Computer Software and Services Association (CSSA) is arguably thel source of information for any reseller? most popular IT trade association in the UK, says Philip Howells, an industry consultant specialising in computer industry channels issues. 'It has evolved over the years and meets the needs of its members. Members get a lot out of it. Those that don't are probably being run by entrepreneurs who are too busy trying to keep the business afloat to consider CSSA membership.'
Many resellers prefer joining associations which focus on speciality areas - a vertical or horizontal market association like Business and Accounting Software Developers' Association (Basda), or technology organisations like the Object Management Group (OMG) or Dynamic Systems Development Method Consortium (DSDM).
Nick Gill, consultancy services manager at Olsy and chair of the DSDM Promotional Workgroup, says trade associations are crucial in helping markets stabilise so that members can get their products to market more securely. 'There was a time when software houses and Vars developed bespoke solutions based on a functional specification provided by the user.
'It was fairly straightforward: users would just say what they wanted and the developers would deliver something which achieved those objectives.
These days it's different. Customers do not fully understand the details, connectivity problems and the implications of what they are asking,' he says.
DSDM offers a framework, says Gill, and is based on nine principles, but the developers, Vars and resellers still need to be interpret the framework into a working solution. 'Without DSDM, the Rad market would probably have disintegrated into chaos, but we have created an atmosphere in which resellers, Vars and developers can confidently work.
'Many organisations, particularly in the public sector, take an over-cautious approach - an attitude which springs from the risks of delivering the wrong solution,' he says.
DSDM has over 1,000 members and over 6,000 people have been trained on its courses. The OMG works in a similar way to DSDM - to promote best practice for the benefit of its members.
Eric Leach, a representative of OMG, says: 'Members are able to influence the way standards evolve, so for a systems house or independent software vendor which is pioneering new technology, OMG membership is essential if they hope to get their technology widely adopted as a standard.'
Richard Soley, OMG chief technology officer, says: 'The OMG member takes the initiative in pushing forward new technologies which are the basis of distributed computing in the future. They drive through their individual requirements and come to a consensus on the specifications which will be adopted globally.'
Basda is another IT trade association which promotes the interests of its members. It has been influential in making the government aware of the problems facing accounting systems providers in making changes to meet EMU demands.
Tim Baugh, MD of systems house K2, says: 'In its role as a voice for the industry, Basda has established relationships with most government departments, obviously something which resellers and solution providers on their own could not possibly do.'
Members of the Computing Suppliers Federation (CSF) have less influence about future standards and developments, but the association seeks to keep them up to date with what's happening in technology. It also serves to promote members interests to users.
Roger Crumpton, CSF general manage, says: 'We have several objectives, one of which is that customers look for our logo when selecting a supplier.
It is important that all our members have high standards and it's essential that all member companies provide high levels of professional support and services to customers.
'We believe it is incumbent on the industry to pass on knowledge to customers through education and training - the CSF is key in achieving that goal.
Any complaints about our members are investigated thoroughly so the CSF can maintain the highest trading and service standards,' he says.
Like the CSSA and CUA, the CSF is divided into several special interest groups - among them one that helps resellers and service companies manage themselves more effectively and profitably. Crumpton says: 'We are offering specialist management days when reseller and Var business managers can meet experts in personnel practice, commercial law and representatives of the latest industry standards, so that their businesses can benefit.
Many trade companies are working in isolation on the same management problems and issues - by getting them together everyone can learn a lot.'
Another well-established association is the NCC which serves to educate users so that they are better informed and easier for resellers to deal with. The NCC and CSF also act as a marriage broker between channel companies, helping resellers and systems providers find the right channel partners when necessary. 'It is not always easy to find the right partners or put the right relationship framework in place,' says Crumpton.
The CSF seeks to disseminate information to users which benefits everyone.
For example, it recently published Monitors Matter, a definitive guide on monitors on behalf of 12 members that are part of the computer graphics forum of the CSF. Monitors Matter aims to educate users about the importance of correct display selection when purchasing or upgrading systems.
Old-style trade associations existed more to challenge vendors and achieve better compatibility between systems. These days, according to Crumpton, a trade association provides a forum for networking and sharing best practices and real experiences.
A trade organisation has to provide tangible benefits for members. CUA members get subsidies on various exhibitions, marketing services and publications, which can be measured against the cost of membership. There are also intangible benefits to belonging to organisations that customers seek out when selecting a supplier. Membership can give a company or reseller credibility - and that's an invaluable commodity these days.
Basda 01628 520276
CSSA 0171 405 2171
CUA 0181 818 5110
NCC 0161 228 6333
OMG 0181 570 2182.
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