The channel should watch out for 3D printing, according to Futurizon futurologist Ian Pearson. This sounds like a remark set to raise more than a few eyebrows, but Pearson told Channel Conference 2012 that 3D printing will shake up diverse industry sectors, not excluding IT manufacturing and the supply chains that depend on it.
“You could ‘print’ things in your own office, or use a high-quality machine at a services provider just down the road. You just download the spec and run down the road to ‘print’ it,” Pearson said. “3D printing is, I think, one of the really key things.”
Of course, it is not printing as we usually understand it, but a fabrication technique. All sorts of products can, with the right tools, be ‘printed’ layer by layer. It is also known as additive manufacturing technology, and has been used in injection moulding for many years.
Futurizon's Pearson told delegates that a US jeans manufacturer client of his uses 3D printing to make bespoke belt buckles.
Advances such as cloud computing will make it possible to download 3D specifications anywhere, any time -- ultimately democratising manufacturing, sometimes even enabling remote production of items on demand. Costs will be reduced and kit manufactured anywhere - not just, for example, in China at massive plants with low labour costs.
New types of businesses will be formed, and new providers spring up to serve them, and therein lies the challenge. “Some of these will have really nice business models which can make a lot of cash,” Pearson said. “And some of them may be ‘social entrepreneurs’ and there will not be much chance to squeeze any profit out of them.”
IT will go on getting more complicated. But it seems certain that social media, cloud, mobility and miniaturisation will continue expanding while organisations seek yet more agility and efficiency.
The economy will be like the Loch Ness monster - with a series of bumps, rising as benefits accrue from technological advances, each with a probable dip in their wake as a more difficult or recessionary period followed, he predicted.
Emerging “smart dust” technology, for example, will help create a world where data is all pervasive - meaning information security will have to be as well, suggested Pearson.
Dave Poskett, enterprise channel director at Huawei UK and Ireland, stressed that channel companies should dare to be different, carving out an individual path. Tech providers must be proactive, not just wait for the future to overtake them - even if their ideas are seen as risky.
“Walt Disney’s request for funding for his theme park was turned down 302 times,” Poskett pointed out. “Howard Schultz of Starbucks’ franchise funding request was turned down 242 times.”
He said it is advisable to decide where future investment is likely to lie and predict where you might succeed. He added that Huawei, for example, is keen to invest in R&D in the UK via its channel partners. Resellers and other IT providers are urged to contact Huawei if they have ideas for opportunities that need development or research.
“We have a channel programme that is very much based on recreating the concept of the Silk Road, a conduit for global trade from Rome to Xi’an from 200BC to 1400AD,” Poskett said. “And everything we transact is through channel partners. We believe a recession is the time to do something different and take advantage of opportunities.”
The battle for security
James Lyne, director of technology strategy at Sophos, highlighted the need for mobile security driven by the ever more complex and diverse threats in tandem with cloud and consumerisation. Few organisations understand the threats or the best route to take, which provides ongoing opportunities to a channel that can keep up with advances in security.
“Virtest.com is a quality assurance service for malware authors. And there are lots of others,” he noted. “But most people [only] make a decision to do something about a security problem once it happens to them.”
Ransomware is one of the latest malware strategies, where a user’s system is compromised and an alert is sent to them as part of an extortion attempt. Few users had seen it yet, but they would, said Lyne.
Smartphones remain particularly susceptible, with some vulnerabilities actually reintroduced in new models. Yet few users take mobile device management and mobile information security seriously. Users should be re-evaluating their security in the light of advancing threats at least every six months, and in future, checks would be needed even more often.
“It is about doing seven or eight things that will not inhibit the user experience and will prevent these issues,” he said.
Learning and earning
The panel debate chaired by CRN deputy editor Doug Woodburn saw Adam Jarvis, chief executive of Intrinsic Technology; Ben Cranham, head of corporate accounts at Trustmarque; Dan May, commercial director of Ramsac; and Joanna Poplawska, performance director at the Corporate IT Forum (pictured, below left) analyse solutions to the IT skills shortage, where many find a barrier to growth at a time when there are already obstructions aplenty.
“We seem to be training a generation of people who can be very good secretaries and users of Microsoft Office,” said Cranham.
May agreed: “Five years ago, people were excited that children were using Word in English lessons and Excel in maths lessons. But actually that should be a given.”
However, the panel agreed that it is not so much about a lack of real IT skills per se as it is about finding the right people to do a job at the right time, and for the right price.
So the answer is likely to be about the industry being more proactive -- sometimes, for example, they might need to look beyond the basic qualification to see what a candidate’s long-term aptitude might be -- as much as it is about schools producing the right sorts of graduates.
“There are lots of people whose skills are withering on the vine,” noted Cranham. “And we need to support their skill development.”
Poplawska pointed out that education programmes should avoid producing large numbers of people with siloed skills who might find it difficult to develop their capability in response to economic and industry change.
“Our business needs people who can problem solve,” noted Jarvis.
The panel agreed that apprenticeships would play a role, as would more partnering with universities - especially if that involved providing opportunities for students to visit IT companies and find out exactly what the work might be like and where it might take them. Technology is changing so fast that there are always likely to be challenges, they reiterated.
Delegates then chose one of two focus sessions. AYMTM’s sales and managing director Graham James looked at innovative ways to motivate sales staff, while Genesis Capital’s chief executive Matthew Porton gave the lowdown on leasing and other third-party financing arrangements.
Lunch set up attendees for the presentation on G-Cloud opportunities and the changes in procurement practice by Eleanor Stewart, engagement manager for the UK government’s G-Cloud programme -- see p4-5 of this issue for a full analysis.
The audience was then treated to another panel discussion chaired by Servium’s managing director Paul Barlow. Ian Murphy, principal analyst at Creative Intellect Consulting, looked at the main considerations for IT supplier selection and Caroline Cooper, chief information officer at Buckinghamshire County Council, gave her view in relation to local government deals.
Jeremy Nettle, chairman of the health and social care council at IT industry group Intellect, talked about big data issues now and in the future. He said the data is now out there regardless of privacy fears, so the only option is to focus on how best to manage and use the enormous volumes of diverse data that are accumulating everywhere.
The benefits of managing it well would also be enormous, he claimed, pointing to a case study in the Basque country where millions of euros are now being saved as a result of better use of health data -- for example, by enabling nurses to give advice and by expanding telehealth programmes.
“In UK terms, it could be very valuable,” Nettle said.
Channel Partnership director Phil Brown then gave a talk on how social media could fit into an organisation’s marketing strategy, and the event wrapped up with closing remarks from CRN’s editor Sara Yirrell.
CRN would like to thank its sponsors of the day, once again, without which this successful event could not have gone ahead: Huawei, Sophos, Genesis Capital, Webroot and Wick Hill.
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