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Digitise services to meet client's expectations

BUSINESS-to-business (B2B) customers are increasingly expecting a business-to-consumer (B2C) experience, said Lincoln Lincoln, vice-president for the Asia-Pacific and Japan at cloud commerce platform CloudBlue.

Mr Lincoln told The Business Times that the B2C experience is one that entails a streamlined purchasing process, expert advice and superior customer service.

"B2B customers - as do B2C customers - want the ability to consume on-demand services such as Grab and Netflix, and across any device, anytime and anywhere."

Traditionally-run businesses will need to digitise their services to meet these expectations and allow for a scalable business model, he added.

As part of this digital transformation, the As-a-Service (XaaS) business model is seeing rapid growth globally, he noted. XaaS, which refers to the delivery of anything as a service, has been described as any technology delivered over the Internet that used to be delivered onsite. Examples of XaaS include cloud computing services such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.

Small and medium enterprises will stand to benefit most from XaaS as these services allow them to optimise cash flow and lower costs, Mr Lincoln said.

"Paying monthly for services as they are needed, compared to annual or perpetual licenses, frees up cash for investments and growth opportunities while cutting costs in the long run since they are paying only for subscriptions consumed."

CloudBlue, for instance, runs on a XaaS model. Launched in May, it is a new cloud commerce platform and operates as an independent software business of Ingram Micro, a California-based distributor of IT products.

CloudBlue helps service providers - such as telcos, managed service providers and value-added resellers - build, scale and monetise their cloud and digital services.

Mr Lincoln said there are three key components to succeeding in the XaaS era: access to an infinite ecosystem, scalable technology, and go-to-market (GTM) support. "CloudBlue excels in enabling our customers in each of these areas."

CloudBlue provides access to an ecosystem of over 200 cloud services, delivering XaaS through its Application Packaging Standard (APS) technology. APS is a means to integrate a commerce platform with an independent software vendor's XaaS solution.

Mr Lincoln said: "You can negotiate directly with vendors or simplify the process by leveraging our contracts. We provide scalable technology with platform as a service - your way. You can also leverage CloudBlue for provisioning, billing, and channel and subscription management, either fully hosted and managed by us or on premise."

He added that CloudBlue also provides support services in the forms of GTM strategy, as well as enablement and channel optimisation, which range from assisted sales to premium customer support.

Today, CloudBlue's customers include Ingram Micro Cloud, and some 200 global service providers including local telecommunications company StarHub. Globally, the commerce platform also counts Sprint, CenturyLink, Cogeco, Telefonica, O2, Telenor, Telekom Austria, AmericaMovil, Cobweb, GTI, Copaco, PCM and Telstra as its customers.

Mr Lincoln said: "Our customers are XaaS pioneers, leveraging our CloudBlue platform to not only power subscription-based cloud service businesses, but far more than we ever imagined."

He noted that Italian telco TIM, for instance, is using CloudBlue for its end-to-end subscription management for IoT (Internet of Things) with its connected car services in Italy.

In another example, Israeli cloud company Triple C is using CloudBlue to run subscription-based (Internet Protocol television) IPTV in Israel.

Asked what is the best approach for IT service providers that are looking to start or add to their cloud portfolio, he said: "You don't need to offer every cloud service out there. Just make sure that your portfolio solves your customers' problems."

He urged businesses to start with a core bundle of services that meets their customers' needs. "Bundling allows you to increase your margin through a blended solution and reduce attrition since customers are less likely to switch to a different partner when they are purchasing multiple solutions with you."

Having customisable and modular solutions will serve a business well, Mr Lincoln told BT. "No longer are businesses prepared to over-invest in hardware or software that they no longer need, which had led to a lot of wastage previously. Businesses today want to pay only for what they consume.

"CloudBlue has a standard solution bundle that we recommend in each region, and we can help work with you to customise your offerings."

In May, Ingram Micro and Microsoft announced a partnership under which CloudBlue will operate on Microsoft Azure, and Microsoft will co-sell the CloudBlue platform to new service providers joining Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider programme.

When asked what inspired Ingram Micro to launch CloudBlue given that Ingram Micro is a distributor that has not traditionally developed its own intellectual property (IP), Mr Lincoln pointed to the need for transformation to stay relevant and competitive.

"We are always looking ahead to see how we can better serve our customers, and developing our own IP was a clear way to add more value as a partner. We hear feedback first-hand from our partners, and we are able to quickly adapt to business requirements and exceed expectations, since our technology is in our own hands."