Of course ‘channel’ means different things to different people. Grouping distributors, resellers, dealers, business partners etc. etc. into one term is somewhat unfair – but generalisation for the purposes of this post is practical.
Reinforcing this sentiment, the likes of Cisco, McAffee and IBM have made some significant announcements of recent times which ramp up their channel initiatives. Some of these appear to be to the detriment of their direct operations, yet of simultaneous but converse potential benefit to small to medium sized businesses and the channels that support and supply them.
In response to both recognition from both Channel Insider and Business Solutions magazines earlier this year, McAffee’s Fernando Quintero, their vice president of channel operations for the Americas, cites that 2010 will be the year of the channel. In addition Sandy Carter, IBM Vice President, Software Group Business Partners recent announcement on channels and offerings endorses the sentiment that the channel has much more to offer to the small and mid markets. Moreover, as the longstanding powerhouse in larger accounts, IBM last week announced some pretty significant commitments to channel. But they’re not alone. The likes of Cisco, HP and Microsoft et al haven’t exactly stood still in the channel race although Sun, interestingly enough, appears to be on a path to reduce commitment with recent announcements on a shift of major account activities away from channel to direct operations.
So what does that mean for the customer? At the end of the day they’re the ones that need to see value from any shift to, or increased focus on the channel. Of course, it is an age old adage that many customers prefer local service. These customers appreciate not only the capabilities of their channel suppliers; they like the people, but they also like to feel the confidence that can only come from the assurance of the big IT vendors.
In the past the sales gap, if I can call it that, between direct and indirect was often driven by a lack of commitment and support – to the channel. At lower margins, the dichotomy of direct vs. indirect targets as well as the threat of cannibalisation of direct revenue is undoubtedly an issue, but these problems are solvable or at least manageable. Good and clear strategies, cogent, fair engagement rules, competent partners and good channel management all can make the difference.
So what happens now? Obviously we’ll have to wait and see how the channel responds to emerging opportunities, but early indicators (and indeed the findings of my own research last year) indicate a very favourable reception leading to increased revenues, loyalty to innovative vendors and, of course, increased choice and value to the end users.
What’s next? Well much is still to be done particularly in the oft-challenging areas of empowerment and enablement. They pose as the industry’s next hurdles. (Easy to say, not so easy to do.) Clearly this leads to many new options, as well as providing the opportunity to initiate a break with traditional views on the value and deliverables of the channel. To this end, I believe one of the ‘big things’ in 2010 will be the ‘cloud through the channel’ – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the likes of IBM and Cisco. Indeed Symantec’s Deepak Mohan, senior vice president, Information Management Group, notes in their recent 2010 State of the Data Centre that “Although mid-sized enterprises tend to evaluate and adopt new technologies at a faster rate than larger organizations, they still face the similar data centre complexities that are compounded by adopting new initiatives”. Isn’t this where the channel steps in?
Interesting times with exciting possibilities on the horizon – any views on the ‘cloud in the channel’ welcome!