Like just about every tech conference this year, Lenovo Tech World 2020 took place as an online event. But coming as it did toward the end of the year—and this being a year that saw both unprecedented challenges and opportunities—Lenovo Tech World had a unique vantage point. The event was able to be equal parts reflection on the past months and anticipation of what the future will hold, as we verge on 2021 and the possibility of a post-pandemic world that has been dramatically changed. “Technology has never been so essential and even intimate to humanity. It has a larger role to play to reboot and reshape future economic activities,” said Lenovo Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing during his Lenovo Tech World keynote Wednesday. “This is the time for us to work with our commercial and enterprise customers and partners together to shape the future.”
From Lenovo’s channel commitment, to expanding the boundaries for client devices to big-name customer wins for the Data Center Group—and more—here are our eight biggest takeaways from Lenovo Tech World 2020.
Commitment to partners
Lenovo Tech World 2020 served as both the company’s customer and partner events for the year, and so Lenovo’s messages were delivered to both audiences—sometimes directly to one or the other. Prominent on display was Lenovo’s continued focus on working with the channel to drive growth across both the company’s intelligent devices and data center segments.
“Our commitment to our critical channel partners is second to none,” said Kirk Skaugen (pictured), who is executive vice president of Lenovo as well as president of the company’s Data Center Group, during remarks at Lenovo Tech World 2020. “We’ve on-boarded over 1,000 new channel partners in the first quarter alone. And we’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on new tools already launched this year to further simplify and improve our ease of doing business with you.”
For instance, using new AI engines, Lenovo is now delivering pricing to partners “in seconds versus minutes or days,” Skaugen said. “Simply put, Lenovo is committed to being the channel’s most trusted data center partner.”
On the intelligent devices side, top executives made an analogous commitment to partners. “Whether you’re a new Authorized partner or you’re a longstanding Platinum partner, we are not going to take that relationship for granted,” said Matthew Zielinski, president of Lenovo North America’s Intelligent Devices Group, in an interview just ahead of Lenovo Tech World. “We are with you every step of the way to go after new business and also business that is less about the financial aspects and more about doing the right thing for those that need technology the most.”
Even as component shortages create supply issues for products such as Chromebooks, Lenovo is “going to control what we can control,” Zielinski said.
“We can control our engagement, we can control our tenacity, we can control our programs, we can control our investments. And we’re going to be focused on all of those things to make sure that we stay on the growth tear that we’ve been fortunate enough to achieve these last couple years,” Zielinski said. “I’ve always said that we want this generation of Lenovo to be the best Lenovo our partners and customers have ever known.”
“A matter of life and death”
During the North America leadership session at Lenovo Tech World 2020, Zielinski shared several anecdotes of how Lenovo and partners went above and beyond to supply hospitals with critically needed devices during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. In one instance, Zielinski said he received a Friday evening call from a partner about a dire need for PCs at a temporary hospital in New York City. Lenovo employees in North Carolina mobilized at 2 a.m. on Saturday to rework and test the systems, and the company then hired drivers to deliver them to the hospital. In another instance, at a health-care provider in Minnesota, Lenovo quickly deployed tablets to enable remote conversations between patients and providers, at a time when PPE was in short supply. “I think for the first time ever in our business, it feels like delivering for our customers has been a matter of life and death,” Zielinski said.
As another example, Microserve—the end-user computing provider for all of British Columbia’s hospitals—worked closely with Lenovo to supply the hospitals with crucial devices during the early stages of the pandemic. Keeping hospitals running meant equipping many staff members with laptops to work from home, said Sylvain Jacob, vice president of sales for Microserve, in an interview with CRN USA. “We were able to find out from the Lenovo team what was in-ﬂight coming into the country in order for us to manage the demand,” Jacob said. “It was really that collaboration between our two teams that made this transition very successful.”
Data Center Group supply chain strength
A key during the pandemic has been Lenovo’s supply chain strength. “As [partners have] experienced challenges in their vendor supply chain, our fully integrated supply chain has actually helped us,” said Kevin Hooper (pictured), president and general manager for Lenovo’s North America Data Center Group, in an interview with CRN USA ahead of Lenovo Tech World. “We’ve gotten calls from channel partners that had deals on the table that said, ‘Your competition can’t supply this. Could you?’ And we’ve taken those deals.”
During his remarks at Lenovo Tech World, Skaugen pointed to a recent ranking from research firm Gartner that rated Lenovo at No. 4 among high-tech supply chains, in Gartner’s 2020 Supply Chain Top 25. And Lenovo’s Data Center Group is working to improve its supply chain even further, he said.
“We, as we speak, are adding new manufacturing sites in Hungary and Guadalajara, and expanding our Monterrey, Mexico, facility—reconfirming our global resource and local delivery strategy. With these investments, we will be even more nimble—able to reposition supply and rebalance production worldwide, from designing and building our own motherboards to doing complete system and rack integration services,” Skaugen said. “We now have the ability to build products end to end, do motherboard manufacturing from China to Mexico, deliver made in the USA in our North Carolina facility, and supply the Europe, Middle East and Africa region with our largest in-house factory coming online shortly, in early 2021.”
Expanding boundaries for client devices
Lenovo “continues to expand the boundaries of client, and introduce new types and forms,” Yang said during Lenovo Tech World 2020—pointing to the ThinkSmart View (pictured) as one example. At the start of the year, Lenovo unveiled the ThinkSmart View, a desktop device that features an 8-inch touch screen for taking part in Microsoft Teams video and audio calls.
The launch came just before Teams usage surged with the shift to remote work in March, and partners such as Calgary, Alberta-based Long View Systems are reporting strong demand for the ThinkSmart View. “From what I’m aware of, that’s very unique in the market to have a Teams-specific device,” said Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of strategic alliances for Long View Systems. “So that’s been a growth area for us.” This month, Lenovo also expanded the ThinkSmart View portfolio to include a version of the device for Zoom meetings.
Meanwhile, Lenovo is in “in category creation mode” with the ThinkPad X1 Fold, the industry’s first mainstream foldable PC, said Pascal Bourguet, vice president and chief category and marketing officer for Lenovo North America’s Intelligent Devices Group. The X1 Fold, which opened for preorder a month ago, features a 13.3-inch display that provides an array of usage modes thanks to its foldability. The X1 Fold is also highly portable, weighing 2.2 pounds, and features optional 5G connectivity.
Where Partner Hub is going next
One of Lenovo’s biggest recent channel investments is the Lenovo Partner Hub, which launched in late July. The site unifies all tools, portals and business lines for solution providers, and covers both Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group and Data Center Group. The Partner Hub integrates everything from the performance dashboard, to order-tracking capabilities, to deal registration and pricing, all in one location. Looking ahead, executives said Partner Hub will be an area of continued investment and improvement.
“We’re going to continue to focus on the Lenovo Partner Hub,” said Rob Cato, vice president of North America channels in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group, in an interview ahead of Lenovo Tech World. “This is not an endpoint—it’s a starting of a journey with our partners. So we’re going to continue to invest in making that a robust tool, and really the place to get all of your partner information.”
Updates to the Lenovo Partner Hub now in the works will improve the speed for pricing, said Jeff Taylor, executive director for North America channel strategy and operations in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group. Other upcoming enhancements will focus on providing useful data back to partners. “The real beneﬁts are going to come from our ability to aggregate big data, and then present it back out to our partners to really accelerate and change their sales motion,” said Taylor, adding that partners can expect more updates on this from Lenovo in coming weeks and months.
Data Center customer wins
Lenovo’s Data Center Group made some of the biggest news out of Tech World 2020 with announcements of two big-name customer wins. SAP has extended its customer and partner relationship with Lenovo with a new offering—the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, customer edition—that uses Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure Services, as well as the company’s ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile servers and storage. “Together we can now bring the intelligent enterprise and S/4 within the reach of every customer within their own data center,” said Peter Pluim, executive vice president and global head of Enterprise Cloud Services at SAP, in comments during Lenovo Tech World 2020.
Meanwhile, Lenovo also unveiled a new customer and partner relationship with DreamWorks Animation, which chose Lenovo for updating the legacy DreamWorks data center earlier this year. The update has included deployment of Lenovo’s Neptune liquid cooling technology, and demonstrates the performance and scaling capabilities of Lenovo’s data center technologies, executives said. For instance, each movie involves a half-billion digital files and essentially, “our movies are entirely data,” said Kate Swanborg, senior vice president of technology communications and strategic alliances at DreamWorks, in comments during Lenovo Tech World.
Lenovo’s handling of working with DreamWorks on the data center upgrade during the pandemic was “impressive,” Swanborg said while speaking to Skaugen during the event. “A year ago we started talks with you guys about installing your new warm water cooling servers in our data center. And then the pandemic hit, and we thought, well maybe we won’t be able to move forward. But not you guys, you were all over it. Not only were your supply chains intact, you were able to give us personalized, customized service and install a brand-new server technology in our data center in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Focus on new customer acquisition
One priority for the coming year in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group is acquiring new customers, executives said. “As the No. 3 market-share company in North America from a PC standpoint, we need to continue to grow our business,” said Cato (pictured) in an interview just ahead of Lenovo Tech World. “We need to have a strong channel in order to do that. So we’re going to continue to reward our partners and help them, from a profitability standpoint, to be very successful when they help us bring new customers into Lenovo. We have a new program [for this] that we’re calling Empower. It’s a bonus incentive for our partners focused on acquiring new customers who haven’t purchased from Lenovo in the last 12 months. Right now, with the way that the market is in North America, we certainly want to reward partners for finding new business opportunities.”
Lenovo debuted the new Empower incentive Oct. 1, which provides an extra 2 percent bonus for partners on sales to a new customer or for sales to previous customers that haven’t purchased in the past 12 months. Small and midsize businesses are one focus area for the Empower initiative.
“SMB is critical to us. Our growth in SMB for the last two years has been astounding,” Zielinski said. “We clearly want to continue to work our way to a solid No. 2 in SMB. And that really is about empowering our channel and acquiring new partners to chase businesses that we haven’t historically had access to. SMB will be a springboard that helps us get [to No. 2]. No question.”
Another priority in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group is keeping up the momentum on Device as a Service, which has already been accelerated by the current economic environment, executives said.
Lenovo first launched a DaaS offering in the North American market four years ago before relaunching the offering in its current form two years ago. But it wasn’t until the upheavals of 2020—which have prompted customers to increasingly demand consumption-based offerings for all of their IT needs—that Lenovo’s DaaS has begun to see major traction, executives said. “The Device-as-a-Service pipeline that we’re starting to see at Lenovo is growing pretty exponentially,” Cato said.
In response, Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group is doubling down on its efforts to expand DaaS and other recurring revenue opportunities with partners. Along with packaging together PC leases, support and software into a monthly subscription, Lenovo’s DaaS offers a key differentiator, said John Stamer, vice president of Americas services in Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group. That differentiator is the ability to scale down the number of devices on demand—not just scale up, Stamer said. This ability is crucial for customers in the current environment, where workforce size will be a major uncertainty for the foreseeable future at many businesses, he said.
The “flex up, flex down” capability—combined with the growing popularity of as-a-service IT models—has led Lenovo’s DaaS offering to gain momentum in 2020, Stamer said, noting that a “significant portion” of Lenovo’s DaaS deals have been delivered by partners. “There’s an extreme pressure to minimize spend. Financial flexibility and agility are key. All those things fit this as-a-service consumption model,” Stamer said.