Strong partnerships have always been crucial in the IT industry, but they are more important than ever as the channel takes a unified approach to support customers through the current global health crisis. Sherifa Hady, EMEA Sales Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Aruba, tells us how the company is supporting its channel partners and customers and outlines her priorities for the year ahead as organisations across the world continue to navigate through these challenging times.
In her role at Aruba, Sherifa Hady is responsible for the channel in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, working alongside her team to manage partners, resellers at all membership levels, as well as distributors.
With the coronavirus pandemic having created challenges for businesses shifting to remote working practices across the globe, robust infrastructure is more important than ever before.
Here, Hady tells us more about how Aruba is working with its partners to support customers during this time of crisis.
Providing support for employees, customers and partners
The most important priority for Aruba, a HPE company, is the health and welfare of its employees and their wider families, Hady said. The company’s CEO recently announced that, even as lockdown begins to ease, employees will not yet return to the office unless for voluntary reasons.
From a customer perspective, there are a several things the company has done to provide additional support, including the announcement of a US$50million donation of Aruba products – mainly for healthcare clinics but not exclusively.
“One example of this is a story that really touches my heart,” said Hady. “We actually transformed a floating cruise liner into a pop-up hospital in Italy – our engineers were involved with putting the solutions in place.”
All customers are now being asked to pledge for this donation, putting requests in via the channel partners.
“The second thing we have done is that, obviously we know that cash is tight and there will be a lot of customers that want to go ahead with IT infrastructure or refreshes that might not have the cash they thought they would, so we have pledged a US$2billion financial aid where we will ease payments for customers using our financial services,” said Hady.
“We have also launched a lot of solutions, mainly targeted at healthcare, education, working from home, where we know that people want what we are calling Business Continuity.”
From the partner level, Hady and her team are working very closely with the wider channel.
“Partners have asked for a couple of things. One of them is around enablement because there are a lot of employees at home who have more time, so they have asked for enablement, as well as to ease the threshold,” she said. “We’ve got various partnership levels – platinum, gold, silver, business partner proximity – and we have said to all partners they will maintain their level, regardless of achieving the revenue threshold. That’s been taken positively so far.”
The importance of strong partnerships in times of crisis
“There is a saying that says you won’t be remembered for what you have done or what you have said but you will always be remembered for the way you made people feel,” said Hady.
“So I think the fact that we can be close to our partners now more than ever, just to ask them, ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing? Do you need anything?’ goes a long way.
“The partnership is not about closing deals only, but about how we are going to face this together. I think it’s important we are in this together, calling up customers and just asking them, as both Aruba and the partner, ‘what can we do for you?’.
“We are also trying to look at how we can be ready for what is being called the ‘day after’, which is when everything goes back to normal – how that’s going to look and what do we need to be ready for?”
The industry trends driving Aruba’s channel strategy
Hady has been in her current role for five months and, following discussions with the management team, customers, partners and country managers, the clear focus is on ‘growth’.
“I really think that growth is where we can accelerate together. And this growth, I believe, is going to come from four areas,” she said.
The first area is around a solution launched last year – Aruba InstantOn.
“It’s your entry level access point which we really believe has a huge potential. This is the network you can use in a small office, a home office, one branch retail outlets, and we have seen a big uptake on this,” she said. “That’s one big area we are focusing on and how we can get more partners to get trained up on these products and sell them as well.”
The second growth area – which Hady believes is the most important one – is bridging to everything ‘as-a-Service’.
“As you know our objective is that, by 2023, everything will be sold as-a-Service, if required by the customer,” she said. “We are doing a lot of things in preparation for that.
“We want our partners to be prepared to be able to sell everything as-a-Service. This is around the consumption models, around customers buying Wi-Fi-as-a-Service, Bandwidth-as-a-Service, Branches-as-a-Service, so really looking completely differently at the way customers consume and purchase IT.”
The final focus areas are around verticalisation and ‘unmanaged business’.
“We are going to partners and saying, as Aruba we have a salesforce for working on a segment of customers, but we expect our partners to be working on the unmanaged. They are being more and more verticalised, so will be working on hospitality, healthcare, IoT, industry, manufacturing, the list goes on.”
A universal will to succeed
EMEA is a vast region spanning multiple continents – but despite the nuances from country to country, there is of course a common overarching goal to succeed.
Hady said: “You do see differences, not in the business, but in the way meetings are done or what kind of discussions you have. But if I think about what partners are trying to achieve and their will to go out and win business, I think it’s universal.
“It’s very exciting for me. I have always managed the Middle East, Africa and Central Eastern Europe so just broadening the area is very rewarding for me personally.”
On her own management philosophy
Hady’s own management philosophy is made up of a combination of factors.
“My first manager said to me ‘look, I’m going to let you swim. If you start to drown, put your hand up, other than that just keep on swimming’. I really liked that as it showed she trusted me,” she said.
“I think for the last 20 years when I have been a manager, I have been trying to do the same. It was very difficult for me to learn to delegate but I realised for the sake of enabling people to develop and grow their own skills and in their own careers, I need to.”
She concedes she is very honest – ‘sometimes too honest’ – and loves to have fun.
“‘Work hard, play hard’ is one of my mottos,” she said. “‘You snooze, you lose’ is another one. I have got to be quick and on the ball. And I love to win – I always want to be number one.”
Working with partners to enable transformation
At the beginning of each year, the team meets with top partners to create a joint business plan which explores what was achieved in the last year – and it’s not all about the numbers.
She said: “It’s more about – how does the partner want to transform? Which customer segment do they want to play? Do they want to be thinking about their own services? How do they want to evolve?
“And then, what is the journey that we are going to go on together and what do they require from us?
“Be it enablement, be it more best practice sharing with other partners, whether they want to go to our executive briefing centre in Santa Clara where they see other models.
“That is one of the things we have been successful on – we are not just trying to paint all of our partners with the same colour but are looking at them individually.”
Key priorities for the year ahead
The main priority is for everyone to stay safe and in good health.
“Those of us that are in good health are complaining a little bit that we are home and that we are bored, but there are a lot of people out there who are fighting for their lives and I think we need to appreciate that and understand that,” Hady said.
A second key area, she added, will be to take care of our own mental health, balancing productivity in a home environment with maintaining a personal life.
“From a business perspective, I don’t think business is going to be the same – I don’t think things will just go back to normal,” she said.
“If we can all work from home, do we really need all the offices? If we can have distant learning and it’s working for some age groups, do we really need to send all children back to school?
“There is also obviously, and unfortunately, the fear that this might well happen again, so everybody needs to be ready for that.
“At Aruba, our duty is to stay close to our partners and to our customers who are most probably thinking – how can we avoid this in the future, how can we make sure we enable business continuity regardless of where we work?”
Ironically, Hady added, is that last year, the company’s founder stated that 2020 would be the year of the ‘Edge’.
“The intelligent-Edge vision that we have in this Edge-to-cloud framework will include a data centre capability that we will call a micro data centre that will be deployed at that point where the data gets created,” she said. “This is the world we are designing for.”