Hitachi Vantara channel partners climbing the Stairway to Value

With a year in the books since the launch of Hitachi Vantara, and five months into a brand new partner program, the company looks at the evolution of the channel changes that accompanied its own reinvention of itself, and what more remains to be done.

Kimberly King, Hitachi Vantara’s VP, Global Partner Strategy and Programs

SAN DIEGO — Hitachi Vantara channel partners may or may not think that all that glitters is gold, but they are climbing the Stairway to Value.

The Stairway to Value – something that was developed this spring – is branding primarily aimed at customers, to show the incremental value in the different stages of Hitachi Vantara’s business focus, and how those stages build on each other. It has three components: storing and protecting data; enriching the data by applying metadata and applying context, including legal compliance frameworks; and activating the data to drive business value, which is where the biggest value will be created. These three stairs lead to the successful monetization of the data.

While the stairs are designed to explain to customers how Hitachi Vantara’s business model works, they also are also reflected in three of Hitachi’s four competencies, around storage, enriching the data, and using the data to drive business value

“The competencies reflect our three Stairways to Value, plus the cloud, for a total of four,” said Kimberly King, Hitachi Vantara’s VP, Global Partner Strategy and Programs. “They have gone amazingly well. Most partners have adopted at least two of the three stairways, and 30 per cent of them have adopted all three Stairway competencies.”

In Canada, progress there hasn’t been quite as strong, but there has been progress.

“With some partners, climbing the stairs is hard because it’s a major transition of their business and a major investment for them,” said Peter Kriparos,” Regional Manager, Canadian Strategic Partners and Commercial Sales at Hitachi Vantara. “It’s a matter of getting them on the path.”

Bringing in net-new partners with a skillset in that data enrichment sphere is also a priority in Canada.

“We are looking to bring in new partners who specialize in that space,” Kriparos said.

The program has seen an overall influx of partners since the new Vantara program launched in April.

“We’ve onboarded between fifty and sixty new partners since the new program started, with about a fifth of these partners being from the Operational Technology side,” King said. “We facilitated this with gap training, as well as regular solutions training. The gap training allows them to test, if they already have analytics training, and if they pass, just do a two to three day workshop to fill the gap on Hitachi specifically.”

They also lost some partners, but King said that there weren’t that many of these, and that they may well do as much business with Hitachi as they did before.

“Some partners departed the program by mutual agreement,” she said. “We lost a few, but they were transactional partners who might do one deal a year. They can still do that, through distribution. We kept good will with them. We just no longer manage the relationship with them through the partner program.”

That is possible now because one of the changes implemented through the new program is an expanded role for distribution.

“We moved our less engaged partners to distribution, which has been very good for them and very good for us,” King said. “We also expanded our focus with both Arrow and Tech Data, who both are strong in the Internet of Things. We have expanded our business with both of them around Smart Cities initiatives. That’s an offering that I expect will really take off in the near future, both for them and for us.” In Canada, Tech Data is Hitachi Vantara’s sole distributor.

The Stairway to Value is all about monetizing the Internet of Things. At the same time, that first stair, on which the others rest, is Hitachi’s core storage business, and that’s not something where the emphasis is going to change.

“Storage is the foundation of our strategy and our business,” said Shawn Rosemarin, SVP and CTO, Global Field and Industry, Hitachi Vantara. “Every single IoT project is an analytics project, and every analytics project involves gathering data. That data needs to live somewhere. You will always need somewhere to store that data. We are committed to maintaining our position as a key innovator in the storage business, and you can count on us to be a key partner in storage.”

From a partner perspective, a key is getting partners to add steps beyond that first one, that was the foundation of the original Hitachi  Vantara partner base, while another is getting them to understand that the different nature of IoT products places a much higher premium than traditional business on collaboration. That collaboration involves both multiple vendors, and multiple channel partners, all contributing a different part of the equation.

“We are really emphasizing this idea of partner-to-partner collaboration,” King said. “The channel is used to collaboration being between one partner and one vendor. Now you have these much more complex relationships because that’s how the IoT works, and doing business this way will allow us to expand. It means that Hitachi may not be the primary vendor in a deal. The main one may be an OT vendor, but we will still be part of that deal.”

“We are seeing strategic vendor partners like Cisco and SAP become more important than ever because of the IoT,” Kriparos added.

The first day of the NEXT event included the Hitachi Vantara Partner Summit, and King said the reaction was very positive, both to the company’s direction and the new solutions offerings made at the event.

“The hottest topic there, was around the analytics, helping customers understand their data, with the knowledge that only around five per cent of customer data is actually being used to generate insights, and that there is a great opportunity to help them expand that,” King said.

Reaction was also very positive to Hitachi’s first all-NVMe hyperconverged system for the Hitachi Unified Compute Platform.

“They loved it at the Partner Summit, and we got a ton of positive feedback on how we can package it,” King said. “The transition to the IoT was a shock to the system in some cases in our partner community. We have listened to them around these current solutions, and they are really excited about the opportunities they see here.”

King said that Hitachi messaging at the Partner Summit emphasized channel centrality to the Go-to-Market strategy.

“We are very focused and prescriptive about how we go to market,” she said. “We don’t exclude our partners from any accounts. That’s one of the messages that we sent loud and clear yesterday. They can work with us in any account. They can see the fact that we embrace them, and that not all the vendors in this space have that same philosophy.”

Hitachi Vantara is half-way through their fiscal year, the start of which is typically when any major channel program changes take place. King said no big changes are in the works, however.

“We don’t anticipate any big changes in structure, and partners like that,” she said. “We always want to add more value into the program, focusing on the customer experience and things that we can do to make that experience better. So while we are not looking to make any structural changes, we will eventually add more competencies and more depth to the business solutions that we have for the four areas now.”

The other change that Hitachi Vantara is driving in its channel policies involves furthering that idea of greater partner collaboration, because they see it as fundamental to success in the IoT market.

“We are getting really focused on partner-to-partner collaboration and allowing partners to collaborate together,” King said. “Our goal is to fully map out those partner relationships, so that where we have ones who can work collaboratively together, where we can drive solutions together with them, we can take advantage of that. This is something that we are in the process of building now. We have a Partner Locator today. But we want it to be more collaborative around solutions expertise.”