AWS looks to balance evolving customer needs with partner expertise

May 28 2021
by Nicole Henderson


Updates to APN Navigate and AWS's ISV programs aim to align customers' business goals with partner capabilities, simplify the partner experience in obtaining additional expertise and training, and support ISV partners as they migrate software to SaaS models in the AWS cloud.

The 451 Take

Service providers have more choice than ever when it comes to selecting which partner programs they want to participate in, and vendors must be creative to capture their attention. In addition to offering sales and go-to-market support, market and development funding, and training, along with other resources, vendors must consider how participation in a partner program enables a service provider to differentiate in the market. While we continue to see value in service providers that take a generalist approach, more complex cloud migrations and customer projects often require specialized expertise. AWS has tweaked its partner programs and partner enablement resource, APN Navigate, in recognition of these evolving customer requirements, and is providing clear guidance for partners to obtain competencies that communicate to the market their value as specialized partners. Vendors that reduce friction for partners will be successful in growing partner ecosystems, a valuable and significant sales channel in the cloud.

Customer needs drive partner evolution

AWS customers represent organizations across all sectors and company size, and although these customers have diverse business requirements, the goal of accelerating digital transformation is universal. AWS tells us that its customers are focused on common areas, including migrating workloads and applications to the cloud, becoming increasingly data driven, and improving customer experience. In its recent earnings call, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky touted the company's 'vibrant and robust partner ecosystem' as a factor in its accelerated growth. AWS's net sales hit $13.51bn in Q1 2021, an increase of 32% from $10.22bn in Q1 2020.

AWS continues to expand incentives, resources and support that help partners differentiate, including competencies that recognize partner expertise and areas of specialization. The company works backwards from its customers to determine what they are looking for when it launches new partner competencies, which include AWS Mainframe Migration Competency, Public Safety and Disaster Response Competency, and the Travel and Hospitality Competency. It notes that while travel was down in 2020 due to the pandemic, many customers in the sector took the opportunity to invest in their digital transformation during this period.

APN Navigate connects partners with key business goals

APN Navigate is a partner-enablement resource open to all AWS partners that are registered with APN, guiding them along paths to achieve partner designations and competencies. It offers support around AWS specializations, along with the necessary training for partners to establish additional expertise in an AWS product or market segment. APN Navigate is comprised of tracks that help partners satisfy requirements related to AWS tiers and partner paths as well as program requirements, including the AWS Competency program.

APN Navigate was revamped in the spring, consolidating 23 tracks down to eight, simplifying the experience for partners, and clarifying the business outcomes related to each opportunity. There are three high-level categories within APN Navigate: AWS Tiers and Partner Paths (AWS Select Consulting Tier, AWS Advanced Consulting Tier, or AWS ISV Partner Path); AWS Partner Programs: Build, Market, Sell (AWS Competency, Service Delivery, Service Ready); and additional focus areas like VMware Cloud on AWS and blockchain.

To eliminate barriers to entry, all Navigate tracks are open to partners when they join the partner network, and there are no minimum revenue requirements to participate. The tracks give partners instructions on how to meet admittance requirements or obtain membership status, along with self-guided training, which AWS encourages at least two team members to complete.

While product roadmap visibility and influence is a top reason (54%) service providers give for why they participate in vendor partner programs (see Figure below), training and certification are also an important factor for 47% of respondents to a 451 Research survey of service providers. Respondents indicated that there are various incentives for participating in vendor partner programs, and that they are comparable in terms of value to their organization.

AWS accelerates co-sell initiative with ISV partners

While AWS partners broadly fall into the categories of tech or consulting, ISVs account for a large portion of partners in the tech category, and have specific requirements that led AWS to introduce various resources targeted at this group of partners. For instance, at re:Invent last year, AWS introduced ISV Accelerate, a program designed to drive co-selling between its field sales and ISV partners. The program connects ISVs with AWS Sales, offering incentives to account managers that close deals and introduce new customers to partners. It includes reduced listing fees for ISVs that want to sell their offering on the AWS Marketplace.

AWS's ISV Partner Path gives partners access to AWS resources such as the AWS Well-Architected Framework, AWS Foundational Technical Review and AWS SaaS Factory Resources, which help ISVs modernize an existing on-premises offering. AWS SaaS Boost launched at re:Invent 2020 as an open source reference environment that helps software developers migrate products to a SaaS delivery model on AWS, enabling them to focus on iterating their software, rather than on foundational capabilities such as tenant isolation, data partitioning and billing. In May, AWS announced that SaaS Boost is publicly available on GitHub.

The AWS SaaS Factory program, which launched in 2017, provides access to content, best practices, solution architects and SaaS experts, to help partners launch SaaS applications on AWS. Last year, it introduced the SaaS Factory Insights Hub as a single source for a mix of business and technical content that helps partners better understand SaaS, including resources on packaging and pricing, migration, and billing and metering. Partners can search for resources by role, knowledge level or filters.

The ability to meet ISV partners as they start out is a critical aspect of AWS's strategy, because partners are either looking to AWS for migration support from on-premises environments, or to deploy native cloud environments to support SaaS. With the right resources in place, these companies can capture the enterprise budgets that are increasing for SaaS in 2021, and AWS can ride the wave of growth as the cloud provider.

Figure 1
Incentives for Partner Program Participation


AWS is the industry leader on every metric for the cloud market. It has a clear path to sustained high growth and, with the AWS Partner Network, has shown a clear recognition of the importance that partners play in that growth. All of the major providers – Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco, Dell – have partner ecosystems and programs that vie for companies' attention and participation.

SWOT Analysis SWOT Analysis



Enterprises want to use AWS, and partners are able to help them use it in the most effective way for their organization. The training, technical documentation and support AWS provides can enable partners to deliver the best experience to customers.

Obtaining competencies can take time that partners may not have, even if they see the value in pursuing them. The way AWS has surfaced the most pertinent details and steps to achieving competencies should help partners along at their own pace.



AWS continues to provide additional resources for partners, and is responsive in adding competencies and initiatives that are relevant in the market.

Even with additional incentives and training, some partners may opt to participate in the lowest level of the partner program, which can impact AWS usage.