In building its Software Group, Dell has been careful to observe two key management maxims: the importance of integrating new capabilities to leverage the value of the whole, and the need to correctly identify and address emerging market need. Established back in February 2012, Dell Software was formed coincident with the acquisition of IT management software provider Quest Software, an asset that president of the new division John Swainson noted at the time would serve as a platform for unification of the company’s disparate software assets. In addition to systems management, security, business intelligence and applications components to extend the company’s software capabilities, the broadly penetrated Quest also brought an extensive partner network to Dell. One year later, this network was integrated, along with other unique partner programs of the software business (such as SonicWALL), through establishment of one set of software competencies under the Dell PartnerDirect program.
This integration opened PartnerDirect benefits to many members of the Dell Software partner community, notably additional ways to achieve Premier partner status, which Dell has defined as "blended competency for partners selling Dell’s end-to-end hardware and software offerings, rewards for training and sales achievement through Dell Partner AdvantEdge, a marketing and market development funding for lead generation, and white glove support from the Certified Partner Resource Desk." In these "new paths," where Christine Forbes McDermott, senior director, global partner marketing for Dell Software explained, "partners can take advantage of greater program benefits depending on their revenue, greater engagement [in training] and incremental commitment to Dell," focus is on partner development — and on training in the delivery of integrated hardware/software solutions in particular. According to Dell, the strategy where partners are incented and rewarded for software training is working: not only has the Dell Channel program as a whole grown substantially since the introduction of new software competencies in the fall of 2013, but partners have embraced software training with considerable enthusiasm. The stats speak for themselves — over the past year, close to 11,000 individuals at partner organizations have completed more than 37,000 Dell Software training courses, and partner software course completions have doubled to date in fiscal year 2015, with a 50 increase in the number of unique individuals taking the courses quarter over quarter.
One key to this inflation of interest in training lies in curriculum focus. While the media is having a justifiable field day with news of pervasive and ongoing corporate security breaches, which continue to increase in number, and scope of individuals affected, Dell Software has noted that data protection and security training topics have attracted particularly heavy partner interest: of the software training courses completed by partners in Q2, 40 percent related to data protection and 27 percent to security. Specific interest in security-related training is in part a function of the large number of partners that migrated to Dell with acquisition of channel-centric network security firm SonicWALL back in the spring of 2012, and also driven by partner perceptions of customer needs. According to a survey of the channel released this October, 51 percent of Dell partners have heard from customers that network security and UTM is the leading cause for concern in the coming year, while for their part, 72 percent of partners ranked vendor training as one of the top three most important elements of creating a partner program in security. And on the issue of integrated threat management, 63 percent of partner respondents in the same study claimed that it is important to offer their customers network security, mobile security and identity and access management from a single vendor — a unified approach that can now be executed through Dell’s end-to-end solutions for addressing security needs.
In a certain sense, Dell’s partner survey spoke to the converted — 102 respondents that elected to attend the first ever Dell Security Peak Performance Conference. But by qualitative measures as well, the importance of Dell focus on security training appears warranted. According to Ben Boyd-Bruce, manager of solutions architects for Canadian-based VAR Open Storage Solutions, training extends beyond the immediate incentives and benefits that may be achieved through PartnerDirect outlined above. For Open Storage, "training allows us as a partner to fully represent Dell to our customers — to articulate the value and the technologies and the solutions that Dell has acquired, produced and created through their development as a company. Training is very important to us as it allows us to articulate that vision as if we were Dell," he added.
Open Storage focuses on data storage, management and protection, offering AppAssure and NetVault from Dell’s software portfolio, as well as a hardware/software solution from Dell’s DR and backup appliances. Until the last six months, the company engaged primarily in training focused on data protection, at which point Open Storage shifted focus towards security and access management. Training provides Open Storage with access to internal reference materials comparing Dell products with those of others in the industry, sizing tools that allow the company to develop solutions for customers in addition to instruction on how to administer and run a product: "we see everything from the concept to the implementation," Boyd-Bruce noted. Dell software competencies entail both technical and sales training (6-7 completed courses in each area) and a partner (though not necessarily an individual) must complete both, a fact that Boyd-Bruce believes has helped his organization muster new skills in customer interactions for three groups, including sales/account executives, the pre-sales, solution architecture group and the implementation team. "It’s very important for the solution architecture group to be able to talk about business benefits as well as the technology," he explained, and hence architecture staff take both the sales and technical training. So far, approximately 20 of Open Storage’s total 65 employees have taken Dell training, which Boyd-Bruce characterized as "very up-to-date with regular refresh and new information made available with new products releases to ensure training reflects a rapidly changing industry."
As McDermott explained, with the help of resources in the PartnerDirect program, the Dell Software Group has created competencies and courseware in four software areas over the past year: systems management, data protection, security and information management. Typically, courses are delivered free online, though as McDermott noted, partners are able to enroll in instructor-led training in specific technical areas, such as identity and access management or network security, for which the first advanced competency was introduced this September. While Dell Software expects eventually to offer advanced competencies in each of the four target areas, network security was prioritized to accommodate SonicWALL partners who tend to be exclusive providers of highly sophisticated security solutions. Yesterday, Dell expanded this roster with announcement of new advanced competencies in identity and access management (as well as storage) that will be phased in on a global basis to support partners who focus more deeply on these single practice area solutions.
According to McDermott, "training is a very critical and foundational aspect of the overall PartnerDirect program: it’s central to design of the program." From the perspective of Boyd-Bruce, the benefits of training are measured each day as the firm is able to engage with customers "directly" on behalf of Dell. While Open Storage represents a number of manufacturers, those that provide good training are the firm’s strategic partners — and Dell the most strategic of all. Come full circle, training in security software helps the partner to address end customer concerns, simplifies the partner experience for channels that may deliver multiple components of the solution, enabling these to demonstrate the steps Dell has taken to integrate hardware, software and services into full service solutions. A win-win-win.