2021 Predictions: Cybersecurity in the channel

The heightened threat landscape in 2020 drove many organisations to supplement their overstretched IT teams with outside help. What’s in store for cybersecurity in the IT channel in 2021?

Posted 22 December 2020 by Christine Horton

IT service providers were instrumental in 2020 for keeping their clients’ businesses up and running. However, the rapid shift to home working model has meant an expanded threat landscape, and an increase in cyberattacks.

We’ve seen these rising security concerns and a lack of in-house skills within end user customers drive organisations towards third-party service providers, meaning increased opportunities for managed service providers (MSPs) that can provide security.  

“The coming year brings many opportunities for MSSP [managed security service provider] and other service providers,” said Ilia Sotnikov, VP at Netwrix. “Increased risk of human error, lack of expertise and staff to support newly acquired systems to support remote work will be drivers for organisations to turn to service providers for professional help.”

Sotnikov believes clients will increasingly look for guidance from trusted advisors, not just ‘extra hands’ to deploy and manage solutions. Therefore, demonstrating and communicating risk posture enhancement over time can be an opportunity to stand out from the competition.

“The trick is not only to provide evidence of efficiency of your service, but also help the business executives on the client side connect this to the risk reduction that can be estimated in dollars,” he said.

Partnering in the channel

The vital role of the channel plays will amplify in 2021, agrees Todd Palmer, Tanium’s global head of partner sales. “With unpredictable forecasts, there is a hesitancy to hire more people, yet companies need assistance to solve the new or exasperated set of challenges they are facing for both IT security and operations. This is where the channel will shine. End users are turning to their tried-and-true relationships for help, recommendations and resources to supplement or completely outsource work.”

There will also be greater partnering among providers in 2021, believes Cindi Johnson, Tanium’s partner programme director. “Especially in the post-COVID-19 world, customers are relying on their tried-and-true relationships, making it harder for other partners to gain a foothold,” she said.

“2021 will see partners focusing on their core competencies and looking to other partners within the ecosystem to supplement their capabilities for the greater good – of the customer and each other.”

Agility within the channel

COVID-19 also accelerated digital transformation for many organisations, underpinned by a shift to cloud services. Agility has never been more important – and that applies to MSPs, too.

“Traditionally, partners were trusted by the end customer, particularly as an MSP, as they would sell the customer servers and local software and would manage it,” said Johnny Carpenter, VP sales EMEA at iland.

“However, organisations are now understanding their own capabilities and are questioning MSPs on how they can be more agile. Customers are now using things like Zoom, Webex and other remote collaboration tools and financial directors and the CEOs of organisations are using all these technologies as well. That is now driving the conversations from the top down and I think the partners will now need to work smarter and have a greater understanding of these new technologies and new ways of delivering value to their customer base.”

Subscription services

Elsewhere, 2021 will see a dramatic rise in the channel offering subscription services to help businesses get through the tough COVID period.

“Aiming to reduce capital expenditure in light of reduced growth targets and profit margins, businesses will look for lower initial costs through subscription-based offerings, rather than the traditional up-front payment perpetual licences that have fuelled channel growth,” said EMEA VP for sales at Thales, Rob Elliss.

“As such, providers will need to adapt their processes to meet the changing circumstances facing customers and grant a purchasing and payments/billing flexibility that can help the businesses they serve, survive.”

This switch will see two benefits, notes Elliss. “The first is that channel providers will experience more stable annuity revenues, meaning their top and bottom lines will be more robust should we encounter further disruptions.

“The second is that providers will engage on a more regular basis with customers and start to gain increasing insights into how their solutions are being used in real-time, enabling greater decision making around future product/service development. Ultimately, this approach will put the channel industry in a stronger position at the end of 2021.”

David Ellis, VP, security & mobility at IT distributor Tech Data believes flexible finance solutions will be key to helping deliver combined solutions which encompass fully protected hardware, software and services.

“Customers want a single bill with flexibility and options on how it is paid. Like so many companies, they are also looking to preserve capital to weather any cash flow pressure brought by the past year. Nonetheless, you cannot put off keeping your business secure, especially with cyber threats constantly changing and growing. Programmes like Tech-as-a-Service (TaaS), allowing businesses to access the resources they need on a subscription basis, will be key to supporting businesses as they navigate crucial technology investments.”

Looking to 2021, more than seven out of 10 MSPs view a lack of in-house security skills among customers as an opportunity to create new business. Eighty-eight percent of MSPs questioned earlier this year say that demand for security services was either ‘moderately’ or ‘significantly’ increasing. This is an opportunity for channel partners to help their customers navigate this ‘next normal’ working environment, become a trusted advisor and grow their own business alongside them.