Why the Tech industry needs the channel more than ever

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Artificial Intelligence. Blockchain. Cognitive computing. All are grand ideas that their proponents say will transform the way we do business in a matter of years.

Yet at the same time, stories keep cropping up about the so-called ‘techlash’. Data breaches and system outages have eroded confidence, and we’re hearing about a growing disillusionment with the great goal of ‘digital transformation’ which every industry has been told they must pursue. 

By the time this year is out, enterprises around the world will have invested $1.3 trillion (USD) into various technologies as part of digital transformation initiatives. As many as 70 per cent of these initiatives will not achieve their stated outcomes, meaning that over $900 billion of spend could be missing the mark. 

The question is whether business customers will continue to hand over such large cheques to the technology industry. In my view, both customers and manufacturers are becoming frustrated. The technology industry, now more than ever, needs an active set of channel players who will act as more than just a point of product procurement. The need is for partners in the channel who offer an expert point of view and deliver value quickly. Perhaps most importantly, these partners must be accountable for helping customers to drive innovation that delivers tangible business outcomes, fast.

This requires the ability to connect the dots between technology functions and business needs, ensuring that ideas are turned into outcomes. It’s still the case that companies embark on journeys to buy new technology without a formal digital strategy to define the business outcomes they want to achieve. 

A great way to overcome this is by embracing ideation, a moderated form of brainstorming which brings different voices and perspectives to the table and gives each participant an equal chance to shape the strategic outcomes of the session. Ideation processes are outcome-centred and support the entire lifecycle of innovation, from the generation of ideas to the strategic and tactical plans that will realise their potential. The success of companies who have used this practice offers a striking lesson about digital transformation: the approach to technology adoption, rather than simply the technology you adopt, is the differentiator. 

Having said that, customers rely on companies to help them innovate over time through impressive technology products. The best vendors have a continually evolving product roadmap, allowing for new features and enhanced functionality to be developed, and ensuring that problems are fixed. But a huge problem that is frustrating the relationship between technology vendors and their enterprise customers is the speed of innovation. Digital success not only requires IT to be part of the business, but it also requires it to move at the speed of the business. 

In this context, the relentless introduction of new technology – including updates and patches – is a big challenge for enterprise IT staff. They can easily get bogged down evaluating one-off, emerging technology products. This is an ineffective use of their time which will almost certainly inflate the cost of any digital transformation initiative. 

For those customers faced with this reality, the knowledge, speed, agility and independence of channel players is invaluable. Customers and vendors both need partners who can demonstrate, integrate and deploy innovative technology products and solutions to achieve business outcomes.

The time is now for the channel to shift from simple value-added reselling towards technology integration, providing front-end and management consulting. As well as buying and reselling services and products, some channel players are now playing a much more active role, helping to change the way organisations adopt technology. 

Vendors can do a lot to help their customers by identifying the channel partners who actually fulfil this promise. Many firms provide a framework for partners to help them build the skills required to deliver solutions to end customers and regularly audit partners against it. 

These certifications, such as the Cisco Gold Certification which World Wide Technology (WWT) recently achieved in the UK, validate important factors such as our skills, support capabilities and business practices, as well as the satisfaction of our customers. 

Given the growing role that channel partners can now play in digital success, it is critical that customers are confident of these factors when choosing a trusted partner. Cisco’s Gold Certification programme, which requires the broadest range of expertise across multiple technologies, is an example of the rigorous standards which vendors should ask of their channel partners, so that customers can access the support they need. 

Technology companies and enterprise customers alike need a set of active channel players who play a role in defining and integrating technology innovations which create real business value. When they find these partners, collaboration will play an integral role in how organisations remain relevant to customers and transform their business models well into the future.

Ben Boswell, Vice President for Europe at World Wide Technology

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