Five Topics Channel Professionals Should Be Paying More Attention to in 2016
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” That infamous Ferris Buehler quip applies just as well to business as it does to us in our personal lives. Reflection and research are two of the most important activities you can engage in, whether you’re looking to improve yourself or your organization. While too much focus on the past can be distracting, business owners simply can’t move forward without a good understanding of what’s worked (and hasn’t worked) in the past, and which opportunities hold the most promise for their particular organizations.
The future for the IT channel, by all reports, is quite bright. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges ahead for service providers, vendors and distributors. Technology and business process advances continue to escalate, and the competition is never far behind. Organizational leaders simply have to be more perceptive today. If they wish to succeed, they have to pay closer attention to industry trends and the latest innovations ─ and always be on the lookout for the things that could positively (or negatively) affect their customers.
Paying close attention to your “end clients” is that crucial today. With a plethora of easy to install and configure apps and “self-serve” cloud services available today, commoditization is a real threat to providers without a specialization or comprehensive support services. The channel’s true value is derived more from business applications and unique skill sets today than from the technology it can deliver. Most IT firms understand the fastest route to commoditization is by competing head-to-head with basic services companies, including direct vendors with little or no support or customization capabilities. In other words, if your portfolio is similar to what the local cable or telco companies are offering, it’s time to rethink your business strategy.
Investing in the latest technologies may not make sense for the vast majority of IT services firms ─ at first. The trick is to focus more on leading edge technologies that clients and prospects will be clamoring for in the coming months rather than spending too much on bleeding edge offerings that may never pan out. That’s not an easy task, even if your customers willingly share future goals and business plans.
Just like those forced to choose Betamax or VHS formats so many years ago, your company may have a variety of options and have to hedge its investments in some areas. That’s why it’s so important to spend time researching your clients’ needs and paying close attention to the latest industry trends. That information will allow you to more accurately predict future customer solution needs, as well as the investments required to best support their long-term business goals (and your overall success).
With so many IT services trends in the news and a multitude of critical business needs facing them at any point in time, what should channel professionals start paying more attention to in 2016? There’s no real consensus (it varies for each organization), but here are a few that are gaining traction across the industry:
- Business agility: Is your organization flexible enough to succeed over the long haul? Are your employees eager to tackle new challenges and willing to take on additional responsibilities? Whether shifting your business model, opening a new practice or altering the company’s market focus, change is inevitable if you want to be successful. An agile business is one with the right people, flexible processes and a positive attitude and environment for change. With those elements in place, your organization will be able to adapt to virtually any expected (or not so expected) situation.
- Analytics: Big Data is an imposing term for many in the channel; but it doesn’t have to be. Consider how much information each company collects each year and how valuable it could be if were properly organized and easy to evaluate. Every business (even the S in the SMB) can do more with the data it collects and creates. Providers with the ability to explain and implement Big Data/analytics solutions are already capitalizing on these skills and will likely see demand for their services increase exponentially over the next few years. It’s a differentiator that will drive new revenue and add significantly to future profits.
- Advanced sales and marketing: Things have changed a lot in the past decade, especially the way IT services companies promote and sell their offerings. Relationship building programs are rapidly replacing the hard sale and monthly product quotes. Social media and digital marketing platforms allow IT firms to maximize their exposure with minimal investments. Many providers are realizing the limitations of their own sales and marketing skills and have begun hiring professional managers to get to their organizations to the next level. Still doing it all yourself? Set aside time in 2016 to research the options.
- IoT business solutions: No need to be scared by the term. Think of the Internet of Things as an outline of potential solutions for channel firms. Regardless of vertical market or business size, many of your clients may benefit from machine-to-machine technologies in the future, but will need to spend some time (and capital) getting their networks and infrastructure ready for it now. Most will also need help designing, implementing and supporting the solutions. Is your team up to the challenge?
- Security: Obviously, this topic and the opportunities it presents have been around for quite some time. Nonetheless, its importance to the business community grows exponentially each year, especially with the growth of Third Platform technologies (i.e. the cloud, mobility, Big Data, etc.). Our expanding reliance on the web for connecting these platforms is creating new and more complex vulnerabilities ─ and opportunities for those with advances network and data protection skills.
Of course, these are just a few of the possible focal points for channel professionals in 2016. Some offer real provider and vendor revenue opportunities today. Others may have the potential to become future solutions your customers will need (or at least want and be willing to pay a premium for). Either way, consider the start of the new year a great time to reflect and build a strong business strategy.
You owe it to yourself, your team and your customers to make the right decisions. With solid research and many intelligent discussions, you’ll be better equipped to make that happen.