21 Jan 2016
Agnosticism was once described by arch-atheist Richard Dawkins as "fence-sitting, intellectual cowardice".
And it's also a dirty word as far as the new boss of VAR Ultima is concerned, as we discovered in our recent interview with him.
Out of the VARs and consultancies I've encountered down the years, perhaps as many as half would describe themselves as ‘vendor-agnostic'. They will argue that competitors who are in thrall to one particular manufacturer cannot be impartial when it comes to serving their customers' needs.
On the other side of the divide stand those who are happy to be labelled specialists in one or two technologies. This has obvious benefits in terms of not only vendor rebates but also expertise. You cannot be brilliant at everything.
According to Ultima's Dodds, the market is shifting towards the latter, with customers now wanting partners to get off the fence and take a strong view on which technologies they should deploy.
Incidentally, Dodds' viewpoint is backed up by research CRN conducted in September 2014, which found the average (adjusted mean) number of vendors UK resellers work with fell from 18 to 14 over the previous two years.
If Dodds is right, and the days of being able to remain completely agnostic are numbered, this makes the business of deciding which vendors to back more crucial than ever. Putting too much faith in just one or two manufacturers carries obvious commercial risks. The danger of cutting too far also puts resellers at risk of compromising their status as trusted advisors.
Why not get in touch with your views on whether customers want you to take a strong lead on the vendor technologies they deploy, or remain agnostic?
14 Oct 2015
One analyst argued that Dell is "going back in time" with its proposed acquisition of EMC, while others have branded it a "defensive move" designed to ward off the threat of cloud and next-generation storage players.
Indeed, anyone reading about the $67bn union could be forgiven for thinking they'd woken up in 2004, when IT one-stop-shops such as IBM and HP ruled the earth and bigger was always regarded as better.
The Groundhog Day feel to the largest merger in tech history is only bolstered by the fact Dell reportedly came close to buying EMC way back in 2002 and was its largest global reseller last decade, before opting go it alone and build its own storage business.
HP boss Meg Whitman was among those to insist Dell is behind the times, arguing HP is "humming" as it prepares to split into two "focused" companies that don't have the $2.5bn in debt she claimed Dell will have to service annually as a result of the acquisition.
But that does not mean the merger of these two old-school tech giants isn't a mouth-watering prospect for partners.
When it comes to loyalty among resellers, scale does still matter. According to Context, a combined Dell-EMC will be the fifth or sixth largest vendor in revenue through European distribution.
Michael Dell will doubtless already have a hit-list of the storage, virtualisation and converged infrastructure products he will can.
Partners we spoke to are fearful the scale of the integration challenge facing Dell will cause disruption but are optimistic it will emerge from that process with a stronger product set capable of serving the needs of even the largest enterprises.
Let's hope it turns out to be more a case of back to the future, than back to the past. Vote in this week's poll to let us know what you think.
First coined by academic Marshall McLuhan in 1964, the idea that "the medium is the message" is deeply embedded in many aspects of modern life.
From politics to pop culture, how an idea is conveyed now invariably enjoys a mutually dependent relationship with the means and method of that conveyance. And if you doubt that this is so, then consider the fact that spin doctors exist.
But perhaps the idea has not served us well when it comes to using IT as a learning tool. For years both the technology and education sectors have talked up the huge impact that the effective use of computing could have on teaching and, more importantly, learning outcomes.
For all that talk, a recent study from the OECD claimed that widespread use of IT has no discernible impact on pupils' performance. Indeed, those frequently using computers reportedly fare "much worse" when it comes to reading, maths, and science.
Numerous people we spoke to for our spotlight feature on the topic in this week's issue of CRN opined that the problem is not that technology is being used, but rather that it is not being used well.
An interactive whiteboard may be a great way for teachers to get their message across - but it is not the message itself, and never will be. And all the tablets in the world cannot magically improve your knowledge of the periodic table, or Seamus Heaney, or algebra.
Technology has arguably been guilty of casting itself as the star of the classroom. But to best serve students and teachers, it really ought to play more of a supporting role.
17 Jul 2015
Channel bankruptcies may be less frequent than they were a few years ago, but when they do come along, they tend to be bigger.
Of course, no one can predict the identity of the next 2e2 or Comet.
But one credit insurer I spoke to this week had some concerns that certain parts of the market – including cloud – could be overheating and should be treated with slight caution.
I remember the boss of a large reseller telling me in the wake of 2e2's demise he thought the 'next 2e2' would be a buy-and-build operator in the cloud market. He was convinced some of these providers were getting neck deep in debt without sufficient sales to show for it.
Two years on, and those concerns have been echoed by Atradius, possibly the largest credit insurer in the UK channel with an IT book that has an aggregate value of £2.5bn.
While stressing it is open to increasing its penetration of the IT market, Atradius said it is keeping a "close eye" on cloud providers that have invested large sums upfront in their systems but are still waiting for volume sales to materialise.
"You need to have critical mass and to get enough customers to pay back the money for the equipment, which is really expensive upfront. And they've been a little bit slower on taking up these facilities, is the feedback we're getting," said Atradius' senior underwriter, Arwel Roberts.
UK corporate insolvencies are at an historically low level, with casualties in the IT sector also much less frequent than five years ago. Atradius said claims from within its electronics portfolio – which includes IT – have made up just three per cent of the total UK number in the first five months of 2015, despite representing 10 per cent of its total book.
But by and large, insolvencies are bigger and more destructive than they were five years ago, with 2e2 alone leaving behind £257m of debt, 90 per cent of which it never paid back. KMS Components and Comet also left creditors and insurers severely out of pocket, while Atradius admitted it will pay out an "eight-figure sum" in claims for Phones 4u, which went under last autumn.
Such was the scale of the KMS and Phones 4u insolvencies, Atradius' electronics portfolio made up a whopping 60 per cent of total claims last year.
This means the stakes involved in avoiding insolvencies in the channel are much higher than a few years ago, both for insurers and for suppliers that have extended credit without insurance.
The rise of cloud has been impressive. Some 30 per cent of spending on IT infrastructure has already gone the way of the cloud, according to IDC, and only a fool would deny this is the way the market is going, albeit steadily.
But as the recent price wars between Amazon, Google and Microsoft have shown, parts of the cloud market are a scale game, where it's easy for the costs involved to outstrip expenses. Cloud is a market where some companies' losses have been higher than their sales. The bet is that the early investment that goes in will be recouped, but inevitably not all will make the grade.
07 Jul 2015
"We are all finding our niche".
That was a comment made by SCC chief executive James Rigby in a recent interview with CRN, in reference to how all the big resellers have strove in recent years to evolve beyond their roots in hardware supply.
And it's an interesting comment coming from the boss of a company which in the past relied on being big, rather than niche, to bring home the bacon.
Even companies as large as SCC and Computacenter are being forced to carve out a speciality for themselves in the increasingly service-driven world.
SCC's is in datacentre and cloud services, a business it expects will generate £40m revenues next. Computacenter, meanwhile, is becoming a powerful force in outsourced desktop services, recently being named as the UK's second best IT outsourcing supplier in terms of customer satisfaction.
I like to think the buzz around cloud is 50 per cent generated by reality and 50 per cent hype. After all, cloud accounted for less than a third of the overall IT infrastructure market in Q1, according to IDC, while Gartner says the fluffy form of IT will not overtake on-premise to become the bulk of new IT spend until next year.
Rigby himself admitted that cloud has been over-hyped, and forms only part of the answer for most customers: SCC's role is to act hub tying together all their on-premise, private and public cloud needs in a single wrap.
But the fact Computacenter and SCC are now both generating over half of their gross profits from services shows the extent these two channel bellwethers have had to evolve to remain at the front of the pack.
If you don't know what your niche is - other than supplying hardware and software - your chances of survival are grim.
22 Jun 2015
Is it time that vendors ditched deal registration schemes, or at least modified their DNA so protection isn't just granted to the reseller who gets there first?
That's a question many in the industry are asking as the deal registration tactics employed by some of the bigger resellers become ever-more cynical and even plain dishonest.
In theory, deal registration is a peerless tool, protecting the investment of the reseller who does the pre-sales legwork and freezing out ambulance chasers, all the while increasing the vendor's visibility into their sales pipeline.
The problem is that some larger resellers now apparently have teams dedicated to registering anything that moves - sometimes even with multiple vendors - to lock out rivals. Indeed, the phrase "deal registering your granny" is fast working its way into common parlance.
Many believe the system is broken and needs reform, as we explored in this week's issue, with one onlooker suggesting that moving to a model which allocates protection based on partners' value contribution could be the way forward.
As the article points out, alongside back-end rebates, deal reg was picked out as the most vital component of vendor partner programmes for resellers taking part in recent Canalys research. Without it, pre-sales investment would be a mug's game many argue.
But it's also clear that it's a tool that's coming under increasing fire from both smaller resellers and from vendors, who want to ensure the most deserving partners, that have actually done the work and aren't just sitting there with a copy of the Yellow Pages, are protected.
You can have your say by voting in this week's poll.
With HP, Lenovo and Insight Enterprises all unveiling new logos over the past week, there's a fun new game that's sweeping through the channel – and it's called 'new logo bullsh*t bingo'.
As Apple or Coca Cola will testify, the benefits to be gained from creating an iconic brand are almost immeasurable. On the flip side, get it wrong (London 2012, anyone!) and you could be a laughing stock.
But as nice as their new liveries look, the trio mentioned above racked up more corporate clichés than a Brendan Rogers team talk as they attempted to explain the profound thinking behind their new designs.
Insight Enterprises said the four interconnected 'i's in its new livery "signify the meaningful connections Insight makes with its clients, partners, and teammates". The logo mark is open at the centre to "signify the possibilities that technology will play as businesses transform and innovate for the future," it added.
Lenovo, which enlisted Saatchi & Saatchi New York to help with its latest corporate facelift, said the fact its new emblem (pictured, right) is housed in a "containing shape" (ie a rectangle) "acts as a window into culture and the world that surrounds us".
Not to be outdone, HP boss Meg Whitman explained that the green rectangle hovering above the new logo for the vendor's soon-to-split HP Enterprise business "symbolises the window of opportunity for what we can build together".
I still think Ingram Micro won when it said the tilted 'g' in the new emblem it unveiled last year symbolises its "agility and transparency to customers". HOUSE!
Surely pompous doublespeak that serves to confuse or alienate customers is just the kind of thing the industry is trying to get away from?
If you ask me, any customer or partner reading these would be left feeling as queasy as we did.
30 Apr 2015
By Hannah Breeze
A heavy sense of irony hung over the first day of the Cisco Partner Summit in Montreal yesterday as the Wi-Fi network spectacularly failed, leaving the thousands of delegates disconnected at a conference about how being connected will change the world. Oops.
Throughout the conference, Cisco has banged the drum for Internet of Everything, in which any "thing" - from fridges, to cars, to animals - can be connected to the internet in order to collect data which can be analysed and used by businesses.
In the past, Cisco has connected baby elephants to the internet to save them from extinction, it has worked with oil firms to use its technology to find and extract oil more efficiently than ever before, but when it comes to getting a couple of thousand people's smartphones to the internet, it is apparently flummoxed.
I will add at this point that Wi-Fi is rarely great at other tech conferences, but most other vendors will at least create separate networks for press, vendor execs, partners and so on, so there is less strain on one big network. And also in Cisco's defence, the venue we are at in Montreal is not a Cisco building and to some extent they are at the mercy of the facilities available.
I am no techie - if "turn it off and on again" doesn't work, I am stuck - but how hard can it really be for a networking company, the market leader in the WLAN market, no less, to get some working internet at an event?
In the keynote yesterday morning - when the Wi-Fi appeared to be back up and running properly - Cisco exec Bruce Klein encouraged delegates to tweet on the hashtag after there were just 3,500 tweets on it yesterday. Maybe there would have been a few more had the network actually been up and running...
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