Indirectly Speaking: You Think You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind?
Big Data. The Internet of Things. The future of IT distribution. Corporate exit strategies.
My head kind of hurts. In a good way. Let me explain.
Yes those topics cover a lot of ground. But they were in demand at CompTIA’s recent Annual Member Meeting in Chicago, where attendees handpicked these four subjects over a host of others to serve as launch pads for an hour-long, unbridled discussion about the future of the channel.
And a spirited discussion it was. Broken into groups around individual topics, solution providers, vendors and distributors mulled one primary question: What do each of these themes mean – if anything at all — for the channel today and looking ahead to 2022?
Predictably, views were mixed. Take Big Data, for example. Participants immediately recognized the role and opportunity that data holds in the market (News flash: a very important one). And yet still they acknowledged confusion over what that path looks like for the channel. Ditto the sentiment around the Internet of Things.
But in the case of Big Data and the Internet of Things, big-picture confusion over the channel’s role isn’t stopping forward progress. In fact, attendees are thinking quite tactically about these solutions spaces. For example, one group reported a primary challenge to data analytics adoption today involves vendor selection. Now, in the existential context of ‘What am I going to do about this Big Data thing?’ the everyday vetting of vendors might seem a bit wonky, but in fact it is supremely important. Not only does this entail assessing the technical pros and cons of products and solutions, but also measuring the vendor as the right fit as a partner. The business model and cultural dynamics between partners are often a key to success, especially when it comes to entering new markets or disciplines.
Relationship dynamics landed front and center in another group discussion, where members debated the impact that logistical changes in the industry supply chain will have on solution providers’ go-to-market partnerships and strategies. A number of factors are shaking up routes to market, for example. The rise of cloud computing, mobility and new competition from online service providers, telecoms and other players, just to name a few. The result has been a shift from the traditional linear go-to-market model of vendor to distributor to channel firm to end customer, to a virtual spider’s web of options for getting solution or service to its final destination.
Who’s got the most leverage in this less linear world is also up for debate. In the same group discussion — formally framed as “the future of IT distribution” — attendees called into question the hierarchy of players in in the industry ecosystem. One person described “an unprecedented flip in the channel” today. No longer a strictly top-down approach to the market, where the manufacturers of products and solutions drive the flow of the supply chain along with other critical business decisions, today the market is seeing more influence bubbling up from the solution provider and customer side, they contended.
CompTIA research is seeing that same shift in who drives decision-making. It’s not all in the vendor’s hands anymore. A growing number of end customers are less interested in vendor brand and more in business outcome. Where they procure products and solutions in a cloud environment is also less tied to a particular manufacturer. As the closest-positioned to the end customers, solution providers are in the unique spot to broker the demands of their clients – whether that’s directing them to the public cloud, a specific product or combination of solutions. Likewise, as the group concluded, distributors must think about adapting to consider input from both the lower and upper ends of the ecosystem. Such as it is to be the middleman.
All told, the session’s takeaway held one universal: The channel, indeed the broader industry, is in undeniable flux. The Internet of Things may not impact every individual shop. Distribution’s evolution to cloud may not upend every hardware reseller. And data analytics might just be the Holy Grail of channel opportunities over the next five years. Watching how things develop is the fun part.
Oh and finally, channel exit strategies, the discussion assignment for the last group. I didn’t forget. But it’s a subject deserving its own blog. So tune in for the next iteration of “Indirectly Speaking,” and we’ll take a peek at what folks had to say about getting their business ready for the next chapter.