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Lenovo Accelerate 2019 stresses vertical integration, process agility and people

Experience tells these Lenovo executives that the hard work of driving execution at scale and transforming channels lies ahead

While Lenovo has turned the corner on revenue, profits will come from driving scale through the retooled operation. Known challenges outlined during the event include:

  • Services: Lenovo DCG services at the time of the acquisition of the IBM x86 line consisted of holding the paper while IBM executed on the service. From there, Lenovo has built its own break-fix programs, added consulting and education, and aspired to build out vertical solutions through collaborative work with partners and customers. Tuck-in acquisitions to rapidly acquire repeatable frameworks and subject matter expertise will likely arise as Lenovo goes about the painstaking process of creating a people-centric business necessary for solution assembly and maintenance and management.
  • Direct go-to-market pivots: Lenovo will organize its selling functions around solution stacks in addition to general territory reps. To gain the hearts and minds of the traditional territory reps, the company has added monitoring of storage and services attach to quotes to break the existing sales mindset of thinking in terms of server units. Lenovo has multiple transformational initiatives occurring within its go-to-market motions, in some ways reminiscent of the old Hewlett-Packard Co. selling motions of the 1980s and 1990s. Lenovo plans to have more dedicated selling units with deeper domain expertise around:
    • Targeting the hyperscale market where the lead sales point of contact needs deep engineering expertise to engage in capturing the design requirements for custom-engineered systems.
    • Adding dedicated storage reps to push harder to scale out the storage product cross-sell opportunities from the NetApp alliance and China-based joint venture. This team will be led by Dave Mooney, who joined Lenovo shortly after the event as the VP of Worldwide Storage Sales. Motruney has over 25 years of storage experience, most recently as the VP of Worldwide OEM Sales for NetApp.
    • Taking a vertical approach to IoT. While not necessarily distinct from competitors, Lenovo will be taking specific multivendor collaborations built on a custom basis and hardening them to be delivered as solution bundles at scale.
    • Leveraging TruScale to entice channel partners to sell through a new business model — reinforced by arming its channel partners with the entire ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile stacks behind this push.
  • Channel first: Many a firm has made this claim before, and Lenovo is no different. Lenovo claims it has made the activity revenue neutral and has put teeth into the policy regarding noncompliance among its direct sales force. Time will tell in terms of its success.
  • “As a Service” monetizations: Lenovo’s established Device as a Service (DaaS) commercial offering is being replicated for the data center in what it calls its TruScale Infrastructure Services program. Lenovo makes great pains to assert TruScale is not just a new form of operating leases. For DaaS, Lenovo will take back underutilized devices and bring them back into service when the customer requires. For the data center, the service arguably provides true public cloud consumption opex provisioning by only charging for the amount of data storage used on premises. Future service innovations outlined under nondisclosure agreement (NDA) make this offering a service to watch from Lenovo over the next several years.

Interchangeably called Lenovo Transform 3.0 and Lenovo Accelerate, the three-day combined customer and analyst event made several things abundantly clear. Lenovo believes it has turned an operational corner, that it has the right people and processes in place, and now all Lenovo has to do to drive growth and lift margins is to execute on these hardening operational best practices at scale across an ever-expanding array of technology assets including a growing contribution of software and services to offset persistent macroeconomic pressures on hardware margins.

Commoditization economics and emerging workloads disrupt the data center landscape

Commoditization mitigation strategies require business model shifts and an ever-watchful eye on exascale cloud entrants

Volume or value?

Toward the end of 2018 in the data center market, two distinct vendor strategies emerged: Vendors began either increasing sales volume or selling lower-volume but higher-value solutions. TBR believes that in 1H19, now that vendors have determined their camps, they will begin to craft competitive strategies directly targeting specific peers. For example, Dell EMC has publicly stated its intent to increase its market share in both servers and storage, and we believe the vendor will target key competitors to gain this share. Similarly, Lenovo’s large-scale data center investments imply significant competitive goals.

In February Lenovo unveiled TruScale Infrastructure Services. This directly competes with Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) GreenLake and Dell EMC’s Cloud Flex. It also addresses customer demand for private cloud infrastructure that is financed like a public cloud offering. TruScale is available for Lenovo’s entire stack of data center infrastructure solutions. In April Lenovo unveiled a server portfolio refresh, which likely reinforces its TruScale solutions and increases its competitive edge against Dell EMC and HPE.

TBR believes that during the next few months, Dell EMC and HPE will fight back against Lenovo’s marketing tactics to preserve market share. HPE has an advantage in that it is pursuing value-centric data center sales, so it is likely willing to concede less-profitable sales to Lenovo or Dell EMC. Dell EMC’s stated objective to increase market share in servers and storage will increase competition between the company and Lenovo as both aim to scoop up HPE’s lower-margin customers.

ODM participation heats up as commoditization drives provisioning simplicity

Because data center hardware becomes increasingly commoditized as software capabilities become more advanced, we believe data center vendors will increasingly find themselves competing against ODMs, especially for larger deals. Smaller customers will still show a preference for OEMs as they need the additional software and services provided with OEM data center solutions. Lenovo’s manufacturing capabilities give the company an advantage in the hyperscale space, where Lenovo’s past financials illustrated some successes, and enable the vendor to differentiate from its OEM peers.

On the hyperscale front, ODMs are rising to dominance, but OEMs such as Lenovo remain a force to be reckoned with in the space. As cloud becomes an increasingly central piece of IT environments, public cloud providers seek ways to expand their environments as cost-effectively as possible to preserve profits. TBR believes very large enterprises are likely to explore leveraging hyperscale vendors as well for their on-premises environments if it is cost-effective.

Consumption-based pricing models tie to the commoditization march

TBR’s Hyperconverged Platforms Customer Research continues to highlight the correlation between private cloud installments and HCI. Most recent findings indicated that 80% of respondents leveraged their HCI purchase for a private or hybrid cloud environment. Since customers are already turning to HCI for cloud, it is a logical next step for vendors to price HCI like a public cloud solution to deepen the competition.

With their channel partners also engaged, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo are the three main players in the consumption-based pricing space. Their solutions are not limited to just HCI, but HCI is one of the solutions that can be purchased in this manner. The key value proposition of consumption-based pricing for data center vendors is the ability to bundle software and services into hardware consumption-based deals. This is likely to boost the margin on the solutions. Further, it guarantees larger deals, as in many cases, these consumption-based pricing deals lock customers in for a predetermined duration that has early termination penalties.