Cloud transformation, business extensibility issues top of mind for Splunk partners at .conf20

Splunk’s .conf20 was virtual this year, which fundamentally changes how partners approach an event, but the themes of interest to the channel this year are the same as if the event had been physical.

Bill Hustad, vice president of global GTM partners, Splunk.

Splunk does not typically make major channel announcements at their fall .conf event, as those are normally done at the start of the year. That was the case this year. But the broader pandemic issues that dominated this year also dovetailed with Splunk’s ongoing transformation from on-prem to a hybrid business that CEO Doug Merritt expects will be 80% cloud. That, and broader issues about extensibility and its impact on partners dominated the event.

Because .conf was virtualized this year, the number of channel attendees were a record high. Comparing registrants at virtual and physical events is something of a mug’s game, since the former, unlike the latter, requires minimal commitment of time and usually none at all of money. But Splunk did have over 6,300 individual partner registrants for the event, about three times their total number of partners globally.

“We were blown away by partner participation in .conf,” said Brooke Cunningham, Area VP of global partner programs and operations, Splunk.

Cunningham said that Splunk has two objectives with its partners at its conferences, and that they were able to address both, the virtual format notwithstanding. One is talking to and with partners as an audience, while the other is featuring partners to customers to demonstrate the value of the Splunk ecosystem.

“In converting our event and our partner executive briefings to virtual, the  challenge is always how deep you can go, but our ability to have good core conversations is still happening,” said Bill Hustad, vice president of global GTM partners, Splunk.

The transition to a virtual involved far more than the event of course, and Cunningham said they have seen good response in partners’ shift to a different kind of sales motion.

Brooke Cunningham, Area VP of global partner programs and operations, Splunk

“With the shift to virtual this year, we are seeing increased engagement from partners, including a 42% increase in new partner accounts in the Splunk portal,” she stated. “Partners have been a huge part of our transformation to the cloud. We have seen a 106% increase in partner bookings, higher than direct.”

Cunningham noted that Splunk had also rolled out a cloud centre in the Splunk partner portal, to help partners learn the market and sell cloud with Splunk.

With this transition to cloud, Hustad said that Splunk’s partner strategy now has two core pillars.

“The first is under the theme of value add and the move to cloud, how are we aligning our partner business models around our three core buying centres – Security, IT and Observability,” he said. “The second is what I call I3 – Indirect Independent and Incremental efforts. How are partners leveraging those to leverage us.”

Hustad said that Splunk partners are in three different buckets when it comes to their journey in the cloud. One is showing strong cloud momentum, with cloud bookings growing at a 100% rate, and embrace of the new models.

“In the middle, there are a lot of partners who in that second bucket, who are working on that journey with us, selling full stack solutions where managing Splunk is just a portion of the full offering.”

The third bucket, where clients are still primarily in traditional businesses, reflect the clients more than the partners, Hustad said.

“These are heavily governance and compliance-based businesses that move slower, but even in those areas, partners are looking to see about changing into a model involving more client shift.”

Hustad indicated that partner feedback at .conf this year has seen questions about enablement given the present of so much transition.

“With Observatibility being a new core buying area, and the emphasis now on Mission Control, they have asked what that means for extensibility, and with this shift from traditional business to SaaS, they want to know what are we doing to support partners,” Hustad said. “This has been the subject of a lot of conversations we are having, around  how are we enabling them. The cloud enablement portal we just launched is part of that. We also know that smarter partners come up with new solutions independently, and like with i3, we want to stimulate that, creating momentum around moving to cloud and keeping ecosystem on pace with us.

While Observability is a new focus area for Splunk, Hustad said that there is interest from traditional SIEM-focused partners on getting into the space.

“We are seeing a lot of that coming together,” he indicated. “A lot of our elite partners are doubling down into the Observability play as a stepping stone from SIEM.”

Gauging broad partner excitement around announcements is much tougher at virtual events than at physical ones. There can be no equivalent of the gasps and shouts of delight that the audience emitted at the event two years ago, when Dark Mode was demoed. Nevertheless, a few products got a notable reaction.

“The one that created a lot of excitement was Mission Control and the new security plug-in framework, which highlights extensibility,” Hustad said.

“Our Service Intelligence for SAP, an extension of our announcement from last year, is important because it’s a super strategic partnership to access all that SAP data,” Cunningham said. It opens up that new data source set. In [Chief Customer Officer] John Sabino’s keynote, he talked about how Nu Skin is working with Rhondos, a Splunk and SAP partner on this. It’s a great example of how strategic alliance partnerships really create new value add.”

Those strategic partnerships are getting more attention and love overall from Splunk.

“We have a renewed focus on ISVs and our TAP [Technology Alliance Program], including SAP,” Hustad stated. “That helps answer a lot of integration and relationship questions, and I’m excited about that.”