Apple Continues Quest for Channel Chief

Apple’s designs on the business-to-business market are becoming increasingly transparent. It’s posted a former HP channel director to lead its UK and Ireland channel effort, and it continues to hunt for a “channel star” to run the global program.

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Anyone thinking Apple is simply going to wade its way into the channel may want to rethink that position. Yesterday, news broke that Apple was able to steal a Hewlett-Packard executive to run its British Isles channel, and there are continued rumblings that Apple is looking for star power in a person to run its global channel program.

The Register reported yesterday that Apple appointed Trevor Evans, a HP Personal Systems Group channel sales director, to run its nascent channel efforts in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  Evans, a well-known HP channel leader on the other side of the pond, was on leave when his resignation came. He’s expected to start at Apple in January.

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On this side of the pond, Apple is continuing its methodical search for a channel executive star to build and run its global business channel program. Recruiters have been knocking on the doors and ringing the phones of some of the best known channel executives and major vendors, looking for a person with proven channel experience, a record of results and marketability.

From what channel chiefs tell Channelnomics, the person Apple is looking for is not just someone who can build a channel program, but lend immediate credibility to Apple’s channel efforts and ambitions.

Apple needs a strong channel leader, given its apathetic and cloistered approach to channel relationships.

Solution providers tell Channelnomics that Apple is notoriously difficult to even contact about becoming a partner. Even as Apple pursues channel development, its partner application page carries a notice saying it’s not accepting applications.

Those select solution providers that have broken through the “iWall” describe a review and approval process that's laborious and expensive. One solution provider tells Channelnomics that it applied to become an iPad reseller. Apple first made it go through a process of selling Mac desktops. It wasn’t able to sell iPads until it had reached a certain threshold for desktop sales.

Apple is making significant efforts to reach the channel. It’s recently kicked off a mobility training program with HTG Peer Groups. And earlier this year it contracted with OnForce to provide professional services and support to SMBs buying PCs and tablets through Apple stores. What’s interesting is how Apple restricts its development and service partners from talking about these engagements; those who partner with Apple are subject to strict confidentiality terms that come with severe penalties for violations. That doesn’t bode well for the channel, which is quite chatty about experiences and efforts with vendors.

The entry of Apple in the channel shouldn’t come as a surprise. Businesses have steadily increased adoption and support of Apple products as users demand Macs, iPhones and, increasingly, iPads, in the workplace. Many major vendors, such as Juniper Networks and Intel, have long offered employees the option of a Mac or Windows PC. Apple has always serviced the business market, even if it only wants to talk about consumer sales.

Yet it’s the consumer sales the pose the problem for Apple.  The continued success of the iPad and iPhone means Apple will soon reach saturation in some markets. That means it will have a harder time getting people to buy its products as older products remain serviceable.

The business market serviced by the channel is a potentially lucrative opportunity for Apple. IT decision-makers want the ease of use and lower total cost of ownership that comes with many Apple products. And, users’ desire for Apple means they will drive businesses to drive adoption.

HP CEO Meg Whitman has already indicated that Apple could become the leader in computer sales in 2012, if tablets are counted. If that happens, Apple will also likely top HP and IBM as the world’s largest technology company by gross revenue.

While this is bad news for PC manufacturers, it’s good news for practically all other vendors that can operate independently of the specific endpoint operating system. Security vendors such as SonicWall and WatchGuard have announced new products that protect iOS devices; A whole new segment of mobile device management is springing up in the channel; and networking, storage and virtualization vendors will be able to sell around Apple products.

What Apple needs is a strong channel leader and a well-rounded channel program to build the relationships with complementary vendors and solution providers to drive rapid adoption through the channel.

Channelnomics knows the names of a few channel chiefs Apple’s been talking with, but we’re keeping mum for now. Suffice to say, the short list will be very short given Apple’s stringent criteria.

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