Tech Industry Missteps Could Spell Trouble for Channel Practitioners
The tech industry’s path to a more perfect, digitally transformed world turns out to have included more shortcuts and missteps than previously anticipated.
From social media outrages to search-engine shortfalls to end customer blunders, big tech’s reputation has taken a serious hit in 2018. Will the channel suffer along with broader industry as a result? It’s a question more experts and practitioners are starting to ask. Some, in fact, have been mulling the potential for the better part of a year.
Take CompTIA. In its IT Industry Outlook 2018 study published in January, the organization recognized the tech industry’s reputation for being an agent of positive change was deteriorating thanks to mounting concerns over consumer protection, regulatory compliance and fair trade.
“Because of the scale and scope of benefits provided, the tech industry generally gets the benefit of the doubt, overlooking the occasional product flops, the folly of the dot.com era, or the usual frustrations that come with early stage products. However, signs point to changing expectations and a different environment unfolding,” the Chicago-based CompTIA concluded.
In the year since, questions surrounding security, privacy and screen time have only intensified. So, too, have concerns over market disruption and power imbalances.
“Digital technology has gone from being seen as a progressive business tool to a disruptive societal force,” says Seth Robinson, senior director of technology research and analysis at CompTIA.
While he adds that the hysteria is outsized, the turnabout is nonetheless startling.
“Just a mere few years ago, ‘digital transformation’ was seen as a positive agent of change. It was going to democratize information, reduce geographical barriers and connect forward-thinking people the world over. Now the promise is challenged,” he says. “And it need not be.”
Longtime channel veteran and former MS Dave Sobel, senior director of MSP evangelism at SolarWinds, recognizes the challenges but believes broader tech-industry woes could prove to be a good thing for the channel, so long as channel practitioners don’t get lumped in with “Big Tech’s” bad actors.
Channel companies are still seen as protectors of customer data and overseers of network infrastructures, Sobel says, not opportunists looking to monetize consumer data or advocate for relaxed privacy standards. What’s more, Sobel adds, channel companies have not been blamed for the kinds of security lapses that have occurred at Target, Equifax and Yahoo.
While these companies have been derided as fools, schemers or worse, channel companies have not been painted with the same brush; in fact, Sobel says, the increased scrutiny of and apprehension about digital-technology providers creates an opportunity for solution providers to have conversations about data protection, security and business ethics with their customers, Sobel says.
“Any industry feels pushback as it matures, and the questions being asked [today] are healthy,” says Sobel. “As business advisers, being asked [tough] questions is an opportunity to help customers understand and mitigate their risk.”
Janet Schijns, executive vice president and chief services and solutions officer at Office Depot, agrees, but believes solution providers should take the issue very seriously. The opportunity for the channel, she says, is to position itself “as a holistic provider of technology services rather than a purveyor of goods in the hall.”
“Where I think the channel has a challenge is that …