“We want to be simple, predictable, and profitable,” said Jon Bove, Fortinet’s VP of Channel Sales. Simplicity, predictability and profitability seem to have become this year’s Holy Trinity for channel chiefs. Bove stressed, however,  that Fortinet’s channel model is designed to work with partners at every stage, to drive their business more effectively.

“With our channel-leveraged model, the channel organization is aligned at the hip with our field sales organization, and everything goes through a partner,” he said. “At this event, the themes that we are stressing are around competency development, new logo acquisition and expanding the base to expand wallet share. We want to fill up those buckets.”

Improving the alignment with the field sales force has been a priority for Bove since he rejoined Fortinet last fall, after a year’s sojourn at ProofPoint. He now holds the global channel role, compared to the Americas one he had when he left.

“Sales leadership is an expectation,” he said. “Our field sales leadership shows up with the channel teams, because it’s everyone’s responsibility to grow the channel at Fortinet.”

A priority in 2018 will be further developing partners’ ability to sell Fortinet technology on a utility-based model.

“The biggest investment we are making in 2018 is leveraging our new Partner Services Enablement team, which is focused on improving partner ability to deliver services capacity,” Bove said. “We have always done a great job in enabling managed security services through the Tier One and Tier Two serviced providers. We are now bringing it to the broader channel. On January 1, we implemented this Partner Services Enablement capability for the channel. It is focusing on driving service creation, and driving automation of delivery capabilities to make them more effective.”

This upsurge in Fortinet’s support for partner managed services is critical – and well timed, said Matthew Gyde, Group Executive for Security at global solution provider Dimension Data.

“As the money has been going out of pure reselling, we have become very services-oriented, and we are moving to a managed services model,” Gyde said. They are still very much in the process of transitioning that, but security product resales are down to 54 per cent, and of the 46 per cent that is services, 60 per cent of that is managed services.

“Six months ago, customers were still buying firewalls and IPS, except for the occasional rebel,” Gyde said. “The switch to services has really come in the last six months, and has been prompted by customer desire to get things faster. The old process of delivering a piece of hardware to the customer’s site takes 6-8 weeks, and that is increasingly being seen as just too slow.”

Bove said that improving partner capability to deliver Fortinet as a managed service also makes it easier to them to sell the broader Fortinet Security Fabric, by having a predictable monthly pricing model.

“We started talking about the Fabric story in 2016, and have always been impressed with the ability of partners to take the Fabric and build strong value-added service around it,” he stated. “It’s not just the enterprise either. There are Fabric elements that absolutely resonate in the SMB, and we really see the midmarket as an expansion opportunity for us with the Fabric. More and more partners are now adopting it as the core offering that they are taking to market, assisted by our Fabric Alliance program. Customer demands are driving them towards the Fabric.”

Alex Ryals, VP, Security Solutions Americas at Tech Data, also emphasized that traditional resellers are being pushed towards the Fabric by the market.

“Over the last 18 months, I’ve seen a change in resellers’ attitude towards the Fabric versus traditional  product,” he said. “Their customers are asking questions about hybrid environments. Partners are being asked about things like sandboxing technology for phishing. This is forcing the VARs to have no choice but to expand what they sell, because customers demand they solve more complex problems.”

Ryals said that the Fabric has taken Fortinet beyond the point product conversation.

“Fabric has moved them into a strong end-to-end position, he said. “Other vendors like Cisco and IBM also offer this, but they are pushing down from large enterprises, and their pricing model just doesn’t work for much of the market. Fortinet has more of a bottoms-up approach, even though in the last five years they have pushed into the enterprise. They are more price-competitive, and have made smart acquisitions to fill in gaps.”

Fortinet has a very large channel, with over 2500 partners that participate on a quarterly basis. They also have an extremely broad network of distributors. Bove said that there are no plans to change that.

“I’m not concerned about overdistribution,” he said. “We have a good handle on the metrics, and we think there is still a lot of expansion opportunity for distribution in North America. Our distribution partners are particularly valuable for the scale that they bring to our Silver and Authorized partners.”

So what is on the agenda ahead, apart from improving partner managed services capability?

We have made a significant investment in our partner portal to streamline the deal registration process,” Bove said. “We also intend to use it to create a lead queue. We are not there today, but it is a goal. We have not decided what partners would be eligible.”

Bove also stressed that they are pushing deeply in Canada.

“We are very focused on growing in the Canadian market,” he said. “We are making inroads to become the Number One network security vendor in Canada, and if our Canadian partners bring in opportunities, we will get there.”