Why $80B AWS Is ‘Partner Obsessed’: Selipsky, Borno Leading The Charge

Justin Copie couldn’t believe it: Amazon Web Services worldwide channel chief Ruba Borno was taking him, the head of an SMB-focused AWS partner, out to dinner to get a clear message across. 

“She said, ‘Justin, I want you to break glass. I want you to challenge us where we could be doing things differently. Help us as a company get better,” said Copie, CEO of Innovative Solutions. “I’m just a small but fast-growing partner, with 115 people in western New York. … Here’s the crazy part. She listened and actually ended up making changes based off my feedback. So all summer we broke a lot of glass together.” 

Based on Copie’s feedback, AWS created a funding assessment capability inside its Migration Acceleration Program that provides thousands of dollars to partners to assess a customer’s environment and then report back how the customer can most effectively migrate to AWS

“It’s been a game-changer because now customers have a very clear and low-risk way to understand what their investment looks like before they migrate,” said Copie, adding that the assessment funding has accelerated customer wins for the West Henrietta, N.Y.-based AWS Premier Consulting partner.

“I’ve worked with some of the biggest IT vendors before— I’ve never seen this level of interaction,” Copie said. “Under Ruba and [CEO] Adam [Selipsky’s] watch, AWS’ … program is now designed to be much more influenced by the voice of the partner.”

[Related: AWS, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Alibaba Top Gartner’s Cloud Magic Quadrant]

Because of the positive partner changes made over the past year under Selipsky and Borno—from driving co-selling deals through the channel to upskilling thousands of partners via new training programs—Innovative Solutions’ AWS sales have skyrocketed north of 300 percent in 2022 compared with 2021.

‘We Are Partner-Obsessed’ 

When Seattle-based AWS started to roll out its first major products like Amazon S3 and Amazon EC2 in 2006, Adam Selipsky was playing an enormous role as AWS’ vice president of marketing, sales and support, which included responsibility for partner management. 

Selipsky said the $82 billion market-leading cloud company has always been deeply focused on the partner ecosystem. 

“We’ve always believed since the beginning that having a really strong partner ecosystem—across many different parts of that ecosystem—was an intrinsic and critical part of delivering what customers need from us,” said Selipsky. 

Taking it a step further, solution providers said Borno has been driving that strategy at lightning speed into the channel ecosystem of systems integrators, MSPs, resellers and consultants over the past 12 months—with the AWS Partner Network now exceeding 100,000 partners. 

With just one year under her belt as AWS’ vice president of worldwide channels and alliances, Borno has already led the charge in pursuing hundreds of thousands of opportunities with channel partners in 2022 alone. She has personally met with over 1,000 partners and customers across geographies, sizes and industries in order to truly understand their needs and find areas where AWS can improve. 

“I joined AWS because of the incredible opportunity we have to innovate with our partners in service of our customers,” said Borno, who came to the company in November 2021 after a six-year stint at Cisco Systems. “I’m learning what they’re seeing from the AWS relationship and what they’re valuing with the AWS relationship.” 

After injecting herself into the AWS partner ecosystem, Borno has a clear mission: simplify the AWS partner experience, help the channel differentiate itself to increase profitability with programs such as Partner Paths, make training more easily accessible, and create new opportunities via co-selling and co-development with partners. 

Her bullish goals are aligned with AWS’ longtime motto of being customer-obsessed. 

“Speaking of customer obsession, many of our partners are our customers as well. So we are partner-obsessed. Our partner experience is key to providing our customers with a great experience,” said Borno. “We know that a superior partner experience will result in a superior customer experience.” 

The ‘Fearless’ Ruba Borno 

AWS partners are hailing the hiring of Borno as one of the biggest and most influential channel moves in the company’s history. 

Doug Schneider, CEO of 2nd Watch, a longtime AWS Premier partner, said Borno has almost completely eradicated any channel conflict between AWS’ own services organization and his Seattle-based company. 

“Ruba has been fearless in coming in and assessing the situation. I commend her for that. It’s not an easy task to assess the situation and be open to understanding the partners and then getting people to reorient themselves,” said Schneider. “What we’ve really seen manifesting is a change in demeanor. It shows me there’s a lot of goodness to come from our perspective.” 

For example, 2nd Watch and AWS’ professional services team recently worked together to land a $100,000 services deal with a net-new customer, a large insurance company. 

Not only did the two companies strategize and attack the deal as a team as part of the co-selling motion, but AWS also pushed the customer to leverage 2nd Watch for additional opportunities ahead. 

“Now there’s another $300,000 project that’s coming from this as well, and it’s just us doing the $300,000 project,” said Schneider. “That’s what we want to see, and that’s what AWS wants to see. AWS is now about co-selling with their partners and then letting the partner take the ball and expand. … If they trust the partner, they’re giving more ownership of that account to the partner to really expand it.” 

With 2nd Watch’s AWS sales in 2022 increasing “at a very, very healthy double-digit” rate and collaboration with AWS at an all-time high, the solution provider acquired Aptitive this year to further boost its AWS momentum. Chicago-based Aptitive was a fast-growing cloud data analytics consultancy that partnered with AWS, Snowflake and other cloud vendors. 

Furthermore, 2nd Watch is currently co-innovating with AWS to create a new industry-oriented solution based on its Aptitive acquisition, with plans to co-sell the upcoming offering alongside AWS. “Our opportunities for growing with AWS are extending beyond just the Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer,” Schneider said. 

Adam Selipsky Is Driving Co-Innovation 

During his first turn at AWS from 2005 to 2016, Selipsky took the company from pre-revenue to a $13 billion business while also launching the AWS Partner Network in 2012. 

“This is the 10th anniversary year of the AWS Partner Network as well as the AWS Marketplace. These were the world’s first cloud-native partner network and first cloud software marketplace,” Selipsky told CRN. “We’ve grown to over 100,000 partners from over 150 countries.” 

After five years as CEO of data analytics software vendor Tableau, Selipsky returned to AWS and officially took the CEO reins in July 2021. He has been on a co-selling and co-innovation tear with partners ever since. 

Selipsky highlighted AWS’ move to team up with Accenture to create the Advanced Customer Engagement contact center solution, dubbed ACE+, where Accenture and AWS create a joint value proposition and bundle their solutions together. Another example includes AWS being a founding sponsor and cloud provider for Deloitte’s Smart Factory in Wichita, Kan.—a new immersive experience center that includes a fully operational production line and experiential labs for developing innovative smart factory capabilities. 

“When we have partners who have innovated and created incredible solutions with us and on top of us, then it becomes an easy decision to put that in front of a customer because it drives customer value,” Selipsky said. 

“We have a very significant go-to-market capability now across AWS—as you might imagine given the scale of our business—and we have many different ways that we bring partners along with that,” he said. “You can really see the result in individual partners and the success that they’re experiencing.” 

Selipsky and Borno are pushing for the formation of new partnerships with ISVs, distributors and other technology vendors to help drive simplicity, co-selling and new customer opportunities. 

In 2022, AWS unveiled blockbuster collaboration agreements with a slew of vendors and distributors—from IBM and CrowdStrike to MongoDB and Ingram Micro. 

“We’re now working with Ingram [Micro] to accelerate the capabilities of their channel partners to support public sector customers,” said Borno. “We partnered with IBM in May to work with them to ‘SaaS-ify’ [their] software portfolio. Several months later, we’ve already made several of those solutions [generally available] on AWS.” 

Innovative Solutions is leveraging the new IBM relationship to drive SMB customers to AWS—a move CEO Copie expects to boost sales and customer adoption. Copie said he was happily surprised when IBM reached out to his company asking for help in moving IBM’s SMB customers to AWS. 

“I said, ‘Listen, the only way I’d be interested is if it helps my AWS customers or if it helps customers adopt more AWS.’ IBM said, ‘That’s precisely what we want to do,’” said Copie. “We’re going through this process right now of three companies—Innovative, IBM and AWS—going to market to help every SMB leverage IBM software and do it on AWS versus any other cloud partner. It’s a huge deal. It’s so big.”

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