Cloud computing has finally come of age, with the unique circumstances of the last two years accelerating its adoption across the world.
In South Africa, and across Africa, a surge in public cloud availability has been welcomed by end-users and partners alike as new solutions have helped to solve both traditional and modern business challenges.
Cloud computing and the services available on this platform are levelling the playing fields, giving small and medium businesses (SMBs) the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with much larger and better-resourced enterprises.
This is of critical importance in the African context, where SMBs are the powerhouses of local economies, employing as much as 80% of the continent’s workforce.
In the face of terrible adversity, like the Covid-19 pandemic and associated disruptions, the adaptability they have shown is remarkable.
“Part of that is no doubt down to their own leaders’ grit,” says Chris Richardson, General Manager: Cloud and Hosting at First Distribution. “But another major factor is the technology that’s now available – and this is where cloud comes into its own.”
It’s not just SMBs that have had to radically shift their business models in the face of Covid-19. Large organisations also had to quickly set up staff members at home while taking care of critical IT elements like application availability, security, access control, network optimisation and more.
“The beautiful thing about the cloud is that they were actually able to roll out solutions in the blink of an eye, delivering desktop as a service for remote meetings and remote workspaces, or remote data management solutions that replicate to a business owned data centre or into one of the hyperscalers.
“There was an immense shift for a lot of partners as well as end-users.”
It was quickly apparent when the pandemic struck that companies already well down the road on the digital transformation journeys weathered the storm much more successfully than their counterparts still stuck in traditional models. “And digital transformation is largely about adopting a cloud-first strategy,” Richardson explains.
“Many African businesses, large and small, are already convinced of cloud’s value and its critical role in digital transformation, with the question of migration into the cloud often being a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.”
Pre-Covid, many businesses had already moved either partially or wholly towards an exclusively online model, and the pandemic presented a unique moment in time to try cloud services for their operations.
“Through necessity, rather than choice, many started using cloud tools to communicate, co-ordinate with colleagues and manage their work. And from there, we have seen an inexorable move to more cloud adoption and the implementation of more services.
“Cloud has levelled the playing field for businesses with its flexible, elastic use. During times of particularly heavy network traffic, cloud can scale up in real-time. Conversely, during downtime, capacity can shrink so businesses aren’t paying for bandwidth they don’t use.
“And, of course, customers can pay as they go, so there are no upfront costs.”
Adopting cloud means that organisations can break free from cumbersome and costly upgrade cycles, since they are always current with the latest cloud apps and updates.
“Patches or new versions can be taken care of by cloud providers and app developers rather than the businesses themselves, freeing them of the need to hire huge teams of inhouse technical talent,” Richardson explains.

FD and First for Cloud
First Distribution is a pioneer in the provision of cloud services to the South African and African channel.
First Distribution has been around since 1984 and, over the last 37 years, has grown from its core IBM business to offering a massive product range that covers data centre, networking, security, data security and Cloud.
“During this time we have grown from a South African company to one of the largest African distributors addressing a range of different vertical markets,” Richardson says.
First for Cloud is First Distribution’s inhouse-built and developed marketplace for the African ICT market, delivered via the Epsidon Cloud foundation.
“The First for Cloud platform is an aggregated marketplace, a white-labelled service that we provide to our partners,” he explains.
“It allows partners to accelerate their cloud journey and leverage the cloud to sell their products or portfolios.”
There are 7 500 products available through the marketplace, spanning hardware, software, public cloud offerings and private cloud services.
Partners also have the flexibility to offer products they don’t source from First Distribution through First for Cloud.
“We know that our partners service their customers with countless different solutions, not all of which are available from us,” Richardson says. “So they can offer their own or third-party solutions through First for Cloud.
“In this way their customers have a single port of call from which they can access the services provided by the partner.”
The First for Cloud marketplace is available to all First Distribution’s partners throughout Africa. “The offering is available in 42 different African countries, with multi-currency capabilities, including Rands, US dollars, Niara, Kenyan shillings and more. In essence a full-blown multi-currency ICT aggregated marketplace.”
What First for Cloud offers partners is essentially their own white-labelled marketplace, Richardson says. “Each partner curates their offerings – choosing from the 7 500 products on First for Cloud and adding their own or third-party products if they wish. They can then offer these First for Cloud services to their own customers.”
The value derived from working with First for Cloud is almost incalculable, he adds. “If a partner wanted to build their own marketplace, it would be prohibitive because they would have to invest in all the development and the back-end etc.
“But we have done all that work on the back-end; and the front-end is provided for the partner as if it is their own site – all they have to do is point their customers to what is effectively their own site.”

Building a community of partners
All reseller partners have their own unique capabilities and areas of specialisation, but often find that they can’t supply every service their customer wants.
At times like this, leveraging a community of partners lets them offer a wealth of third-party services.
First Distribution encourages its partners to offer their specialist services through First for Cloud’s GoFirst Cloud Services portal.
The result is a consortium of partners that come together to offer services on behalf of other partners, Richardson explains.
First Distribution vets and quality controls all the services offered on GoFirst Cloud, and they are then available for all partners to use.
“When the specialist partner is performing the service they wear the contracting partner’s hat, so as far as the customer is concerned they are working with just their chosen partners.
“In this way we build out our vertical offerings on a business-to-business (B2B) level, evangelising on behalf of our channel partners.”
The GoFirst Cloud offering is available for all partners. “If they have a niche service and they want to push it through distribution, we can help them do it,” Richardson says.
“We’ll help them to commercialise their service, do some marketing and lead generation on their behalf. They really have to just supply the service and we do all the rest.”
Partners never have to run into issues again from promising a service they can’t deliver, he points out. “Now they just populate their web store with services their customers may want, and when the customer clicks on it, that service will be performed by the specialist partner.
“It is all about creating a partner services community, and we already have around 15 partners that regularly supply services to the others.”
Services on offer include data management, archiving and data recovery, Office 365 migration, Azure assessments or deployments, security deployments at partner level, Teams services and more.

Partnering with First Distribution
Digital transformation and cloud migration can be a daunting task for any organisation, so choosing the right partner is critical.
User organisations are advised to choose a partner that is certified to offer the required services. “The right consultant is always going to tell you what is possible and what is not – don’t follow a trend because you are keeping up with the Jones’s,” Richardson warns. “Do what is right for your business and the correct consultant will lead you down that path.
“Bear in mind there may be one of more consultants involved when a specialist is needed to help with specific elements or issues. The GoFirst services ecosystem was created for this exact reason, bringing partners together to work on projects and to put their expertise together in order to deliver the outcome for the end-user.”
The GoFirst cloud service is very much a consulting approach, Richardson explains. “This is not a click-buy process, but very consultative.”
First Distribution has a partner-centric approach to business, and delivers all of its First for Cloud services via the channel.
“We don’t engage with end-users at all. We rather empower the partner to do all or parts of the deployment, and engage with other partners for areas they do not specialise in,” Richardson says.
And the model is working: First for Cloud processes around 4-million transactions every month. “This is a significant transaction value,” Richardson says.
It didn’t just happen, though, a tremendous amount of investment and hard work has gone into getting First for Cloud to where it is today.
“We have paid our school fees,” Richardson says. “Our cloud business is 14 years old – we haven’t been around for just a couple of years. First for Cloud was the first service of its kind on the African continent and we have been talking about cloud aggregation since before anyone else had a clear idea of what it meant.
“In fact, we were the genesis of the cloud industry on the continent.
“And this experience, the hard lessons learned, are what we offer to our partners so they can have an easy transition into the cloud.”
The investment in partners can also be seen in the number of activities that First Distribution runs with vendors and resellers alike. “We also funnel funding back to partners to help them acquire new customers, net skills and more profitability.”
This value-add is vital in the cloud market, Richardson says. “It’s no secret that the cloud vendors could very easily deal directly with end-users – the way the whole process and industry is built would make it relatively simple.
“So what we do is help our partners to create their own differentiation. The vendor should actually be secondary to the partner’s engagement with their customers.
“The conversation with the customer should be about the solution, not the vendor, and how the partner is addressing the customer’s business pain. The vendor is a consequence of this engagement, not the reason for it.”
Richardson describes how customers will sometimes ask a reseller partner to engage with a particular public cloud hyperscaler. “In these cases we always encourage them to ask why and to help customers understand the particular strengths of each vendor.”
First Distribution will also help its partners understand the vendor’s programmes and how they can drive better margins and revenues by enrolling in the right parts of the programmes.
“However, arguably the most value that we add to our partners’ lives is the continual evolution of the platform, adding functionality and making it easy to use,” Richardson says.
“The platform is constantly evolving, and we are always adding different product value-adds. Things like automated billing and customer invoicing that help partners offer a better and more profitable service.”
Because the platform is completely owned and built by First Distribution, it has total control of its future development.
“It’s our platform, but we let partners create their own differentiation for their customers, including things like multi-tiered billing and product supply. We don’t know of anyone else globally that does that, but we’ve done it on a South African-owned and built platform.”

Partnering with the leading hyperscaler cloud platforms

First Distribution gives resellers the opportunity to work with the world’s biggest public cloud providers, partnering with IBM, Oracle, AWS and Microsoft.
These hyperscalers can be provisioned on to partners’s webstores and accessed by their customers, says Chris Richardson, General Manager: Cloud and Hosting at First Distribution.
“Remember, First for Cloud is an aggregated marketplace where we offer best-of-breed public and private clouds.”

First Distribution – Microsoft Azure
First Distribution is the leading value-added distributor in Africa. Its highly certified Azure team will help your internal stakeholders with Azure product, sales and technical enablement. These sessions include alignment with Azure capabilities, sales plays, strategic opportunities as well as well as on-demand requirements.
Through its highly skilled resources, First Distribution has the ability in supporting your sales and technical teams from an Azure pre-sales perspective. Each opportunity goes through a process to identify the business requirement with the distributor’s support. This may include an environment assessment which First Distribution can facilitate. The team can then also offer support with Azure cost estimates, solution architecture.
Microsoft Indirect CSP Resellers can leverage through First Distribution’s investment in Microsoft Advanced support. This is critical as part of logging tickets with Microsoft, getting priority and is specific to partners who need elevated, cloud-focused support for growing their businesses and supporting their customers.
First Distribution offers Cloudcheckr and VMware CloudHealth as a value-added tooling for partners end-user customers. This facilitates the requirements to analyse and manage cloud cost, usage, security, and governance in one place. It is designed to help an organisation increase its visibility into and across public cloud infrastructure.

First Distribution – AWS
Cloud is the future, let AWS be your guide.
Whether you’re looking for compute power, database storage, content delivery, or other functionality, AWS and First Distribution have the services to help you build sophisticated applications with increased flexibility, scalability and reliability.
First Distribution can help you build your infrastructure in the cloud using a structured approach. From a simple WordPress blog to complex multi-tier environments, the distributor has the expertise to assist with designing your architectures in the cloud. Whether it’s a Green Field Project or a migration from on-premises to the cloud, First Distribution can help build secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for your applications, based on the principle of a Well-Architected Framework.
First Distribution works with cloud architects to build the most secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure possible. Creating a software system is a lot like constructing a building. If the foundation is not solid, structural problems can undermine the integrity and function of the building. First Distribution can help you with the AWS Well-Architected Framework and will assist you in fixing all the major and minor issues that the Well-Architected Framework tool reports so that you can be reassured that your applications are always available and secure.
These services pave the way for innovation and supporting world-changing projects in enterprise, SMB corporate, government, education, non-profit, and healthcare organisations.
Government, education, non-profit, and healthcare organisations face unique challenges to accomplish complex missions with limited resources. Which is why corporate and public sector leaders who are looking to engage in true cloud computing projects turn to the power and speed of Amazon Web Services (AWS) when they want to serve citizens more effectively, achieve scientific breakthroughs, reach broader constituents, and put more of their time and resources into their core missions.
As a partner you can lead this innovation through leveraging off the First Distribution and AWS partnership.

First Distribution – IBM Cloud
First Distribution and IBM jointly provide complex ICT solutions to enterprise and SME markets, focused on data centre, virtualisation, hosted applications and cloud-based services, database and middleware, security and network Infrastructure – all supported by unparalleled expertise.
Together, First Distribution and IBM Cloud can assist by capturing the true value of cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) for your business. In doing so, they bring together market-leading security, enterprise scalability, and open innovation for increased agility and continuity with IBM Cloud and Redhat.

First Distribution – Oracle Cloud
Start offering the most powerful unified cloud solution available. Your customers need to find a service that redefines how they modernise, innovate and compete in the world today; something that allows users and developers to cost-effectively build, deploy, and manage workloads seamlessly in the cloud and on premise.
Save costs on IT maintenance with Oracle cloud services. Partner with Oracle and First Distribution to make sure your customers have access to the best integrated cloud platform using Oracle cloud services.
Oracle has a deep product portfolio across all applications, platforms and infrastructure – giving customers the freedom to build their own path to the cloud so they can spend less time maintaining and more time on innovation.

Cloud Catalyst empowers partners

To help reseller partners transform their business, First Distribution has developed the Cloud Catalyst programme.
“A lot of partners want to get into the cloud or managed services game but don’t quite know how to do it,” explains Chris Richardson, General Manager: Cloud and Hosting Services at First Distribution. “For companies that have always been project-based or reactive to requests for quotes, it can be very daunting.
“Cloud consulting and digital transformation are today’s buzzwords in the ICT boxing ring of value-added services. But what does it actually mean when you as a partner or end customer want to go down the cloud path? Is there a right or a wrong way?
“Business change is very dependent on what outcomes you are aiming for: do you want more customers as a partner or do you want to sell more products to your customers? As an end-user are you wanting to create more efficiency in your business or move towards an Opex type of model?”
First Distribution works with partners to help them find the answers to these questions, and to develop the right strategies to achieve their goals.
“We transact with a number of partners who deliver value to their customers in a number of ways and our job is always to evangelise solutions, provide services and be the distributor that really puts the value back into the VAD (value-added distributor),” Richardson says.
“To do this, First Distribution built its own programme called the Cloud Catalyst program, designed to help not only our partners but also help the partner understand how to engage at an end-user level in a consultative manner – you could say it’s the mechanics behind delivering a cloud business.”
In the Cloud Catalyst programme, First Distribution take partners from being a traditional ICT reseller (supply and demand) to a consultant of IT services on a consumption model.
“With Cloud Catalyst we are not just helping our partners to understand the new business models, but we help them to actually do it,” Richardson says.
“In this, we are not a typical distributor, because we actively invest in our partners’ success. Our business is not built around selling a product and moving on. Our partners transact every month and we want them to grow and be successful.”
The programme is designed to build the foundation and then accelerate the business and is built on six pillars: Align, Enable, Grow, Consumption, Technical, and Solutions.

Align – strategy, staffing, budget
In the first part of the journey, partners learn how to align their strategy, staff and budgets internally so they can start building their go-to-market foundation.
“Without the foundation, it would be very hard to accelerate.”

Enable – programme, technical, business
During this phase, partners get assistance in understanding First Distribution’s cloud offerings, and the vendor programmes.
“They find out where the opportunities are to build out skills from a sales and technical perspective, and ensure that they are aligned with what they need to take services to market.”

Grow – revenue, profit, cashflow
Every business has to grow, and partners learn how they can do this in the cloud world by lowering their cost of customer acquisition
In this phase, they learn how to grow from a sales, profitability, cash flow and revenue standpoint. “They get to understand how to deliver on services – and how to collect the revenue,” Richardson says.

Consumption – quote, implement, bill
Cloud services are a consumption-based model, so partners need to understand how this works, and how to bill it out.
“They learn how to use the system to do quotes and invoice customers, and understand all the other nuances of the business like rate of exchange, withholding tax, vat and more.”

Technical – recruit, quote, do, bill
As they become more advanced, partners learn how to not just sell on cloud services, but also build out managed services.
“Managed service providers are not simply supplying software,” Richardson explains. “They are no longer just selling a licence but closing the loop to create stickiness with the customer. And that isn’t as much a sales as a technical engagement. And it’s an ongoing engagement, wrapping managed services around the licensing.”

Solution – design, implement, market, bill
In the final phase of the Cloud Catalyst programme, partners should be able to design, build and implement solutions for their customers.
“These could include solutions that they have built or procured, or something they have designed and are managing themselves in a vertical environment,” Richardson says.



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