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Although thousands of consultancies and systems integrators promise to be able to support Amazon Web Services (AWS) projects, AWS Partner Network (APN) consulting partners have gone through a vetting process to demonstrate their ability to successfully deliver solutions. "Hiring a consultant from the [APN] network ensures that they've invested in their AWS expertise and implies that AWS agrees," said Max Oglesbee, associate partner, head of client strategy at Control Group.
Many experts believe that Amazon has done a good job of demonstrating and improving the value of the APN to meet enterprise needs and consultant providers that can demonstrate business value. The AWS Partner Network has continued to evolve with additional proficiencies and certifications such as life sciences, big data, storage, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP that help ensure subject matter expertise in various domains. APN consulting partners are also able to leverage their insights into AWS use and billing so that enterprises end up with a well architected solution optimized for cost.
Chris Bunch, head of Cloudreach, U.K. & Ireland, explained, "From a client end user perspective, the search functionality is more effective, the competencies more numerous, the partner tiers more detailed and the overall experience slicker. This reflects AWS' continual investment in the [APN] program, along with their general flair for continued innovation across their business."
Solving real problems
Munjeet Singh, principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, said, "In a lot of these partner networks, it is hard to tell if it is just marketing fodder and if there is something behind it." He argues that Amazon has done a good job because of the rigorous certification process. APN providers have to show how they migrated a business to solve real problems. The focus is not just in migrating a partner over but in also transforming a business. This process required significant effort in order to quantify things that had not been captured before, Singh said.
For example, Booz Allen worked with a pharmaceutical company to completely transform the vaccine yield process. Booz Allen was able to stand up the data science architecture inside of Amazon to analyze years of lab results in a way that had not been previously possible. Other pharmaceutical companies are now able to identify not only that a particular vendor has competency, but that it can also evaluate the kinds of transformations a partner has enabled for similar types of businesses.
APN consulting partners also help guide organizations to rethink their business processes in ways an enterprise might not have expected, Singh said. "As enterprises migrate applications to the cloud, they are entering a whole new world in which you can extract insights from the applications that had not been possible before. So securing a consulting partner that doesn't just migrate applications, but understands data science, is critical."
Network consultants have demonstrated they can address the human side of business transformation as well as the technology. This involves ensuring that people within government or an enterprise know how to manage the transformation. A good consulting partner can work with staff to ensure that the transformation focuses on enabling the organization to be competitive in the marketplace rather than eliminating staff, Singh said.
Working through the details
AWS is a relatively new technology that provides freedom for an enterprise to build its infrastructure as it sees fit. Because of this variability, it can be difficult for a nonexpert to tell the difference between a good AWS setup and a bad one since the devil is in the details, said Aater Suleman CEO at Flux7. A good consulting partner provides more information than what can be learned reading the AWS website, and organizations need it provided in a condensed form. APN consulting partners are able to help distill information about the best fit into meaningful guidance for the enterprise. "They need a fire hose of best practices that can only come with experience," Suleman said.
Some consulting partners find that they can provide better outcomes by focusing their solution on the AWS cloud platform. Suleman explained, "Previously we supported a variety of clouds but found that we were not always able to provide as high-quality outcomes as we'd like to because the platforms were unstable or unpredictable in various ways that only architects would notice. By working closely with AWS and AWS technology providers, we are better able to deliver automated, self-healing environments that meet the needs of enterprises."
Narrowing the field
The APN guide can also help an enterprise narrow down the field of consultants with specific skills and experience. Top tier partners can be sorted as well as partners with specific competencies, such as managed service providers, an IT services provider that assumes responsibility for a specific set of services or functions for the enterprise. Cloudreach's Bunch expects Amazon to add to the list of competencies over time. He added, "The assurance is that AWS has verified the skills and experience of the organization, which for consultancy organizations includes checks on customer satisfaction and individual training and certification efforts amongst other items."
The partner program can also make it easier to incorporate services from multiple providers to meet an enterprise's desired goals by making it easier to identify potential providers. Consulting partners help enterprises navigate the complex landscape of solutions available through the AWS Marketplace, which includes over 1,900 options in 23 categories. For instance, an enterprise might procure consultancy, migration and operational services from a consulting partner and, at the same time, search the market for software vendors providing services around enterprise backup, business intelligence and database services.
Considerations for selecting a consulting partner
Cloudreach's Bunch recommends enterprises ask the following questions in order to narrow down a short list of potential partners:
What is the APN partner tier? (Bunch suggests only considering Premier (top tier) partners in their region with a global reach.)
How many certifications does the partner have and what grade have they achieved?
What is the coverage of certifications across teams?
Do they have experienced, certified engineers, architects, project managers and operations engineers?
Do they have an established methodology relevant to the work being undertaken?
Can they explain it clearly?
Does it fit with how your organization would like to approach the opportunity?
It's also vital to talk to the implementation team, which can help assess the cultural fit with the enterprise. "Never underestimate the importance of this, as the teams will need to work closely together on any project," Bunch advised.
When considering how the service is priced, don't get hung up on the lowest prices. "In consulting environments especially," Bunch warned, "be wary of the cheapest provider. It's likely that their staff doesn't cost very much to retain (likely a concern in this strong cloud market), they're not very busy as an organization (a worry in itself) or they want to 'buy' your business in order to learn the skills they need for future clients (clearly disastrous)."