Time to take a gamble?

Fear of change is one of the biggest barriers to growth in our industry say Jamie Marshall, CTO at Calyx. But that’s no surprise when each new technology is essentially a gamble. So is it a gamble we should take? Here, Marshall explains why both resellers and customers are under pressure.

One of the great advantages of working in this industry is the constant rate of change. New technologies emerge, old technologies are rejuvenated, there is always something fresh and exciting on the horizon for which we need to prepare.

This is particularly the case at this time of year when the media is full of the latest technology predictions from the likes of Gartner and other analysts, and in an ideal world, we in the ICT sector would be using this information to define our business growth strategies, product development and marketing plans for the coming years. The reality is somewhat different. For many resellers the rate of change in technology, rather than being an opportunity, is a nightmare, and the Channel is all too often criticised for its lack of innovation, for being resistant to change.

To be fair, resellers are in an incredibly difficult position. Firstly, if your business has a strong existing revenue stream, why would you move away from it just because it might start to dry up in a couple of years? The opportunity is still there for the moment, it makes no commercial sense to change.

Next comes the issue of expertise. Telecoms, technology, IT: the three once-distinct areas are now merging together, driven by changes such as telephony becoming an application. This means that if resellers want to diversify, they need to consume time – and money – in bringing that expertise, that knowledge into their business, whether it is through training existing members of the team or employing new staff. The trend for acquisition that has dominated the Channel this year is testament to this.

But the real issue is that this all has to be done on a gamble. After all, predictions are just that – predictions. They aren’t reliable, they aren’t even objective. It’s just opinion. It might be a very educated and informed opinion, but it isn’t tangible. A revenue stream – that’s tangible. And let’s not forget that for every prediction that is fulfilled, there are 10 that aren’t.

So the reticence of many resellers to jump on every trend bandwagon that comes along, to move away from existing and trusted sources of revenue to chase some golden goose is, in my opinion, quite understandable, because it is a hell of a gamble to take.

The problem is that regardless of this, the technology is changing and resellers that stay with the same old same old will find themselves out of business sooner or later. Probably sooner.

Of course, it is ironic that our customers are experiencing the same sort of change management issues internally that we are seeing within the industry. Indeed, there has been a significant change in the dynamic between IT departments and the wider business. Think back five years, to when the IT department was the font of all technical knowledge within a business, to when the devices provided by employers were far superior to anything you would have at home, to when employees wouldn’t dream of downloading an application without prior permission from the IT team – indeed their admin rights wouldn’t let them anyway.

Well, times have changed. Technology is now often better at home and users are far more technically savvy than before – they are driving the use of IT and their desire to control their working environment is already the key driver of change

Obviously, the main example of this is BYOD, which – there’s no doubt – will become mainstream this year. IT managers can no longer ignore the push from colleagues who want to translate their ‘at home’ experience seamlessly into the workplace. Moreover the ability for staff to do this could quickly become a point of differentiation for businesses looking to attract the highest calibre of individuals – and that will soon turn into competitive advantage as the best people go where they get this level of flexibility: people want their Sunday night experience on Monday morning and will choose the organisations that will let them do it.

But with this flexibility come considerable security issues. For example, take Dropbox. It’s a great application and I know many people who think nothing of sending large files to one another using this solution. Any why not? I mean apart from the fact that it constitutes a massive threat to the security of a business. No-one has any control over the number of documents being transferred or stored remotely, undoubtedly in breach of a company’s security policy. But if the IT department do not have the internal expertise to deploy an in-house system, then users will continue to use this and other examples of Shadow IT to enable themselves to do their jobs more productively.

And here then is the opportunity for the Channel. A provider who can go in and solve that problem for the IT team by deploying a managed service to solve Cloud storage or whatever else their problem is will find themselves in high demand – and making great margins.

But it means that resellers do need to put themselves outside of their comfort zone and take the gamble on new technology. So how can they do this whilst minimising the risk? The answer is in choosing the right vendors, vendors who will provide the support they need. More and more vendors are offering not just training and accreditation programmes, but fully comprehensive advisory services which resellers can leverage whilst they build up their own knowledge and expertise at a rate that works for their business.

In the end, adopting a new technology will be a risk, regardless of your position in the supply chain. But the rewards are significant, and if we choose the right partners, offering the right service, then they are ours for the taking.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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