In December, F5 Networks launched Guardian Fast Start, a global training program for F5's Silver and Platinum Unity Partners to deliver advanced F5 implementations to their customers. The Guardian Fast Start Program aligns with the Guardian Professional Services Program, which F5 launched about two years ago. The Fast Start program is designed to speed up the process by which F5 partners can become Guardian partners.
"The objectives of [the Guardian Fast Start program] are to accelerate -- through incentives -- the pace by which partners become Guardian Program approved," said Jim Ritchings, senior vice president of worldwide channels at F5 Networks.
While F5 has its own consulting and professional services organization in place, the company has no desire to massively scale out the organization, he said. The company instead has embarked upon a strategy through its Guardian and Fast Start programs to enable more top-level F5 partners to do professional services work themselves.
Ritchings cited the numerous trends influencing the IT industry, such as cloud, varying consumption models, utility-based offerings, mobility and the dissolving of the IT perimeter , saying that "all of those trends really put a lot of pressure on vendors like ourselves to make sure that we're fully enabling our partners."
The Guardian Fast Start program offers a post-sales technical development roadmap that focuses on F5 training, technical certification, professional shadowing and delivery. "It's a commitment from the top down in our company to say we want to make sure that our partners are well-positioned to do this consulting work, to do this implementation work, to basically write all of this business on their paper. … Our partners are now making more services dollars on our business, where, years ago, it was primarily just profit coming from products."
The program's professional shadowing gives F5 partners' engineers and consultants a firsthand understanding of the implementation process. Partners in the Guardian Fast Start program will select engineers or consultants to travel with F5's own staff and participate in implementations. "They literally sit with [our staff] as integration is being developed, as projects are being executed. So they'll go into the customers. They'll go into our development centers. They'll go into our offices -- wherever the work is being done, remotely or onsite. And they will spend time elbow to elbow with our own consultants so they can learn through that process how we do it." Participating engineers and consultants will also review F5's project plans and statement of work documentation.
According Steve Rogers, director of the infrastructure practice at Nexus IS Inc., a Dimension Data-owned solution provider and F5 Gold partner, some vendors launch partner programs around a new technology but fail to offer formal training, onboarding or acceleration. "So, in essence, you're sort of meeting in the channel in front of clients, where you're trying to work together and figure out the best practices," he said. The Guardian program successfully formalizes all the best practices around service delivery of F5's advanced technology, he said.
The exposure to the technology is critical, too, Rogers added, pointing to the mandatory shadowing phase as a valuable portion of the Fast Start Program. Without getting that introduction to the technology in the field, "what you tend to see happening with partners is … their first customer deployment [of the new technology] tends to be very sketchy."
Rogers also believes the Guardian Fast Start accreditation lets Nexus stand apart in F5's partner community. "From a partner's perspective, it really is important to differentiate ourselves. There's a lot of people who want to sell F5 technology," he said. "What's great about this is … I can actually say, 'We're an F5 Guardian delivery program partner.' And that really helps differentiate ourselves from our competition."
While the educational development of partners' staff is important, Ritchings noted the drawbacks to actually doing it. "We understand that to take engineers out of the field or to take engineers off of customer implementations is not a decision easily made by our partners," he said. "To pull them out of the field, give them classroom education, have them go through certification and testing, have them go and shadow our own professional services consultants -- all of that requires time for resources that are traditionally billable."
The Guardian Fast Start aims to fix this problem by offering what are essentially sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs) for successfully completing each step of the process. "If they pass certification, we're basically paying them SPIFs -- back-end SPIFs. If they participate in shadowing with F5 consultants, we're paying them with SPIFs again. And if they deliver a proposal on their own paper for an F5 implementation and they get that contract, we'll actually pay them a SPIF there, as well," he said.
"We're not eliminating all of the costs [of the education], but we're meeting the partners well past halfway," he said. By incentivizing the enablement process, Ritching believes F5 will see many more of its Unity partners become Guardian approved. In fact, F5 has set its sights on tripling the number of Guardian partners that they have in the program as of December 2014 by September 2015.