Unless the UK votes with its feet to leave the European Union, it is likely that all 27 member states will go on continuing to integrate in various ways. Free movement of labour, offering benefits for individuals, has been more or less guaranteed under EU law – but what about making businesses or at least their revenue and profits Europe-wide?
You'd think IT resellers would be experts in partnering – the clue, after all, is that they tend to be called partners and even describe themselves as such – but surprisingly few look beyond vendor-reseller partnerships to teaming up with other resellers to achieve economies of scale and mutual business benefit.
OEMs do it all the time, making strategic and technology alliances with other vendors around the globe. But regional resellers seem to stay stuck in a more reactive partnering mode. Perhaps the benefits just aren't there or are too tenuous to tempt the canny VAR, which must husband its resources carefully through these tough times.
Within the UK, resellers do join various groups – such as Brigantia, a VAR's membership of which promises customers a level of professional accreditation and ethical behaviour.
Meanwhile, the 1,000 members pay £199 to join and then £24 per month to get access to certain services – such as better credit and debit processing rates and pre-negotiated deals with distis, services providers and vendors – and a chance to promote themselves as accredited to the Brigantia Computer Expert standard.
Internationally, the association has a reciprocal deal with ASCII resellers in the US, and for a small additional charge members can belong to global IT industry body CompTIA as well.
Then there are groups such as AVM Impact's brainchild, the AV Global Alliance of audiovisual integrators, and other third-party tech providers across some 150 cities worldwide.
Alliance members work together to jointly support international customers in particular. For example, UK-based AVM and US-based AVI-SPL combined their capabilities and infrastructure in the US and Europe to deliver managed video services to customers of both companies, using service centres in New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and London, and video bridging infrastructure at eight points of presence.
This also meant the resellers were able to combine their resources to expand the number of languages they supported for multinational customers.
The AV Global Alliance merged with a US-based body of resellers focused on unified comms, managed services and video conferencing, the Global Presence Alliance (GPA), in January. Members of the merged body now cover five continents and 70 countries.
Ed Cook, chief executive of Twickenham integrator AVM Impact, says the aim is to use this combined scale to develop ever more sophisticated engagement models and standards-based offerings for global customers in particular.
The merger means members will be able to deliver "a whole new level of service", which includes further global capabilities, he says.
Creating such a combined talent pool of thousands of audiovisual professionals means international projects can be delivered more consistently, and that customers can have fast access to local, proven resellers in a range of locations. The resellers can also share innovative ideas and best practice as well as coordinate and standardise their system design, programming and implementation to their own, and their customers', advantage.
Julian Phillips, vice president of GPA founding reseller Whitlock, says that both organisations had been successful in raising market awareness and providing innovative global solutions.
"Bringing the programmes together makes it easier for customers and technology providers to select the most capable partner to help drive enterprise standards and global services," Phillips says in a statement announcing the merger.
One channel partner – such as a distributor – can also simply partner another to target a particular market or area of potential growth. Security VAD Vigil Software recently merged with German partner Infinigate; Vigil has now taken the latter's name, but they started out as two independent partners working together. It worked so well that they decided to formally merge.
Alex Teh, managing director of the former Vigil Software (pictured, right), says the distis had been working together for about a year and things had gone really well. As a 12-year-old UK company, with about 30 staff and all its mainly SMB-focused business in the UK, Vigil had eventually found that opportunities for further expansion became limited.
"As a standalone distributor based in the UK, we had limited opportunities in regards to the types of vendors we could work with," Teh says. "Because a lot of vendors these days are looking for pan-European coverage, one of the main reasons for us moving to work in a pan-European way is we might have a better chance of getting better contracts. Particularly US companies that would like to think of Europe as just one country."
Vigil grew quite rapidly over the last four to five years and the next step was therefore either to build its own European operation or work with another company to do so. For Infinigate, Vigil offered a UK presence and some 1,000 reseller partners with strong, well-developed relationships. So its UK expansion got a head start, and the then-Vigil enjoyed the same advantage in Germany.
"We investigated the opportunity of building our own business over there and it would have been difficult. It would not have not impossible – it just would have taken a lot longer," Teh confirms. "We were seen as a safe pair of hands, because we were a VAD. And our DNA was very close to that of Infinigate."
The next move could be expansion into Scandinavia, with the merged organisation –in which Infinigate holds 57 per cent of Vigil – talking to a potential partner over there, says Teh.
Perhaps partnering channel partners in other locations is a strategy that more VARs, VADs and services providers could also consider?
According to The Partnering Initiative (TPI), a not-for-profit initiative by the International Business Leaders Forum, which aims to promote partnering for sustainable development between businesses and NGOs, a potential partnership engaging two or more organisations must consider three main aspects: equity, transparency and mutual benefit.
Prospective partners should ask if there is evidence that a partnership would be mutually beneficial, and spell out the roles on each side. Do the potential partners have the skills and expertise required? And will there be a genuine addition of value, as opposed to simply a convenient alignment of interests?
According to the TPI website: "It is usually important to do considerable scoping before committing to a partnership and, possibly, to do some pilot collaborative work in a pre-partnership phase to see how the relationships go and whether the benefits outweigh the risks and the transaction costs."
The TPI works specifically with businesses partnering NGOs around the world, but CRN thinks some of it sounds like good advice even if working with other businesses. For example, difficulties can surely arise when one partner is weaker and in effect being carried by the other, or if the partners are unable to build trust between key players.
UK Trade and Investment offers help to all sizes and types of UK businesses with ventures abroad, such as market exploration opportunities and strategy development as well as assistance in finding business partners to enter a new market.
Potential benefits of partnership
• Access to knowledge: mitigating risk and reducing potential mistakes by having a greater understanding of the operational context
• Access to people: a wider pool of technical expertise, experience, skills, labour and networks
• Effectiveness: development of more appropriate, better products and services
• Efficiency: reducing costs and delivery systems by sharing, and avoiding duplication
• Innovation: developing unexpected or new ways of addressing old issues and complex challenges
• Human resource development: enhancing workforce skills and competencies
• Long-term stability and impact: achieving greater reach by being efficient and effective
• Reputation and credibility: increased organisational reputation and credibility
Areas of potential risk
• Loss of autonomy: the challenge of shared decision-making and building consensus before action can be taken, plus the implications of wider accountability (to other partners and to wider beneficiaries)
• Conflicts of interest: something right for the interests of the partnership may be at odds with the individual organisation's interests
• Drain on resources: commitment of time and energy of key staff in partnership building and project development, in addition to any additional financial or other resource contributions, can be greater than anticipated
• Implementation challenges: day-to-day demands of delivering a partnership programme as a collaborative venture include additional management, tracking, reporting and evaluation requirements
• Negative reputation impact: when partnerships go wrong
Source: TPI website
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