Huawei was a little-known name in the South African market just 10 years ago.

A handful of people knew the organisation as a supplier of telecommunications equipment and cabling, but it didn’t really feature outside of that specialised area.

When Mustek announced that it had signed up to distribute Huawei’s enterprise networking range, it sent shock waves through an industry that was then dominated by one major player and two or three challengers.

The rest, as they say, is history: Mustek and Huawei have turned the enterprise market on its head, winning market share not just in the networking market but the enterprise server, data centre and cloud environments as well.

It wasn’t an easy task by any means, says Mustek CEO David Kan. Even today, building the Huawei brand profile is hard going.

Huawei was set up in 1987 and, by 2010, had garnered significant market traction in the telecommunications space, Kan explains.

Since many of the world’s telecommunications operators were already customers in the telco equipment and cabling business, Huawei branched out into the enterprise market to broaden its reach in these organisations.

This led to the formation of the Huawei Enterprise business unit, initially as a joint venture with Symantec, with its range of routers, switches, servers, storage and security solutions.

“When Huawei set up the enterprise division, it already had a complete product line, which it wanted to take to a market segment that it wasn’t exposed to already,” Kan explains. “So the technology was there; we just had to get it into the market.”

With an 80%-plus market share in the South African telecommunications space, Huawei’s first enterprise customers were naturally the telcos, with MTN the vendor’s first data centre customer in this region.

But gaining traction in other verticals hasn’t been an easy task, Kan adds.

“Initially it was a very difficult sell,” he says. “We had to keep knocking on doors and, when they were closed to us, knock again. What else can you do?”

In fact, the team did do a lot more: where there was a glimmer of interest, Huawei and Mustek moved quickly to set up proof of concept systems, or installed equipment in the customers’ data centres to let them try it out.

“It takes time, especially for enterprise customers, to gain acceptance for a product line,” Kan says. “These customers will never buy a product if they haven’t tried it out, so that’s the best way to gain acceptance. Let them try it out and, if they like it, they will buy it.”

This strategy has seen Huawei Enterprise gain awareness and market share in a number of areas, although there is still some way to go to make the brand universally adopted.

“In the enterprise space, Huawei is still a relatively minor player,” Kan explains. “Traction for the brand is good in the telecommunications market, and it is well accepted in the public sector, state-owned enterprises and municipalities, where we have very good penetration.”

The installed base into the financial services sector is still limited, but very much on Mustek’s radar, he adds. “We just keep on knocking on those doors.”

Mustek is one of two Huawei Enterprise distributors in the country, and Kan believes it accounts for at least 60% of the business in terms of revenue. In the financial year just past, this amounted to about R900-million on Mustek’s books.

Huawei is the distributor’s only enterprise vendor, and it supplies the full range of hardware and software solutions. “From the beginning we haven’t had any competitive products,” Kan explains. “Huawei is our entire enterprise business. And it means we have a great relationship with one another.”

Mustek also distributes a range of mobile, desktop, security and office equipment solutions, which Kan points out complement the data centre products.

“Once a customer access the enterprise solutions, we find it gives us an opportunity to work with them on other products and solutions. And it works the other way around as well, sometimes giving us an opening to talk about the Huawei line-up.”

Despite the current pandemic and a negative outlook for the South African economy in general, Kan believes that the outlook for the enterprise market is good.

“My forecast for the enterprise market is quite positive,” he says. “The reason I am optimistic is that the new move to work-from-home, along with remote learning, is going to be with us from some time.

“Organisations now have many more devices on their networks than they initially specified for. From an infrastructure point of view I think that whether they are in the public sector or corporate space, they will need to improve their systems to cater to the additional devices.

“So we are expecting growth. We haven’t seen big investments yet, but there is a lot of planning going on now.”

Kan believes that Mustek and Huawei are well-positioned to tackle the next 10 years, in what promises to be a very different world.

“As our key partner in penetrating the enterprise space, I can say, without doubt, that Huawei is part of our DNA,” he says.

“We have a great working relationship with Huawei Enterprise and continue to record growth year on year.”

Donna Mostert, Huawei product manager at Mustek, adds that Huawei makes partnering very easy.

“I know it was tough breaking into the market in the beginning. For the first five years or so, a lot of companies just wouldn’t entertain the idea of working with Huawei.

“But Mustek didn’t give up, and Huawei didn’t give up. We worked together on opening doors. Slowly, people started to realise that we had a world-class product and started showing an interest.”

What the vendor has always excelled at, Mostert adds, is relationships. “Mustek and Huawei have a great relationship, with a deep level of trust,” she says. “And this relationship seems to get better and closer over the years.”

Of course, a great relationship doesn’t come easily, she says. “It’s like a marriage – something you have to work at.”

But it’s worked out: Mustek has been named as Huawei’s top distributor five years in a row.

“We believe that 2020 – the 10th anniversary of our relationship with Huawei – is going to be a great year.”

Language concerns could have been an issue but Mustek has overcome that by having two Mandarin-speaking people on its Huawei team – and CEO David Kan is also fluent in Mandarin. “This way we are all empowered because we can understand one another.”

A very big part of the Huawei partnering model is its passion to make systems work, Mostert says. “One thing you have to say about Huawei is that they don’t stop until the solution works. They have a commitment and passion to work harder; there is no limit to what they will do to ensure the customer is happy.

“If they don’t have the resources on the ground locally, they will fly them in; if there is a conflict with another vendor’s hardware, they do whatever is necessary to get it up and running.”

The Huawei product line-up encompasses end-to-end data centre solutions, including on-premise and cloud services.

“This covers all hardware and software, including switches and routers, servers, storage, virtual configuration, ISP solutions, energy solutions and, of course, WiFi 6.

“This doesn’t make us a jack of all trades, but ensures that we can scope a complete data centre using Huawei solutions, from end to end. All the hardware, software and solutions are in one place.”

As the market changes, Huawei ensure that its product line-up keeps up. “At the end of the day, it is always about the technology. Cloud computing is the order of the day now, and Huawei has been ahead of the curve with that.

“The cloud in South Africa is still relatively new, but the Huawei Cloud data centre has been live in South Africa for almost two years now. This means Huawei is able to offer cloud solutions on-premise, off-premise, hybrid and private – the whole cloud stack.”

Mostert agrees that the future for enterprise technology is promising. “The situation we are in now is driving digital transformation much faster than it might have progressed normally.

“We are seeing a rapid move to remote working and, the more that happens, the more bandwith, storage, on-premise and in-cloud solutions are going to be needed.

“The circumstances have driven organisations to quickly adopt the cloud, something many of them have been thinking of doing for years but never had the pressing motivation to do it.”

Mustek is following its own advice, and moving its operations on to the Huawei Cloud as well.

Huawei’s David Feng says the company’s relationship with Mustek is strategic in that Huawei Enterprises’ go-to-market strategy has always been via a channel partner.

“Our commitment to cutting-edge technology must be backed in individual markets by a strong sales and support ecosystem, so the channel is a very important part of Huawei’s strategy in South Africa.

“Back in 2010, Huawei had virtually no ecosystem of channel partners with the right skills to design and implement solutions, and then provide support, in contrast to established players.

“Mustek was a good choice because it was already a successful distributor with an impressive track record, a stable of premium brands and, perhaps most important of all, an established reseller base able to offer services and support to clients.

“Huawei was confident that Mustek would be able to help us reach a full range of clients in South Africa, from SMEs to enterprises.”

Over time, the relationship has matured, and the level of trust between the two parties increased, Feng adds.

“Both parties have a better understanding of each other and the frame of reference from where they are coming. There has been a coming together and a real partnership has been formed, the perception on both sides is that we are one team and it is for the greater good of both organisations.

“This successful partnership is founded on both companies’ willingness to invest for the long term, combined with a sense of mutual respect and shared values based on customer-centricity.”

Mustek’s Huawei business unit is dedicated to skills, and holds 84 Huawei certificates. Mustek was also one of the first Huawei distributors in the country to become a Huawei Certified Internetwork Expert (HCIE).

Feng explains that, in response to Mustek’s commitment to Huawei, the ICT giant has invested heavily in helping Mustek remain a leading Huawei distributor. “This includes a large investment into the building of a technology lab where customers can run proof of concepts, test new ideas, as well as marketing assistance.

“Huawei also offers subsidies to sales personnel dedicated to selling Huawei products and who work with channel partners to achieve designated targets.”

Over the last 10 years, the Huawei Enterprise product offering has matured too, as it has grown into a global leader in end-to-end technologies.

“The convergence of technologies has become commonplace in the enterprise technology industry, meaning that Huawei has had to develop a comprehensive cloud pipe strategy,” Feng explains. “This offers great value to a variety of organisations – including enterprises and telecommunications carriers.

“By developing this system, Huawei has ensured it remains ahead of the curve, and now boasts an elite, fully-integrated, end-to-end solution which covers the cloud, network, and device segments.

“All of this has resulted in Huawei becoming an industry leader and positioned it perfectly to continue growing as the industry navigates the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Huawei Enterprise continues to develop technology in response to changing market needs, Feng points out.

Among these are the rise of the sharing economy, embracing national digital transformation, data regulation, digitalisation and the need for digital infrastructure.

“Mustek is an integral part of the Huawei ecosystem and is our vehicle to market, they will be with us each and every step of the way and together we will realize this as a united front within the south African market,” Feng concludes.