CRN’s inaugural Channel Conference, held at Whittlebury Hall near Towcester in Northamptonshire, dawned bright and clear on 13 October. More than 140 delegates not including exhibitors, sponsors, presenters and event staff converged on the showcase area for breakfast and registration, before Sara Yirrell, editor of CRN, kicked off the day’s proceedings with a welcoming speech.
“This conference is the product of this year’s Channel Debate. We want to get closer to our readers and we want you to know that we really do value all of your opinions. We do need to stick together,” she said.
“Some 57 per cent of respondents [to a recent CRN survey] said the channel has less than three years to go in its current form. We thus want to figure out in which direction the industry should develop and what models are most likely to succeed and a forum like this seemed one of the best ways to do that.”
The opening keynote from Ian French, managing director of industry consultancy Siceo, hammered home the message that debate and communication are critical for vendors, VARs and distributors in these fast-evolving times.
“I think it is quite important. Many channels are relatively new; they are emerging and evolving all the time. Today, we have an amazing opportunity to interact,” French said. “This is an opportunity to challenge and talk to industry leaders.”
The IT channel as we know it has only really been around 30 years, yet already it has been through some astonishing metamorphoses and, if anything, change appears to be accelerating, he said.
“In the next five years, the changes that are going to happen are more dramatic and fundamental than ever before,” said French. “There are guys on boards in businesses all around that are developing things that we haven’t even thought of yet that will be on the market in six months. And then the margins will go out of them in another seven months.”
Partly, inevitable change will be forced by technological and solution development. However, political, economic and social factors are likely to play just as important a role. On one level, you might be talking about the effect of the most recent recession. On another, you are talking about how young people not yet in the workforce choose to use technology and what they are likely to expect from their working environment as a result.
“Take social networking technologies as an example. People share personal information, financial information on Web 2.0 sites and have no fear; they are already using the cloud, and they are the next generation of management,” said French.
The Channel Conference 2009 was extraordinarily privileged to host an audience with the man Ian French dubs “the grandfather of today’s channel”, SCH’s Sir Peter Rigby. Sir Peter, from his unique position at the top of the industry as chief executive and chairman of one of Europe’s largest resellers, treated attendees to his views on the channel past, present and future.
“I was very fortunate to be introduced to a company called NCR. I spent four or five years there learning to program,” Sir Peter said. “Then I decided there was a lot of money in IT and really you had to go and sell these things. That was when I was 21.”
You can read more about Sir Peter’s interview with Ian French in the magazine and at www.channelweb.co.uk/2251254.
Sir Peter’s Q&A was followed by a presentation by Intel sales and marketing vice president Gordon Graylish on how resellers can capitalise on major technological trends.
“Intel is a company that looks ahead five to 10 years from now at how we see the world changing around us,” he said.
The “very difficult path” that the world has lately followed is likely to have a deep impact on future businesses, but it is hard to tell exactly what will happen.
“Recessions, however, follow Groves’ rules: they always end; you do not ‘save’ yourself out of a recession although you certainly have to take serious action; and some [handle] them better,” said Graylish.
To be well placed upon the exit means investment must continue and that is what Intel plans to keep doing. Its technological roadmap points forward to a time where consumers and businesses will need to do even more with less, using 22nm or even 17nm chip technologies to multiply the speed and capacity of the average CPU.
For example, processor advances planned for in the past mean that 70 per cent of the trades on Wall Street go to the companies with the lowest latency in their systems because they can get their share bids in more quickly.
“We believe that continuing to drive the pace of change makes sense,” Graylish said.
The channel’s role in all that is to work with enough vision to help customers themselves understand how to get the best out of new technologies and also to develop, sell and support a blend of products that meet customers’ needs.
Matthew Poyiadgi, EMEA vice president at CompTIA, offered his view into the future to follow looking across the spectrum at how improvements in IT, manufacturing processes and customer service are driving change globally.
Biggest challenge sourcing talent
He said the biggest challenge for all businesses either is, or soon will be, sourcing talent.
“The speed of a company is dictated by the slowest and least-skilled person,” Poyiadgi said. “Companies must value their people as their primary asset. You can imitate the services and technology of rivals, because technology lowers the barriers to entry, but you cannot imitate the quality of their people.”
Poyiadgi noted that Dell is one company that is investing in its people and partnerships in its strategy to be the best in its field. The Texas-based vendor’s UK channel country manager, Paul Harrison, then took the stage. Dell has been working with the channel for two years.
“We needed to get serious about the channel. We have done some massive recruitment, building out relationships and scale,” Harrison said. “We have had 22 per cent growth in partners and have 50,000 registered partners globally.”
Its partner business has seen 28 per cent year-on-year growth through a downturn. Emerging organisational pain points around consumerisation of IT, cloud-based services, green IT and the like will require the special and personalised touch of a reseller partner to overcome.
At midday, attendees chose from one of four specially designed interactive focus groups to explore changing channel dynamics, the wonders of Windows 7, how to accelerate partner growth, and distribution partnership and collaboration.
After lunch, delegates reconvened to hear Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) chief executive and self-described maverick economist Douglas McWilliams paint the big picture for 2010 and beyond.
McWilliams looked at how a new Tory government led by David Cameron might shape up and asked if the green shoots of recovery we are seeing now are likely to turn into something more sustained (and sustainable) nationally and globally.
“Potentially, we are at the sort of stage we were in 1997, where a seismic shift in politics is quite likely,” he said. “The most important thing is the scale of the shift from West to East and the credit crunch has really accelerated it. By 2015, the western world will account for less than 50 per cent of world GDP, and that has been brought forward to this year, probably.”
Europe, the UK and the Americas have seen a “very severe” recession, while most of the eastern world China, Singapore, India and other countries that have been growing speedily in recent years have, relatively, only seen a blip. It is also likely that the West would continue to recover more slowly.
This will affect demand and the type of demand. It will also affect the ability to source talent, especially young and highly skilled professionals.
“But I think it is clear that the whole world is now recovering,” McWilliams said. Most of the steps taken to improve the situation have been beneficial and are working including the banking bailouts.
“It sticks in my throat to bail out the banks, but if you did not do it, the rest of us would be much worse off. And they started printing money. And these are actually the right things to do,” he said.
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