37-year Channel Veteran on the Changing Nature of the Channel in 2017
In the 37 years he’s been in IT, Kent McDonald has seen a lot of evolutions—what today we call ‘disruptions.’ To McDonald, it’s just the cadence of the business.
When it comes to the digital transformation and the disruption caused by cloud technology, many IT professionals see it as a threat. But McDonald, senior VP of business development at IT service provider Long View, sees it as an opportunity to differentiate his company’s brand—something a static IT market doesn’t provide.
Long View, despite industry hysteria urging partners to abandon hardware and go all in on services, still has a thriving pure procurement business based on hardware transactions. The company is wrapping its hardware offerings in value-added services, but is productizing those services.
However, McDonald and Long View are also very aware that the cloud is pivoting the market to transitioning from buying IT to consuming IT. Long View has a long history of managed services, and that transition has been complementary to its existing services such as customer support. And McDonald says the vendors he works with aren’t completely pivoting away from traditional reseller or managed services markets.
“IoT, collaboration, security—it’s clear from my lens that partners that can bring those high value services will be recognized and rewarded, even if you’re basically a roadside stand selling products.”
But the future of IT, says McDonald, lies is in the vast amounts of data that is sitting collecting virtual dust because IT hasn’t quite figured out how to mine it and use it to drive business insights yet. “It’s a journey we’re all still on together. It’s early days still.”
In past iterations, IT professionals sold their services on traditional offerings such as storage. But the digital transformation is changing the nature of the conversations partners have with their customers and prospects. IT is beginning to demand skills that more resemble a data scientist than a traditional partner. The storage conversation is passé, he says.
“Now it’s your IP, regardless of your vertical play. Know your customers and what the data is telling you is the best way to guide their business decisions moving forward,” says McDonald. “Data science wasn’t even on the roadmap a few years ago.”
IT skills gap
But if the future of IT is data science, the industry has a serious problem. According to IT staffing firm Tek Systems, a full 78 percent of managers and 80 percent of IT pros polled acknowledge the skills gap in IT. And many experts worry that it’s only going to get worse as automation replaces manual processes that required fingers on keyboards.
It’s the entry level positions that he says will see the most consolidation, says McDonald, and Long View is aware that the industry needs more cloud architects versus rack and stack experts. But if higher education isn’t spitting out enough people with the necessary skills, partners may have a very hard time filling the skills gap with recruitment efforts.
Long View has taken a different approach. Rather than look outside of the company to find individuals with in-demand skills, it works with its own employees to make sure they’re developing skillsets as the industry and the company’s go-to-market strategies evolve.
Long View works with its workers to identify which professional path they want to take, and then meets with them individually on a weekly basis to ensure the employee is receiving the resources he or she needs to advance along that career path.
“It’s a lot tougher to recruit than to change internally,” says McDonald.
But the program goes further to give employees flexibility to learn in the way that works best for them. Millennial employees, for instance, might want more self-service options rather than classroom training. As Long View identifies the best way to teach each individual, it devises a curriculum specifically designed to address those unique traits.
All signs point to data
It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the internet of things (IoT) or cloud computing, McDonald says the big money for the future channel lies in its ability to leverage data. The implications of that go far beyond the skills gap; they change the foundational value proposition that IT and the channel offer.
We’re starting to get it, he explains, but even today there are data points partners are collecting that reside in their own siloed worlds. The beauty and challenge of the future channel is integrating systems and functions to be able to capture and mine that data in order to drive efficiency and results for their customers. And that future is nigh.
Depending on which expert you turn to, there will be anywhere from 20 to 50 billion connected devices by 2020. According to Gartner, this year alone there will be 8.4 billion connected “things.” To put that in perspective, the entire population of the world is about 7.6 billion.
“We’ve connected the world—most people even through multiple devices. Now there are way more end points through sensors, gauges, cameras. If [the channel] can IP all those machines, it’s a huge market opportunity. You just have to have the business to support it.”