“Wow – there is so much opportunity for us to help the UK public sector, and UK citizens, with what we do, and how our partners build on our platforms.” – this was my summary statement to our CEO, Simon Hansford, after my first week at UKCloud back in January (2019). I also added how much fun I was having, and what a great team we have. And I stand by these statements 90 days into the company, in fact even more so. And to add to the excitement, we have just announced a significant investment in UKCloud to help accelerate our impact.
I wanted to summarise my initial thoughts after a whirlwind 3 months growing into my role as Director of Partners. I have inherited a small but well-formed team, part of our wider sales organisation, but with an exciting opportunity to grow the team quickly, to help us better engage our partner ecosystem and enable our partners to help UK public sector truly transform using the benefits of cloud.
Naturally, spending time with our partners is the best way to understand the current status and work out what improvements they want us to make to our partner programmes and engagement model. I have had many interesting, inspiring and thought-provoking meetings already and look forward to many more! I’ve been really impressed with the ‘digital momentum’ our partners are taking to our joint customers across the central govt, education, local government, health and defence communities which we serve. There are definitely a few themes emerging, driven of course by the market and what customers are telling us. These no doubt will change as the market shifts, and to some extent as I grow further into my role, building better insights. I commit to constantly engaging, reviewing and updating our partners on where we are going and my priorities for developing the partner ecosystem.
Theme 1 – Digital transformation in UK Public Sector is at a very early stage and only the easy stuff has been done.
This will not be a surprise to well informed ‘cloud watchers’ but there is a broad consensus, ranging from anecdotal discussions to analyst reports (e.g. TechMarketView, UK Public Sector Supplier Prospects 2019), that, whilst UK Public Sector has made fairly good progress on the first stages of transforming to a cloud based paradigm, it is only the low hanging fruit that has been migrated. Now it’s time to build strategies for the much harder ‘second stage’ applications and solutions. Our customers are seeking advice from experts with a solid understanding of the unique features of public sector organisations, and a strong track record of actual delivery, plus operations, in a cloud model. In some cases, it will be most appropriate to ‘lift and shift’ and in others it will be more effective, both cost and risk, to rebuild the solutions in a cloud native form.
UKCloud, and our partners, are investing in front end consultative services to ensure expert advice can be provided in the right way to reduce project cost and risk. Customers expect a cloud neutral starting point, and advice without bias on the best platforms to suit the security, compliance, connectivity, performance and technical requirements. Given the complexity of this phase of digital transformation, we do expect to see continued focus on lift and shift of certain application estates, especially VMware-based, where cloud providers such as UKCloud provide a cost-effective, safe, secure and connected option to close down the in house DCs, or to aid the breaking up of a legacy large scale outsource contract.
Theme 2 – Most of our partners want to get out of building and owning data centres & clouds – and hand it over to the experts
Less about our customers in this case, but it has been surprising to me how strong the trend is amongst managed service providers (MSPs) and system integrators (SIs) on making strategic decisions to stop building their own clouds and further investing in their own DCs. The strategic intent is to move up the stack and focus their investment and expertise on higher value and higher margin propositions. We are in active discussions with many large and mid-sized partners to help them close their DCs and enable them to take advantage of our world class secure cloud infrastructure, either as their primary cloud platform for UK public sector, or as their primary cloud platform for everything.
We expect this trend to continue and by reducing their cost bases and handing over cloud infrastructure to the experts, our partners can furthermore deliver a better quality and more cost-effective experience to their customers.
Theme 3 – Multi-cloud and hybrid is the way forward in most projects
Most of our partners themselves have a multi-cloud strategy – customers are more and more demanding ‘cloud neutrality’ from those advising them – including, in some cases, declining vendor-funded assessments for fear of being auto-routed to a specific proprietary cloud platform. Our partners are keen to offer our multi-platforms (Azure, OpenStack/OpenShift, Oracle and VMware) as a natural extension to the hyperscale options, all delivered as a public cloud model, wrapped up with the security, cost-effectiveness, price predictability and connectivity for UK Public Sector that only UKCloud provides.
Our partners and customers also tell us that hybrid is pretty much the only way to go in reality – moving everything to a public cloud model, whether UKCloud or the hyperscalers, is just not realistic. Private cloud infrastructures will continue to be important as part of the hybrid estate, and having robust, trustworthy and secure network connectivity at the heart of the overall solution will continue to be key to making this hybrid approach work in performant way. Even with the flattening of the PSN network, the need to have some solutions or applications operating in an ‘official-sensitive’ mode with no or limited connectivity to the public internet will remain essential.
In larger projects, this overall mix adds complexity to the solutions, making working with proven experts in delivering secure cloud solutions in public sector ever more important.
Theme 4 – All partners are in the middle of re-inventing their value propositions to the UK Public Sector customer base
We engage with 4 main categories of partner – ISV, MSP, SI and consultancy/advisory organisations. Outside the SaaS/software ecosystem which has its own unique dynamics, we are seeing quite significant reinvention from MSPs and SIs driven by market dynamics and customer requirements. MSPs are finding that ‘infrastructure managed services’ are increasingly being commoditised and thus looking for new areas of value to help customers – we expect to see more MSPs add services like SOC-as-a-service and application performance management as part of a wider ‘IT estate governance’ proposition. As a cloud platform provider, we are being asked to, or even expected to, provide basic infrastructure managed services as part of the cloud operation in ways that were not expected even 18 months ago.
My discussions with our SIs confirm they are building go-to-markets either aligned to vertical industry trends, or indeed wider IT ‘horizontal’ trends, ensuring they can be thought leaders for their customers. AI, data insights, RPA plus niche verticalised solutions are increasingly becoming the major new focus areas that build on top of BAU infrastructure services. Over time where these partners will add most value to their customers will be in these new areas with basic cloud infrastructure migration and management being foundational but not the end game.
At UKCloud, our partners will see us working hard to enable and support their reinvention by both close collaboration and thoughtful product roadmap work.
Theme 5 – Close “action-oriented” partnerships are powerful for customers and the various partners involved
I am lucky enough to have been in and around enterprise partner & alliance management in my career for many years, either leading teams or as a ‘internal customer’ running direct sales teams. I have experienced what good looks like and what ‘less good’ also looks like! We are building a world class partner group to help both fuel UKCloud’s ambitious growth plans but also to genuinely and positively impact our partner ecosystem which in turn can achieve more for UK Public Sector. I am already proud of many of our existing partner relationships and engagements which have been both highly productive for our partners and UKCloud. What is always most important however, is the impact our partnerships have for our customers and UK public sector as a whole and there are numerous great stories available on our website, all showing better outcomes and value for citizens and taxpayers.
The best results have come from well-defined partnerships with a ‘precision’ go-to-market targeted at solving high-priority customer challenges, combined with strong governance and action-orientation on the plan. Meetings and quarterly business reviews have to be tools to facilitate (and escalate if needed) agreed actions not purely ‘corporate updates’. Over the years I have been in literally dozens of partnership meetings which feel good at the time but 3 months later appear to have actually achieved nothing. My team and I are committed to impactful and meaningful action-orientation in our partner meetings – friendly and engaging of course as you would expect from us but nevertheless focussed on making an impact for our joint customers.
These are my primary observations in my first 90 days. Once again, thank you to all our partners for your feedback and insights, plus of course your commitment to helping digitally transform UK Public Sector, working with UKCloud. I hope the themes above resonate with your own thoughts but let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org. On behalf of the whole team at UKCloud, we look forward to working together to help our joint customers deliver for their citizens and stakeholders. Let’s be ambitious together on the impact we can have!
Before joining UKCloud, Nick enjoyed a varied career, ranging from being Managing Director of a web development and design agency back in 2002-2004, to 11 years in sales leadership roles at Microsoft, to the past 2 years running the client engagement team at Ensono, a global managed services provider. He is a passionate Liverpool fan, has been coaching youth football for 7 years, and lives in Ascot with his family. During his career at Microsoft, between 2005 and 2011, he lived in Sydney Australia and has just about shaken off the dodgy accent.