Market Report

The shifting hardware market

What hardware is in demand? And what does this mean for distributors and their partners? Comms Business talks to the market.

The Channel was built on hardware, and it remains a key cornerstone of today’s ecosystem despite our increasingly software-driven world. That said, demand for some hardware types is declining, and emerging technologies are coming to the fore.

To ensure their offerings remain competitive, it is vital that resellers and MSPs work with distributors and vendors to adapt to new trends and changing requirements.

So, what hardware types are businesses investing in? For Will Morey, commercial director, Pragma, businesses are prioritising hardware that can push digital transformation objectives forward.

He said, “In the current market, businesses are heavily investing in hardware that aligns with the growing demands of digital transformation, such as unified communications and collaboration tools. With the widespread adoption of the cloud, businesses are investing in hardware infrastructure that supports cloud-based services.

“From servers and storage solutions to networking equipment, businesses are looking for hardware that leverages the flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of cloud platforms.”

Morey pointed to various areas that can reinforce those digital transformation strategies. He said, “Whether it’s supporting remote collaboration, enhancing cybersecurity, leveraging edge computing, or enabling advanced technologies like AI and IoT, these hardware investments are integral to staying competitive and resilient in today’s dynamic business landscape.”

Steven Try, channel manager, UK and Ireland, Snom, discussed the investments businesses are making to support hybrid working policies.

He explained, “Businesses are strategically investing in a range of hardware solutions to address the demands of the modern communication landscape. Notably, there is a growing inclination towards portable desk phones, conference phones and headsets that facilitate a seamless work-from-anywhere experience.

“These devices offer all the features and functions that an individual would access while at their desk in the office, but from their remote working location – such as access to their phonebook or call transfer capabilities.”

Try added that DECT-enabled solutions, such as wireless DECT handsets and base stations, are also gaining prominence. He explained that these “offer maximum mobility and connectivity for businesses across a range of sectors” including hospitality, logistics and healthcare.

To make hybrid working a success, organisations also need to reimagine office space. That could mean more space for meeting rooms over desks.

Sam Harper, partner account executive, Evolve IP, said, “There’s been an explosion of huddle rooms of various shapes and sizes and it’s the hardware that brings them to life. From video cameras and audio devices to user interfaces and wireless content sharing devices.

“Equally, desk phones are as popular as ever. Refurbished and recycled equipment is growing too where prolonging their life is not only better for the environment but increases return on investment.”

The age of SD-WAN

The increased adoption of SD-WAN is also triggering new demand for associated hardware. Alan Stephenson-Brown is CEO of Evolve, a managed networks provider, and discussed why businesses are moving towards SD-WAN.

He said, “SD-WAN technology has revolutionised connectivity and security, and it’s more cost-effective than legacy systems like MPLS. A staggering 93 per cent of organisations are now using multiple distinct cloud platforms as part of their business strategy, and traditional WANs such as MPLS simply can’t cope with the bandwidth SaaS applications demand.

“Moving to SD-WAN means faster, more stable connections for users, less stress on the network overall, improved reliability and streamlined data management. This all reduces costs, a key customer pain point that is top of the agenda as the cost of doing business remains higher than ever.”

Stephenson-Brown explained that, with an increasing number of businesses looking to upgrade their legacy systems, “the pressure is on to stay ahead of the curve with emerging technologies”.

He said channel companies can succeed by “seeking strong and synergistic relationships that foster smart development, knowing the customer’s business inside-out, and investing in storage space to counter any supply chain shocks around the corner in 2024 will make a recipe for success in this innovation-fuelled market”.

He said that Evolve’s own relationship with Mako Networks as its sole platinum partner has allowed the company to be fast to the market with the latest SD-WAN trends.

He added, “It is not enough to simply select a specialist partner; the relationship needs to be symbiotic. The needs of the customer and end user must consistently be communicated, and investment in constant development is a must for both parties.

“This allows for tailored solutions which can overcome the technical challenges presented by complicated existing legacy systems customers may already have in place.

“For example, one of the latest benefits we have been able to bring forward for our customers is remote deployment, and we have also been able to use cloud technology to develop clever, tailored solutions to uniquely complex issues.”

Falling out of favour

The rise of some hardware types goes hand in hand with a decline in other areas. Pragma’s Morey said, “We’re seeing some of the more traditional hardware types experience a decline as businesses transition to more agile and cloud-based solutions. For instance, legacy telephone systems are declining as organisations increasingly favour scalable, feature-rich alternatives. Distributors need to stay attuned to market shifts in order to adjust and adapt to the demands of the market.”

That chimed with the view of Try, from Snom, who pointed to mobility as one driver. He said, “Devices that are unable to provide the required mobility or support for businesses’ communication needs are gradually falling out of favour. For example, corded devices that are based on proprietary protocols, and don’t support hot desking functions can’t meet the demands of employees who are working between the office and their home or in different locations across the company.”

Harper, from Evolve IP, added, “The obvious general decline is the PBX but from our perspective, we’re not seeing a decline in hardware. 2023 has been our best year yet, especially on handsets. They are very much alive and kicking. ATA analogue converters are massive too ahead of the ISDN switch-off – especially for those in hospitality and retail. Headsets are huge where BYOD trends continue at pace. Call centres are also investing in better quality noise cancelling headsets to enhance both the user and customer experience.”

A crucial link

In the Channel, distributors play a key role in making hardware accessible to resellers and MSPs and, by extension, end businesses. Darren Garland, managing director, ProVu Communications, discussed the “vital role” that distributors play in “making hardware accessible to resellers and MSPs”.

He explained, “For many manufacturers, we are their route to market, but it’s not always about sticking with the status quo. As a distributor, we take it upon ourselves to not just supply the products that are in demand, we also look to identify and fill the gaps which will enable our resellers to provide a better solution and become more profitable.”

Garland pointed to ProVu Communications’ recent expansion into uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) as one example of the distributor helping its reseller partners to offer better solutions. UPS is coming into the spotlight with the upcoming switch-off of traditional copper phonelines meaning phones will no longer work in the event of a power cut.

He said, “We’re working hard to ensure our partners can ensure a smooth transition in the lead up to and after the switch-off. UPS devices help our resellers to address the Ofcom requirements which will ultimately benefit the end user allowing our resellers to not only enjoy a one-stop-shop experience but also have the confidence that the proposed solution will work for their end user.”

Morey, from Pragma, agreed with that perspective, emphasising that distributors are a “crucial link in the hardware supply chain”, playing an important role in “facilitating the flow of products” between manufacturers, resellers, MSPs and end businesses.

He added, “Distributors are the key to resellers and MSPs accessing hardware products promptly, contributing to reducing lead times and keeping products readily available for distribution. This logistical support is crucial for meeting the demands of end businesses that require timely hardware solutions.”

Morey discussed his view that the role of a distributor “goes beyond logistics”.

He explained, “Through streamlined supply chains, technical support, and tailored training programs, distributors can empower their partners to deliver high-quality, reliable solutions.

“One of the benefits of working with a distributor is having the confidence that in the ever-changing hardware landscape resellers or MSPs will stay ahead of the curve with access to the latest technologies, product training, workshops, and certification programs. This, in turn, enhances the quality of services provided to end businesses.

“On top of this, distributors can provide financial support, offering favourable credit terms and financing options. This assistance can be crucial for smaller businesses that may face financial constraints. By offering flexible payment terms, distributors can enable resellers and MSPs to maintain healthy cash flows and, subsequently, serve end businesses more effectively.”

Try, from Snom, agreed with that perspective. He said, “Distributors have a vital role to play in making hardware such as Snom’s readily available to businesses. They act as a link between hardware manufacturers and the end user and are seen as a trusted partner, not just to stock and ship products but also offer technical support and advice.

“The resources and training they provide to resellers and MSPs ensures that any communications solution implemented is comprehensive and the right fit for an end users’ needs.”

Shifting business models

As with all change, being ready to adapt to the new landscape is vital. Harper, from Evolve IP, explained how easier access to technology is changing expectations.

He said, “In an increasingly cloud-based world, distributors have had to adapt and evolve to become more flexible. Customer expectations have changed dramatically too where next day and even same day deliveries are expected. Working from anywhere is much more prevalent and people are connecting in a more hybrid way.

“Hardware demands need to match and meet those requirements. To help with last-minute requests, having a more local supply chain creates faster and more reliable streamlined services.”

Morey, from Pragma, added, “In the current landscape of technology advancements, changing working patterns, and market demands, distributors are having to adapt their business models to stay competitive.

“To meet the evolving needs of partners and end users, we’re seeing distributors take a more service-oriented approach, transitioning from simple product facilitation to offering comprehensive solutions and support.

“Distributors are enhancing their services for partners, as well as increasing collaboration with vendors. This approach helps them to address the developing needs of resellers and MSPs.”

Distributors are also taking a more holistic approach to business technology, with many looking to provide complete solutions. Try, from Snom, said, “Business communication has changed significantly over the last few years, with the boundaries between desk-based office work and remote work now more blurred than ever. This has impacted distributors’ business models, as they’ve needed to focus on providing a product range that can help to make communication seamless, no matter where an employee is working.

“Distributors have also had to consider how wider economic and environmental issues are impacting businesses, ensuring that they offer solutions which are both cost-effective and meet sustainability objectives. These factors have led many distributors to broaden out the range of products that they stock to meet various needs.”

Staying agile

These market changes call for changes across the channel ecosystem. Morey, from Pragma, explained how distributors can adapt.

He said, “The changing market presents both challenges and opportunities for distributors. Embracing change and adapting swiftly to emerging trends is essential for success and growth.

“By expanding service offerings, creating strategic partnerships with vendors, and having a keen understanding of market demands, distributors can stay agile and ensure they not only meet the current needs of resellers and MSPs but also anticipate what is round the corner in the future.”

Try, from Snom, offered a manufacturer’s perspective. He said, “The evolving hardware landscape, driven by the demand for more flexible and sustainable solutions, presents both challenges and opportunities for distributors.

“Distributors who focus on reliable and adaptable hardware in response to market shifts can not only meet the changing demands of their customers, but also play a pivotal role in driving the adoption of cutting-edge communication technologies within businesses everywhere.

“As a result of the copper switch-off, ICT distributors will also have to address the impact on their telecommunications portfolio and ensure continued relevance in the rapidly transforming industry.”

Moving beyond simply distributing hardware is also vital, with successful distributors adding value for partners by sharing their knowledge and expertise with customers.

Harper, from Evolve IP, said, “The best distributors are no longer box shifters, they are the trusted advisors who work to better understand the customer’s needs. Fixing those business pain points not only provides products that are fit for purpose but delivers a service that sets you apart from the competition. Happy customers keep coming back for more.”

This article appeared in our February 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.