Ingram Micro Is Betting Big That Partners Who Talk to It Less Will Love It More

I have a confession to make about Ingram Micro’s Xvantage platform. The first few times I reported on it last year, I didn’t get it.

Every time I used familiar terms like portal or marketplace to describe it, Sanjib Sahoo, Ingram’s executive vice president and chief digital officer, gently corrected me. It’s not a tool, he would say. It’s a digital twin, or a digital experience.

Isn’t that just a different way of saying the same thing, I silently thought.

Well, it’s not, and I don’t think I fully appreciated the difference until this week at Ingram’s Global Cloud & Innovation Summit in Las Vegas. Xvantage is indeed more than a portal or marketplace. It’s the centerpiece of an unconventional take on what resellers and vendors want from a distributor two-plus decades into the 21st century and a big, strategic bet on how to satisfy that desire.

“We are transforming Ingram to become a platform company,” Sahoo told me this week. “It’s the difference between having a digital platform supporting the business versus having a platform become the business.”

Ask a distributor to explain their success and they’ll often tell you it’s the personal attention their partners get when they call an account rep. Ingram is wagering that its partners would rather avoid calls altogether. At a time when consumer brands like Amazon and Netflix are training people to demand personalized, self-serve experiences, Ingram is building its future around a personalized, self-serve platform.

“We need to be able to deliver a business-to-consumer experience in a business-to-business environment,” said Ingram CEO Paul Bay (pictured) in a keynote address this week.

Bay made clear just how far distributors like Ingram are from realizing that goal today. Decide you want pizza while watching a football game, he noted, and you can place the order from your phone, track its progress in real time, and never speak a word to anyone but the delivery person.

“Unfortunately, in a multi-hundred-million-dollar industry, you can’t track an order without having some human interaction,” Bay said. “It’s not acceptable.”

Enter Xvantage, a customizable, AI-infused “digital experience platform” that links vendors, resellers, and Ingram employees across a shared pool of product, customer, order, and invoice data. Users can initiate even complex, multi-supplier orders in the system without touching a phone, see exactly where the products they bought are at any given moment on a map, and get continually refreshed ETAs any time they want with a few clicks.

“Everything’s pretty seamless,” says Terry Hill, a customer success manager at Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Ingram partner and MSP RedNight Consulting. The system even automates deal registration and special vendor pricing, notes her boss, RedNight President Chris Ploessel.

“That’s a big time saving,” he says.

Effective this week, moreover, Xvantage has replaced the Ingram Micro Cloud Marketplace, so users can combine hardware, software, and cloud solutions on one everything-as-a-service invoice. According to Ploessel, that’s a big, much-needed change.

“The messaging was always ‘just one Ingram,’ but it was kind of two,” he says of the distributor’s core and cloud businesses. “Now we’re really starting to see those things kind of collide together.”

True to Ingram’s intuition, Ploessel looks forward to spending less time on the phone with account managers. “I love the Ingram sales reps and the tech team, but if I can do something in the platform without having to engage them, I can be more efficient,” he says.

Eric Long, president of TeraCloud, a national cloud solution provider headquartered in Dallas, agrees. He’s known his Ingram rep for over 15 years and considers her a friend, but gratefully anticipates having fewer, more meaningful conversations with her going forward.

“I don’t want to burden her for day-to-day stuff,” he says.

It’s a sentiment that validates Ingram’s somewhat paradoxical conviction that partners who spend less time talking with it will feel more closely connected with it.

“We’re still in a relationship business,” Bay said at the conference this week. It’s just that the meaning of “relationship” has changed in an age when people routinely say they have one with a website.

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Two things Xvantage isn’t

1. A replacement for Ingram’s CloudBlue offering. That platform, which over 180 businesses worldwide use to host cloud storefronts, is unaffected by the launch of Xvantage. “If you want to do business with Ingram Micro you use Xvantage. If you want to do business through Ingram Micro, you use CloudBlue,” Sahoo explains. That said, he adds, Ingram has long-term plans to import underlying Xvantage technologies into CloudBlue and to build customizable storefront functionality into Xvantage.

2. Mobile-friendly. Or not until Ingram’s forthcoming Xvantage smartphone app ships, anyway. “We will announce it pretty soon,” Sahoo says.

Three final tips on innovation from Ingram

“Global Cloud & Innovation Summit” is the new name of an event formerly known as the Ingram Micro Cloud Summit. The change reflects a recognition within Ingram that what businesses really want these days is the innovation made possible by digital transformation, and achieving digital transformation takes more than just cloud services alone.

Xvantage makes clear that Ingram has been thinking a lot about its own digital transformation lately too, and as the leader responsible for spearheading that effort, Sahoo (pictured) has a lot of thoughts about innovation. These three apply every bit as much to MSPs and vendors as they do to distributors:

Failure is not an option. It’s an inevitability, so innovators never let fear of failure prevent them from trying something new. “We focus on the 60% chance of success more than the 40% chance of failure,” Sahoo says, adding that Ingram ultimately comes out ahead even when it does fail. “Failure can be a huge way to learn,” he notes.

If you’re going to fail, there’s a right way to do it. And that’s fast. According to Sahoo, the Xvantage team strives to identify and eliminate imperfections quickly. “We actually fix problems every day,” he says. “We have a very good continuous feedback loop process. If something doesn’t work, we switch quickly and move on.”

Innovation doesn’t end with success. In fact, it doesn’t end period. “Technology is changing all the time,” Sahoo observes. “We’ll never stop transforming because transformation is a new norm. It doesn’t have a stop sign.”

AI risk profiling and management tools are beginning to arrive

We advised MSPs to start educating clients on both the power of artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT and the very real security risks they pose in a Channelholic post early last month. Recently published web traffic data makes clear just how urgent a requirement that is.

According to a study from digital marketing agency Veza Digital, some 847.8 million unique visitors worldwide accessed OpenAI’s website. That’s a little less than one out of every nine people on Earth, which makes the number a touch questionable, but you get the point. Your customers are probably using large language models and the like. The question is just how safely they’re doing it.

Businesses that want to replace the suspicion that employers are using AI tools at work with hard facts got a little help from ExtraHop this week. The company’s Reveal(x) threat detection platform can now automatically assemble a list of devices and users on a given network that are connecting with OpenAI domains. Per ExtraHop:

“By tracking which devices are connecting to OpenAI domains, identifying the users associated with those devices and the amount of data those devices are sending to those domains, Reveal(x) enables organizations to assess the risk associated with their users’ ongoing use of AI services.”

Palo Alto similarly added functionality to its next-generation firewall that lets users track and manage OpenAI traffic last week. Expect to see a lot of this going forward.

It’s never too early to start learning about managed services

The folks in Eaton Corp.’s power quality unit have been publishing children’s books about life in IT for the last several years. I consistently get a kick out of them, and a new one entitled “What Does an MSP Do?” just arrived. If your kids (or customers…) often ask that same question, this should help clear things up. You, meanwhile, will probably enjoy spotting the easter eggs Eaton’s hidden in there.

Also worth noting

Speaking of AI, Microsoft is using it in Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit to personalize fundraising interactions and more.

Barracuda’s new SASE offering, dubbed SecureEdge, combines SD-WAN, firewall-as-a-service, zero trust network access, and secure web gateway in a solution tailored to MSPs as well as IT departments.

Lenovo has a new suite of managed services for hybrid workforces.

D&H has expanded the range of AMD CPUs and GPUs it distributes.

Veeam has a new general manager and SVP of the Americas. He’s named Shiva Pillay and will presumably be at the VeeamON partner conference in Miami next week. I will too, so see you there, Shiva!

CloudBolt, which has hired a new CEO and CTO in the recent past, has made Pritesh Upadhyay its new CRO.