In this exclusive interview with CRN India, Ganesan Arumugam, Director – Partner Sales, NetApp India, provides valuable insights into the strategies and initiatives driving business development in the IT industry. Arumugam offers a comprehensive overview of NetApp’s journey, highlighting significant growth and technological advancements. The discussion focuses on the pivotal role of channel partners in driving business success, particularly in India, and the strategic initiatives undertaken by NetApp to foster mutually beneficial partnerships. Arumugam also provides valuable perspectives on addressing evolving customer expectations in the data-driven landscape, the importance of continuous upskilling of partner teams, and the evolving engagement with cloud service partners. Through this interview, readers gain profound insights into navigating the challenges and seizing opportunities in the rapidly evolving IT landscape.
How has been the growth of NetApp’s India business in recent times? What are the factors that have led to this growth?
Our journey over the past slightly more than three years has been quite remarkable. Positioned at the opportune moment in terms of the Information Technology (IT) sector, whether pre, during, or post-COVID, our business has demonstrated significant growth and success, ultimately measured by revenue and market share expansion. NetApp has excelled across all three fronts in recent years, showcasing exceptional performance. From a market perspective, our financials up to April last year witnessed a doubling of our business over the preceding two years, setting a high benchmark for future objectives.
Building on this momentum, our aim, as articulated by our CEO, is to continue this trajectory by striving to double our business again within the next two to three years. Moreover, we’re already on a promising path towards achieving this target, evident in our current fiscal quarter’s performance. Alongside business growth, another strategic objective is to establish India as the largest area within the bank, a goal we’re diligently working towards and making notable progress. From a technological standpoint, our evolution over the past two years has been transformative, aligning us uniquely in the market.
NetApp has emerged as a leading data specialist, particularly in storage solutions, with a distinct focus on delivering intelligent and unified data storage to our clientele. Recognising the critical role of data in today’s landscape, we’ve innovated to offer solutions that enable organisations to efficiently manage and extract value from their data, irrespective of its location – whether on-premises, in private or public clouds. Notably, our flagship data storage operating system, available on multiple hyper-scalers as a first-party service, underscores our commitment to seamless data management across diverse environments.
Moreover, our solutions are engineered to empower applications with the data they need, leveraging advanced technologies like machine learning and AI to ensure optimal performance. Collaborations with industry leaders like Nvidia further enhance our capabilities, positioning us at the forefront of technological innovation in data storage solutions. Overall, our relentless focus on data-centric solutions and technological innovation continues to drive our success and differentiate us in the market landscape.
How do you envision the role of the channel in making India the largest market for NetApp in the APAC region, considering your organisation’s remarkable performance?
The role of our channel partners is very important in our overall strategy. In India, our business heavily relies on our partners, constituting 200% of our go-to-market plan. Rather than engaging with numerous partners, we adopted a focused partner strategy three years ago, selecting partners based on their market coverage, commitment to NetApp, and technical expertise. This approach has yielded significant results, with many partners experiencing over 100% growth.
Partnerships are integral to our success, and we ensure their alignment with our growth objectives. To this end, we launched a new partner program at the beginning of this year, aimed at simplifying partner engagement and enhancing service capabilities. Recognizing the evolving partner landscape, we revamped our partner program to focus on developing service capabilities rather than just revenue generation. We integrated various partner types into a single program, making engagement with NetApp more seamless.
Additionally, we revamped our training program to focus on solution competencies, empowering partners to deliver comprehensive solutions to customers. This training covers pre-sales, implementation, and post-sales services, ensuring partners become trusted advisors for their customers. Our program also aims to maximise partner revenue by enabling them to sell additional products and services alongside NetApp offerings. We measure partner success not just by revenue generated for NetApp but also by the overall value they bring to customers. Partners play a crucial role in our ecosystem, acting as force multipliers and helping us achieve our growth objectives. Through continuous training and support, we aim to empower our partners to deliver exceptional value to customers and drive mutual success.
How do you assess the effectiveness of the changes made to NetApp’s initial unified partner program, and what metrics do you use to gauge its success?
Our approach to evaluating partner success is multifaceted, combining data-driven analysis with perceptual insights and market trends. We assess partner growth by comparing their performance to ours, ensuring alignment in business trajectory. Notably, 18 of our partners have more than doubled their business, reflecting our collaborative success. Additionally, we observe a growing interest from potential partners seeking collaboration, driven by our reputation for transparency and partner-friendly policies.
Globally, we prioritise partner engagement, with around 85% of our business conducted through partners, surpassing the industry standard of 73%. In India, our reliance on partners is even more pronounced, with 100% of our business channelled through partners. Our partner-first strategy is deeply ingrained in our sales approach, with a clear mandate to engage partners whenever feasible. This approach is reinforced by our global channel leads strategy, which emphasises partner collaboration across all sales activities.
Our commitment to transparency and equitable partnership practices fosters trust and confidence among our partner community. Partners appreciate our two-tier approach, where NetApp works alongside partners rather than bypassing them to deal directly with customers. This transparency extends to our rebate structure and engagement policies, ensuring clarity and fairness in our dealings.
How does your organisation adapt to the evolving expectations of customers who seek partners to act more as consultants and advisors, particularly in the context of the data-driven, digital-first landscape?
Our engagement with consulting partners is pivotal in addressing enterprise customers’ digital transformation needs. When clients seek to prioritise workloads and applications for transformation, they often turn to consultants for guidance. We collaborate closely with these partners, equipping them with the tools and knowledge needed to navigate the complexities of digital transformation.
For instance, many enterprise customers are keen on transitioning their applications into microservices to enhance accessibility and functionality. In response, we empower our partners with solutions like NetApp Astra, designed to manage storage effectively within container environments. This strategic offering has proven instrumental in securing significant deals, with one customer attributing a million-dollar storage agreement to this solution.
Central to our partner enablement strategy is the cultivation of solutions competency. We equip partners with a comprehensive understanding of our product portfolio, enabling them to articulate holistic solutions to clients’ needs. Rather than focusing solely on individual products, partners are trained to present end-to-end solutions that address broader service requirements, thereby enhancing their value proposition to customers.
In addition to consulting partners, our engagement extends to other partner types such as GSI partners and distributors. These partners play diverse roles in delivering services and solutions to customers. Ultimately, our approach hinges on equipping partners with the skills and resources necessary to offer comprehensive solutions, including managed services and consulting. Through strategic enablement initiatives, we empower partners to navigate the evolving landscape of digital transformation, driving mutual success for both partners and customers alike.
Could you outline any targeted initiatives or programs implemented to continuously upskill and reskill the pre-sales and technical teams of your partner organisations, particularly considering your collaborations with a diverse range of partners, both large and small?
The challenge of partner retention and talent management is a universal one, spanning from small-scale to large-scale partners. It often boils down to the clash between organisational priorities and individual career aspirations—a dynamic familiar to professionals across industries. Individuals may seek opportunities elsewhere as they outgrow their current roles or perceive better prospects elsewhere. While some decisions may prove fruitful, others may be premature or misguided, underscoring the importance of proactive HR interventions.
To address this challenge, we have adopted a focused approach to partner selection, prioritising partners who demonstrate commitment and potential for growth. Once onboarded, we prioritise ongoing partner enablement through targeted training and skills development initiatives. A dedicated partner technical expert serves as a liaison between our organisation and partner teams, continually assessing skill gaps, facilitating training, and guiding partners on certification processes. We recognize that partner enablement is not a one-time event but a continuous journey, necessitating sustained investment in training and development.
Our partner enablement strategy extends beyond individual interventions to encompass broader initiatives such as the Partner Academy. Through this platform, we convene partners from major cities, along with their field sales and pre-sales teams, for comprehensive training sessions. These sessions cover a range of topics, including our latest technologies, market trends, and best practices, equipping partners with the knowledge and insights needed to navigate the evolving landscape effectively.
By fostering a culture of continuous learning and collaboration, we aim to strengthen our partnerships and empower our partners to thrive in an ever-changing business environment. Through proactive engagement and targeted enablement initiatives, we endeavour to address partner retention challenges while unlocking mutual growth opportunities for both partners and our organisation.
How has the engagement with cloud service partners (CSPs), particularly the joint activity conducted last year, evolved? Could you provide insight into how these engagements with CSPs are developing and their anticipated trajectory in the future?
The Cloud Service Provider (CSP) program is a pivotal component of our cloud portfolio, and its significance continues to grow steadily over time. Our engagement with CSPs is deepening as they increasingly recognise the value proposition we bring to the table. A significant focus within the cloud domain is cloud optimisation, where we collaborate closely with customers to streamline their cloud expenditure. Through our Spot Preferred Partner Program, we empower CSPs to deliver cost-effective solutions to their clients by leveraging our optimization tools and strategies.
In addition to cost optimisation, we address concerns around data security and management in the cloud. Our Cloud Data Centre offers robust security measures to safeguard clients’ cloud-hosted data, ensuring compliance and peace of mind. We also provide cloud backup services and Cloud Insight, a monitoring tool that enables seamless management of data across both cloud and on-premises environments.
Our efforts extend beyond cost and security to encompass storage efficiency. We equip CSP partners with the knowledge and tools to leverage hyper scalars effectively, thereby reducing clients’ storage footprint and enhancing operational efficiency. By offering a comprehensive suite of cloud services tailored to address diverse customer needs, we empower CSPs to deliver value-added solutions and drive business growth. Through strategic partnerships and ongoing collaboration, we aim to position ourselves as a trusted ally in the cloud ecosystem, enabling CSPs to capitalise on emerging opportunities and deliver superior outcomes for their clients.
How are you guiding your partners through the AI journey and ensuring they are equipped to address any skill gaps that may arise?
Within our partner enablement strategy, one of our primary focuses revolves around AI/ML, cloud automation and flash technology. These three areas constitute a significant portion of our partner training and development efforts.
To facilitate partner proficiency in these domains, we’ve established two distinct solution competencies within our AI framework. These competencies encompass a series of comprehensive training modules designed to impart in-depth knowledge of AI/ML, cloud automation, and flash technology. We delve into topics such as the workings of GenAI and AI, general technology overviews, and NetApp’s role within the broader technology landscape.
Given the specialised nature of these solutions, we recognise that not every partner may possess the requisite expertise. As such, we selectively engage with partners who demonstrate a keen interest and aptitude for AI-focused initiatives. Through targeted training initiatives and ongoing support, we empower these partners to become specialists in their respective fields.
We have also observed a growing trend among forward-thinking organisations that are actively exploring AI and machine learning applications within their enterprise operations. These entities are at the forefront of innovation, leveraging advanced technologies to develop tailored solutions that enhance business performance and competitiveness.
By aligning our partner enablement efforts with emerging industry trends and client needs, we aim to foster a dynamic ecosystem of knowledgeable and proficient partners capable of delivering cutting-edge solutions to our customers. Through strategic collaboration and continuous learning, we position ourselves and our partners as leaders in the rapidly evolving landscape of AI, cloud automation, and flash technology.