Martin Atherton, CRN

The channel is the route through which most IT is sold and implemented and, while major IT vendors can provide higher level guidance to the customers, they do not have direct contact with them.

Customers benefit from ‘real’ contextual guidance, face to face, with channel players. The channel is more than just a channel, or at least it should be.

From certain angles, some of the latest technical evolutions and delivery models look as though they could dis-intermediate the channel. Developments such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and cloud computing spring to mind, if many IT evangelists are to be believed.

However, IT vendors, their channel partners and their customers know that this is untrue today, partly because of the way that technology is bought and accounted for, and partly because most business remains an activity between people engaged at a local level.

But now is not the time for sitting back and enjoying the status quo. Indeed, a major imperative for the channel is in making the opportunity for adding value count for as much as possible.

The current state of the economy only increases the importance of surrounding the products and services for sale with insight, advice, inspiration and guidance.

Business messages

Our recent research has detected a pragmatic and measured set of expectations for how the economic climate will affect IT investment.

Simple messages offered by VARs in this situation can help customers see beyond the vision of IT as merely a cost controller.

Business sentiments are naturally in constant flux. Yet people’s experience of previous downturns seems to be playing its part in helping to shape expectations; most organisations expect to undergo measured and targeted cuts as opposed to large scale reductions.

Again though, nothing is certain and one of the actions open to IT is to take
the initiative to help both sides ­ customers and IT vendors ­ to make the right
decisions.

This is where the channel may exploit its unique position. Indeed, acting in the role of a middle man in the technology industry holds certain advantages.

The gap between the major IT vendor and the non-enterprise customer needs a sturdy bridge.

For the IT vendor, channel partners should be a trusted set of eyes and ears on the ground, keeping manufacturers in tune with industry and regional nuances.

For the customer, the channel partner is the ‘real world’ face of the IT market,
helping put the big ideas and concepts into context and focus.

Looking to the future
As long as the channel exploits these facts, it will remain a vital part of the technology industry ecosystem, regardless of the user or sourcing models that emerge.

The current economic climate is simply the catalyst du jour. It is a wake-up call
for any channel player that has not already started making it clear to customers that they are there to help with more than just processing transactions and, as a result, ensuring that they are worth more to the big IT vendors.

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