At its ‘Forward IV’ user conference last month, along with other significant partner announcements like its work with Accenture, RPA market leader UiPath singled out its new connection with Ingram Micro as significant. But who is Ingram Micro, and how has the relationship–which started in India in 2018, but only became a global arrangement earlier this year–been progressing?
We ask the ‘who is Ingram Micro’? question, as enterprises may not be that familiar with the company, which is a distributor of IT products (its own preferred term for its role is ‘value-added distributor’, VAD). Essentially, Ingram Micro works with channel IT vendors and helps them win and service contracts by not just supplying third-party software and hardware technology from big vendors, but also services and support.
Ingram Micro is one of the bigger VADs out there, recording $49 billion in 2020 revenue: it claims to be the world’s largest provider of technology solutions and mobility, cloud, platform and supply chain solutions. In operation since 1979, and with a somewhat complicated business history that includes stints a public company, it’s now owned by a US investment company, Platinum, which bought it in July for over $7bn.
So, with 35,000-plus employees and operations in 60 countries, more than 170,000 customers and over 1,600 vendors partnerships, the logic of UiPath wanting to work with such a big VAD name seems obvious. But what we wanted to know more about was Ingram Micro’s motivation for the link-up: there was a very interesting comment in the May announcement about RPA being both “an important component within a company’s digital transformation game plan” and “a great sales wedge for channel partners”.
It turns out that the two companies started working together in November 2020 so they would be able to go live with developed offerings in Q2 this year. Accepting that if the global relationship only started in earnest six months ago and so there might not be too many specifics yet on market success, RockingRobots was still able to get some insights into this intriguing RPA-channel relationship from two Ingram Micro personnel working on growing RPA, its Netherlands-based EMEA Director of Professional Services Geert Visser, and his colleague for Business Manager Enterprise Software EMEA, Michael van Buren. The following is an edited version of our conversation.
What do your job titles mean, guys?
Michael: “I work with our global partner engagement team—basically, that’s the team responsible for the relationships with our key strategic vendors, ‘key’ either in size or technology. I am primarily responsible for our key vendors in the enterprise software space, and it is my responsibility to engage in and manage the relationship on a business level.”
Geert: “At the end of last year we set up a whole new business unit to provide partners with all the material they need to launch professional services, and I’m responsible for creating and launching those. We also have a very large development team in the Philippines I co-ordinate with.”
What is the Ingram Micro of 2021 all about?
Michael: “After 40 successful years, we’re evolving and making a transformation from traditional volume or core solutions towards what we call the advanced solution space. That means working with vendors in more complicated markets to help partners, in combination with professional services around such advanced solutions.”
Great. So why RPA?
Michael: “One of the markets we identified as very promising—what we call ‘hyper automation’—is developing rapidly. We see that as both an opportunity for Ingram Micro, but also an opportunity for our partners, as we see a lot of business cases within our partner base that can leverage RPA/hyper automation.”
Geert: “RPA is a space that we can really leverage existing relationship and become more relevant. For us, it’s a very good thing that we can fulfil UiPath’s need for global distribution.”
You anticipated my next question: why UiPath? Obviously, there are many RPA vendors.
Michael: “You mentioned Forward IV, but it’s also important to note we presented in Las Vegas as an RPA customer, not just a UiPath distributor. We’ve actually been using UiPath and RPA for the last two to three years, so that really played a role in us noticing that automaton is a very important technology.”
That’s interesting–that you are a UiPath user, too. How’s RPA helping a global company like Ingram Micro?
Michael: “I can tell you that we have over 120 RPA processes developed and deployed internally now, in processes from external system data transfer, sales automation, order fulfilment and order processing. In all those use cases, UiPath has automated very, very high proportions of what used to be very manual processes.”
What’s UiPath getting out of this?
Geert: “We see the relationship as helping both parties: developing the current existing UiPath channel base with our global cloud infrastructure, and the recruitment of new partners for it from our customer base. A lot of UiPath partners provide services, but they are not always a big organization—now, they can leverage our extensive professional services and things like our finance programmes to augment their resources.”
So, how has the relationship developed since the announcement?
Michael: “It’s working out very well. We had to be concerned about a lot of operational things at the start because we need to make sure that the partners that transition to Ingram Micro got the red-carpet treatment. That meant we had to train a lot of the people on the systems that UiPath offers partners, but now we’re now going to the second stage, where we’ll have to start to develop current UiPath partners and recruit new ones. So, it’s working out very well, and given us a lot of visibility in the market. A great use case that I personally take a lot of interest in is a Cisco partner project for a very large Italian retailer that has already reduced a key process from two weeks to hours.”
Finally, a lot of people fear RPA, especially workers who fear their job will go. Your view, as an RPA vendor?
Michael: “A lot of people used to push on the staff reductions, yes. But our partners now say that a much better sales message is the efficiency of what RPA can bring, especially in improving robustness. There will always be sceptics, but if a technology is right for business, it will always get adopted eventually.”
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