Building a Green Channel Ecosystem

Achieving sustainability and net zero goals have become more than just checking the boxes today. Customers are increasingly investing in the idea of a circular economy and demanding partners and suppliers to also be environmentally conscious. Experts examine the expectations from regional customers and vendors when it comes to sustainability and the IT channel.

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Sustainability has increasingly become a top business priority, as organisations understand its significance and how taking care of its people, planet and profits can directly contribute to growth and innovation. With tech leaders such as Apple, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Samsung, Intel, Lenovo, and the like, pledging to net zero goals, does the focus on sustainability trickle down to the channel ecosystem too? While it still might be too early to discuss this from a partner point of view, it is slowly becoming an important consideration for customers when selecting solutions providers.

Biju Unni, vice president, Cloud Box Technologies, says the awareness is increasing and it will be the norm soon.

“Presently in the Middle East market, smart and aware organisations give weightage to partners who have or are beginning to adopt best green practices. Many RFPs are presently framed listing sustainability or green policy as a key element for the selection criteria,” he explains. “When more federal institutions make this mandatory, the service providers would have to follow suit to be in contention. To be a green organisation therefore would be a major factor in being competitive along with costs.”

Today, organisations understand that sustainability impacts all areas of a business. Ettiene van der Watt, regional director, Axis Communications MEA, says, “Sustainability is a natural part of our operations. It’s the basis of everything we do, and what drives us to develop innovative, long-term and reliable products and solutions for a smarter, safer world. Axis enables a smarter and safer world by creating network solutions that provide insights for improving security and new ways of doing business. When it comes to cost, total cost of ownership is definitely a sustainability factor.”

He explains that if an end customer selects a low-cost brand but must replace the systems every year, their planning, impact on business and environment, will not be sustainable.

 “Therefore, it can be stated that sustainability and cost, together are important considerations today.”

Agreeing, Samer Semaan, channel and alliance manager, Middle East, Pure Storage, says customers are now more conscious about long-term durability of current investments. They want to know if they are required to change a legacy deployment at a later stage, will it be financially and environmentally viable and will it cause disruptions to business continuity?

Semaan says, “Five years ago, this was not a consideration — when we used to speak to customers, the discussion was simply around storage features and price. But that is quickly changing as customers begin to realise that investment in solutions like Pure Storage deliver a dual benefit: customers don’t have to choose between sustainable technology and cost savings.”

How can channel partners add value to their customers, keeping in mind sustainability will be a key focus for the foreseeable future?

Brian Duval, corporate social responsibility project lead, Siemon, says partners need to establish and understand what exactly the customer demands are in this area. They need to understand vendor claims and work out who is responsible for which areas. “Not having accountability has made it difficult for network infrastructure deployment professionals to define their role in the ‘green’ world. Thankfully, a small number of globally recognised third party organisations have emerged to set some basic green standards that can help installers build and communicate their environmental credentials and win more business.”

Semaan believes this can be a huge opportunity for partners and they can add genuine value and differentiate themselves.

He says, “There are customers who are committed to investing in green solutions but don’t know where to begin. For these organisations, partners can add tremendous value by aligning with vendors, and providing technology solutions that have clearly demonstrated the ability to meet sustainability targets.

“There are organisations that remain sceptical about costs associated with investment in green solutions. For these, partners can act as trusted advisors by laying out the business case for green technologies and highlighting how investing in these solutions can help organisations reduce their TCO while doing the right thing for the planet.”

Sakkeer Hussain, director, Sales and Marketing, D-Link Middle East, says, “Partners must seize the opportunity and educate themselves on how green technologies can empower their customers’ operations. They can advise customers on areas where they can become more cost and energy efficient through automation and other green solutions. Those partners who can position themselves as a thought-leader in this space will see long-term success.”

According to an IBM research, 81%of respondents worldwide belong to one of two shopper segments – value-driven consumers (41%) who want good value and purpose-driven consumers (40%) who seek products and services aligned with their values. This means partners who focus on carbon neutrality for their own business will be preferred by customers, as it will be aligned with customer objectives.

Unni says, “This would become a reality much sooner than expected and the law of the land would be a key driver in this. We are already seeing this paradigm developing in key engagements especially with eco-conscious enterprises. There have been instances of partners not qualifying for tenders due to sketchy green credentials.”

Concurring with Unni, Duval urges channel partners to consider the green potential of their own practices and demonstrate commitment to protecting the environment.

Some measures can include ensuring that all jobsite scrap and packaging materials are recycled, putting controls in place to minimise fuel use by reducing trips to and from the project site or establishing energy efficiency and recycling programmes at their facilities. Even simply using one of the many easy online calculator tools to estimate their company’s carbon footprint shows an installer’s commitment and efforts to building green credibility,” Duval explains.

According to Duval, in situations where costs and other product or service deliverables are equal, organisations will choose the sustainable option.

“Many organisations are trending towards stricter risk assessments on partners’ sustainability and will request this information. In this case, the threshold for selecting a less sustainable partner or supplier based on cost savings is pivoting to the point where there is a significant chance that they will accept a price premium for a more sustainable partner.”

That being said, he notes that there are still organisations, both large and small that may not immediately include sustainability requirements in requests for quotes and proposals.

“Potential vendors and partners should nonetheless include their sustainability achievements in any such tenders, as regardless of whether it is on the customer’s radar at the time, it will be noticed and serve as a competitive advantage,” he explains.

Vendors can play a key role in enabling partners to drive sustainability for their own practices and that of their customers. “While there are organisations who do sustainability checks on their suppliers and acceptable standards are set, at this point of time they are an exception rather than the norm in a regional context,” says Unni.

There is no question that the focus on sustainability is a critical factor for customers. Partners are not yet optimally capitalising on this as an opportunity and if they did, they stand to gain huge benefits.

According to Hussain, the responsibility lies with both vendors and partners to accelerate  sustainability. “Driving green practices down to the channel partners’ layer is still a long way off from what is needed. But this can change as more companies demand green tech and sustainability standards. As vendors we have the responsibility to educate partners on the importance. This can be done by demonstrating to them how it can help grow their businesses and reputation in the market.”

Watt adds, “I believe that partners can first align their goals with that of their vendors, understand the goals of the countries they are in, and educate their customers about business practices designed to support their net zero objectives.”

Siemon’s Duval concludes, “Installers, integrators, VARs, and distributors should include sustainability practices in bids/tenders and leverage the environmental qualifications of their vendors. Just as major end-user organisations leverage the green credentials of their partners and vendors in their overall sustainability position, channel partners should seek out green vendors and highlighting their sustainability.

“This connection makes the installer, integrator, VAR, or distributor’s services greener by default – which can in turn help empower end-customers’ green goals. Channel partners should expect their vendors to have sustainability information at the ready, and particularly good ones will have information based on recognised third-party standards.”

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