A Channel Nostradamus?

A Channel Nostradamus?

With the advent of the “cloud computing” several years ago, it seemed like my predictions were finally, at long last, coming true.

Recently I awoke to see the news that ScanSource, a major IT Industry distributor, was acquiring Intelisys, a new kind of distributor of services we call a Master Agent. I believed that was going to happen at some point, but it took a bit longer than I had hoped. In 1999, I came into the Service Provider Channel from my career in the Hardware and Software Channel. Remember those days: The entire world was moving to the Internet, and it was quite a frenzy--fast-paced, exciting and unknown.

My sense was that as the world of physical hardware and “shrink-wrapped” software converged into one, where things would be sold “as a service,” I’d surely be able lead in this new frontier before all other new settlers headed for the gold rush. Or at least I would look like a genius if I were to get in front of it. Or, like the famous Nostradamus did in the early 1500s, I would see the future and live it!

I believed I could get many of the key software VARs and hardware VARs I knew to start selling Network Connectivity and Voice Services, and this would be an easy relationship to leverage. It sure seemed simple enough. So I got in a U-Haul and moved all my possessions from Dallas to Denver (which was the hub of IP Communications and Telecom at the time), and I started building a channel in this new space.

Our first alliance partnership was one with Microsoft, where we were trying to get classic Microsoft partners to start selling Hosted Exchanges along with our bandwidth. It was the year 2000, and I remember hosting a party for about 500 Microsoft VARs in Atlanta during the Fusion Conference to try to move them to into this world. I had no idea what I was in for, but the tab on that party was so large that I really hoped it paid off!

It was, after all, the heady days of the Internet revolution, and money was flowing. But that channel experiment was an epic failure, and these partners were just not ready to sell anything into the cloud (vs. on premise)--let alone sell transport services they did not understand.

The years went on, and I got to know the channel that sold Telecom and Internet services very well (mostly known as Agents or Brokers). I continued to push the notion that the classic IT VARs were missing the opportunity on recurring revenue, as well as better margins, if they didn't get involved in the space. Some did, such as CDW, Presidio, Carousel, Dimension Data and some other notable VARs. But there was a lot of heavy lifting required in this space, and they needed to assemble dedicated carrier teams to be successful. I pushed on with both channels continuing to believe that a day would come when things would come together and we could leverage their joint power.

With the advent of the “cloud computing” several years ago, it seemed like my predictions were finally, at long last, coming true. More VARs, Solutions Providers and MSPs than ever before are coming into this space, either selling these services on their own or partnering with traditional agents to work in their specialty with them to solve customer problems. We see this with our Juniper relationship today, where we are working closely together with some of Juniper's top VARs to sell solutions that involve our services and their technology.

And now we have one of the biggest announcements in the Services Provider Channel in recent times. This acquisition will bring more new synergies than were ever before possible, and it will likely electrify the space to help make the traditional Solutions Provider Channel more capable of bridging the gap than at any time before. It was a bold move by ScanSource. Will there be more? Well, customers are demanding the integration of the cloud and connectivity and software and hardware and services--all with “one throat to choke.” The channel always follows the needs of the customer, and they are ideally positioned to fulfill this role.

It took 16 years to happen, but we seem to be arriving at a space that was predicted long ago. Patience is a virtue, but the times could not be more exciting than they are now, and I look forward with great eagerness to what is about to come! Comcast Business and our Solutions Provider Program are here to help partners make the transition.

Craig Schlagbaum is Vice President of Indirect Channels at Comcast Business.

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