Why Ecosystems are Essential for Growing Partnerships: an Interview with Tech Data’s Vice President of Data, AI and IoT

Originally Published on Cloudera

In this edition of Partner Perspective, Cloudera’s own Rachel Tuller sits down with Craig Smith, Vice President of Data, AI and IoT at Tech Data. They discuss the importance of business partnerships, the pandemic’s impact on the tech industry, and Craig’s predictions about the industry going forward.

Tech Data is one of the largest technology distributors globally. They have a revenue of almost $36 billion and employ 14,000 workers from all over the world. Craig has worked in the industry for nearly thirty years; he began by developing a small specialist system integrator, which evolved quickly into him working within digital transformation. It was here that he developed his passion for helping businesses to innovate and transform themselves. Craig’s role at Tech Data is to help work with thousands of tech providers. This, he says, gives the company fantastic insight into the breadth of the technology industry and its market.


Tech Data has an extensive list of vendor partners. The company is committed to connecting its resellers to technology partners that are leading the way in the industry. 


Rachel: At Cloudera, we know the value of working with our channel partners, what does that mean to you and your role today? 

Craig: In recent years, the channel has become more complex. It’s no longer linear where customers buy from a reseller, buy from a distributor, buy from tech vendors. It’s much more interconnected; we all need to work together to deliver the best for customers. Tech Data has worked hard over the last four to five years at the heart of the ecosystem to bring together the best partnerships to deliver the best to customers.


We’ll work with anyone, from giant companies, to more nuanced companies with more specialized expertise. We also focus on resellers with great relationships with customers. Any business selling or taking tech to market, large or small, can exist within our partner ecosystem.


What opportunities do you think it brings?

Companies have been buying solutions, not technology. It’s no longer enough as a vendor to have the best technology. Solutions are made from technology from many vendors and implemented by several organizations with cross-domain expertise.

We need the right partnerships in place as well as technology. Tech Data is based on partnerships from producers to consumers. We integrate the ecosystems together. We call this solution aggregation: bringing together multi-tech solutions to market, and solution orchestration takes it one step further by enabling our ecosystem to create and publish their solutions back out to the Tech Data ecosystem.

This approach oversimplifies and accelerates the process of getting technology to market and provides our ecosystem access to our customers’ solutions.

Like all other businesses, Tech Data has had to adapt to the pandemic. As a company, they are continuously following and updating their business continuity plan, focusing on protecting the health and wellbeing of their staff.

How has the company otherwise faced the challenge of the pandemic?


Tech Data had to get 6,000 employees online working overnight. At first, we were worried about not having enough contact. Over time, however, that worry swung the other way to overcontact. People assumed that everyone was always at their laptops. People had zoom fatigue. There was no time for reflection time and action follow-ups.


We tackled this by educating people on who needed to be at certain meetings and having employees blocking out time in their diaries for follow up time and reflection. We also had socials where there was a no work talk rule.


How are companies dealing with the gap between them, the customers and the partners?

The pandemic has brought forward the acceleration in the adoption of supporting digital businesses.

Company employees needed access to a lot of their data, so hybrid cloud strategies have been implemented more. Companies have been skeptical of public clouds in the past but are now seeing them as a tool to improve their foundations. They’re seeing how they can utilize the clouds to accelerate business and differentiate themselves from competitors.

Retailers, for example, have had to open online stores and provide excellent online service to keep customers satisfied. I think, going forward, this should be maintained, but the old way of working and the new should be hybridized in order to find a new balance.

One of Tech Data’s missions is to satisfy the world’s ever-evolving demand for technology.

Rachel asks Craig what he thinks the digital landscape of Tech Data will look like in the future. What do you think our partners need to start, stop, and keep?

Traditional methods will come back, but the digital landscape will continue to evolve and change.

We’ve realized exposure to the cloud changes the way people are buying. Businesses are now more focused on the outcome rather than the technology. It doesn’t matter what their email is run on; what matters is that they can email at all.

Ecosystems that are developing to bring together relevant partners are growing in importance because that allows us to bring together complex solutions.

Where do you see things going as a hybrid cloud company?

I see this affecting our business outcomes. Now there’s momentum around bringing together fundamental blocks of tech, and producers of that tech want to be less concerned with tech portfolios.

There is a rapid acceleration of converging data platforms that’ll happen over the next couple of years. We’re seeing vendors buying vendors to build out portfolios.  

Quick fire “on the volley” round – what’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the following words?    

Learning: Learning for me would be enablement or skills development. We always need more skilled people.

Trust: We talk a lot about trusted adviser. So, for us that means helping our ecosystem of partners to evolve and take advantage of market opportunities digital transformation has offered them. 

Sales: Maybe an obvious one but the first thing that comes to mind is money.

Holiday: I need one. That’s probably the first thing that comes to mind.

To see how Tech Data is working to bring the best solutions to their customers and to find out more about their mission, you can visit their website: https://www.techdata.com/