Hewlett Packard Enterprise Global Vice President of SMB and Midmarket Maciek Szczesniak says an innovative program that brings together students and HPE partners to deliver breakthrough solutions is destined to forever change the SMB global landscape.
“This is going to change the world,” says an ebullient Szczesniak, who is leading a global program to bring breakthrough digital transformation solutions to the 350 million SMBs around the world by teaming university students acting as technology consultants with HPE partners. “There are so many SMBs we are helping to nurture and grow with the help of our channel and university students. So many people are engaged and can win with this program. And it is all built on people’s willingness to do something good.”
Szczesniak’s dream to bring digital transformation to underserved SMBs with students and HPE partners starts in earnest with an SMB Technology Transformation Workshop on Feb. 8 at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.
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“This partnership we have with the University of Washington Foster School of Business with the HPE channel is going to change the game,” said Szczesniak. “We are going to start delivering technology to SMBs first. They will be getting help from the students and the partners. We are going to enable this as HPE. That is the vision behind this program. Too often the underserved SMBs are the last to receive assistance in adopting some kind of a new technology.”ADVERTISEMENT
The Transformation Workshop is aimed at delivering on research that shows SMB customers that deploy technology solutions grow five times faster than businesses that do not leverage technology, said Szczesniak. “Think about the impact we can have if we train 100 SMBs every six months just in Washington state,” he said. “These SMBs are the true entrepreneurs. They want to grow. They are unbelievable people.”
Szczesniak credits the University of Washington Foster School of Business for building a curriculum that is driving the SMB initiative, along with strong backing from HPE. “It is just unbelievable how much opportunity we are creating together for the SMBs and the partners,” he said. “It’s a win-win-win-win: SMBs win, partners win, the university wins and HPE wins.”
But bringing HPE partners and students together at the Foster School of Business “to do something good” to help underserved SMBs in Washington state is just the start, said Szczesniak. HPE is in the midst of expanding the program—which has the support of HPE Chief Talent Officer Caroline Atherton and HPE Chief People Officer Alan May—with the aim of transforming the future of 350 million SMBs across the globe.
A Game-Changing Partnership With Foster School of Business
The ambitious HPE-University of Washington Foster School of Business program came after Michael Verchot, the director of Consulting and Business Development Center, University of Washington, got together with Szczesniak three years ago in the midst of the pandemic for input on how HPE could help change the trajectory of small businesses in Washington state struggling to survive the COVID-19 lockdown.
The initial program last year had HPE SMB experts volunteering to help the Foster School of Business students provide free digital transformation consulting to SMB businesses. Now HPE is bringing a select group of HPE partners to the Foster School of Business to deliver those full-fledged digital transformation solutions to SMB customers in Washington state.
Szczesniak knew that he had to get HPE partners involved when he saw the local businesses getting advice from students and HPE executives but then needing help executing the digital transformation plans. “We can help identify the problems and show these SMBs a path,” he said “But the implementation of the solution needs to come from a specialized HPE partner.”
Ultimately it is going to be HPE partners that will help provide the digital transformation solutions that will change how small business is done around the world, said Szczesniak. “HPE is a 100 percent indirect company when it comes to SMB,” he said. “We need to bring the partners into this if we really want to help these businesses. At the end of the day, it is the partners who are going to be taking care of the customer locally.”
The HPE SMB global initiative is a part of the HPE culture of “being a force for good”—a call to action that has been one of HPE President and CEO Antonio Neri’s leadership tenets since he took the helm five years ago.
Szczesniak, a proud Warsaw, Poland, native who has also played a key role in his country’s efforts to help Ukrainian refugees, has made the “force for good” credo a central part of the global SMB strategy.
“This is a global program,” said Szczesniak. “My commitment as the vice president responsible for SMB globally is we are going to do this with partners. There is no way I can build a sales force that is going to help digitally transform 350 million SMBs. What I want to do is empower the channel partners.”
Kelley Connect Gives Back To Small Businesses
Mark Tschetter, director of IT solutions for Kelley Connect, an SMB solution powerhouse that is participating in the SMB Technology Transformation Workshop on Feb. 8, said he sees it as a way for his company to “give back” to small businesses.
“It’s always great to work with local businesses, especially smaller businesses” said Tschetter, who heads up IT solutions and the MSP business for Kelley Connect, which has 20,000 customers and operates in five states in the Pacific Northwest. “It’s great to be able to help these small businesses level up their technology.”
The Transformation Workshop also provides an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between Kelley Connect and HPE, said Tschetter. “We value our partnerships at Kelley Connect,” he said. “Technology is always a part of the equation. You have to have good technology. But for us, our partnerships are more than the technology. It is who we are working with and what we can get done. This a really refreshing moment and an opportunity to strengthen that relationship with HPE.”
That focus on the relationship is at the heart of how Kelley Connect establishes tight bonds with its customers, which it refers to as partners, said Tschetter. “We call our customers partners,” he said. “That’s a huge difference in the mindset we bring to businesses. That shift in terminology is game-changing. It is not transactional. Our people are a part of our partners’ business. It’s a true partnership on all fronts. That separates our culture from others in this market.”
That partner credo has helped make Kelley Connect a critical part of SMB organizations with virtual CIOs and virtual CISOs, said Tschetter. That puts Kelley Connect at the center of SMB businesses, providing assistance in planning, budgeting, forecasting and pinpointing where IT investments need to be made, he said.
“Our virtual CIOs work closely with our tactical leaders, who are doing the blocking and tackling day to day to keep these businesses healthy,” he said. “The virtual CIOs are working on strategy.”
Tschetter, who has worked on bringing technology solutions to small businesses for 25 years, said he has never before seen a program like the one that HPE has put in place to help SMB customers grow their business. “This shows HPE’s commitment to the SMB customer,” he said. “A lot of companies with the size and scale of HPE have not been traditionally focused on the SMB space even though it is the largest market in terms of the number of businesses.”
For Kelley Connect, which has 300 employees and a fast-growing MSP practice, SMB customers are its bread and butter. “That is who we serve,” said Tschetter. “Eighty percent of our clients in the five states we operate in are SMB customers. It’s great to see this kind of commitment from HPE with their products, services and now with this program.”
Besides helping small businesses, the University of Washington program is building future technology leaders, said Tschetter. “The kids in this program are excited about technology,” he said. “They want to be part of this business, either as a consultant or an engineer. HPE is creating a pathway for these students. So HPE is not only helping the businesses, it is helping build the industry.”
As for the outlook for the SMB market for 2023, Tschetter said the need for technology transformation is constant for SMB customers. “At Kelley Connect we are focused on the modern office,” he said. “We do pretty much all of the technology in the office, from mailing and printing solutions to all the imaging equipment to desktop systems. Digital transformation is huge for us.”
The Future Of The Modern Office
Kelley Connect’s MSP practice has grown 100 percent over the last three years, said Tschetter. Furthermore, its hardware sales were up 15 percent in 2022 with strong growth in the HPE server, storage and networking business, said Tschetter.
“Our MSP practice is at the future of the modern office,” he said. “Everything is centered around the MSP business. The network and security need to be there. All the things that Kelley Connect does touch the network.”
With SMB customers grappling with how to increase productivity and do more with less, Kelley Connect has a sharp focus on demonstrating return on investment on technology solutions, said Tschetter. “We show customers the kind of savings they will see from digital transformation,” he said.
The cost savings from SMB solutions can easily hit thousands of dollars per month with time savings of 30 percent to 50 percent, said Tschetter.
“My optimism to help SMB customers digitally transform has never been higher,” he said. “It is at its highest point right now, especially with what HPE is doing with this program. Kelley Connect is just getting started on this. It’s great to see HPE’s commitment to our space. That’s what we need from a partner. The ability to strengthen that partnership is going to help us to continue to serve this market.”
Tschetter also credits the University of Washington Foster School of Business. “We love the idea of being introduced to new talent coming into our space that is right in our backyard,” he said. “There are a lot of technology businesses in the Seattle area. We are part of that mix. To have the connection to the university and the talent they are bringing to the business is very exciting.”
Tschetter said he is even looking forward to possibly hiring some of the students in the future. “Kelley Connect is always on the lookout for great talent, and this feeds into that,” he said.
Tschetter, for his part, said that being a force for good is central to Kelley Connect’s participation in the SMB Transformation Workshop. “This is the right thing to do,” he said.
Scaling The Program And Building Momentum
Szczesniak sees the force for good initiative that starts with the University of Washington program building momentum across the U.S. and then globally. “I want to scale this program,” he said. “There are 350 million SMBs. We need to scale this program. It cannot be a one-time exercise. It has to be something bigger. That is why we support the expansion of this program.”
Given the university students’ participation, the program expansion could also provide a boost for both channel partners and SMB customers struggling to find and retain technology talent, said Szczesniak. “These students are going to be a part of the technology consulting workforce when they graduate,” he said. “Partners working with us in Seattle will have access to a pool of students that have a consulting mindset and know the technology.”
In the midst of the pandemic, the appetite for digital transformation increased among SMB customers, said Szczesniak. “There is a massive appetite among SMBs for digital transformation,” he said.
The problem, said Szczesniak, is SMBs know they need to digitally transform but simply do not know what to do to make it happen. “That is where the channel comes into the picture,” he said. “The majority of the SMBs are looking to VARs, systems integrators and MSPs as the source of any digital transformation.”
Szczesniak said the workshop is just the beginning of the HPE Global SMB initiative. “We’re starting with 80 to 100 businesses in Seattle, but we are looking at 350 million businesses,” he said. “To do that we need to work with universities and the channel. The channel is going to make this work. It is the channel that is going to provide digital transformation to the 350 million SMBs.”
Szczesniak has thought deeply about what it means to make that digital transformation a reality around the world. “I have calculated that if we digitally transform an SMB every second of every minute of every hour of every year, we would have 11 years of work,” he said. “We are going to use the power of education, the power of the channel and the power of HPE and the HPE force for good to scale this SMB initiative. I want to digitally transform those 350 million SMBs. This is such a big opportunity for us. I have 11 years to do it. I am still young. I hope I can do it before I retire.”LEARN MORE: SMB-Midmarket Opportunities | SMB Applications
Steve Burke has been reporting on the technology industry and sales channel for over 30 years. He is passionate about the role of partners using technology to solve business problems and has spoken at conferences on channel sales issues. He can be reached at [email protected].
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