We often hear that the jack of all trades is a master of none. Yet when times are tough it can be tempting to step outside one’s core capabilities to play in new product categories that may offer additional revenue.
However, such a move may prove counterproductive when the IT reseller comes up against long-established, reputable specialists such as in the AV arena.
Wayne Stephens, EMEA director of partners and alliances at videoconferencing vendor Tandberg, said conferencing was traditionally confined to the meeting room and usually came under the remit of audiovisual (AV) specialists. Today, though, Tandberg works with system integrators and IT resellers to boot.
“Videoconferencing is rapidly moving across to the desktop. And you need to attach devices on the end of a network. That includes devices attached to the desktop client, such as webcams,” said Stephens.
Following this trend, vendors such as Tandberg have designed their latest
hardware with a view to interoperability and connectivity with IT such as PCs
AV technologies such as displays, printers, scanners, cameras and signage are being sucked into the slipstream produced by the slow but inexorable march of telecommunications towards convergence.
There is a move back the other way too, with webcams, for example, now supporting high definition.
This produces real opportunities for the IT reseller with broad skills across varied technologies.
“This is a new environment for the AV guys as well,” said Stephens. “We have had a lot of conversations with AV resellers on this very subject because they do not have the skills to do the integrated video infrastructure on an IT network.”
“They need IT security and management skills, which are absolutely necessary in delivering video across a whole enterprise.”
While AV resellers keen to stay in play are certainly developing the skills, IT resellers can leap into the breach to supply services and support from their well-honed arsenal.
Carriers, IT resellers or integrators can also collaborate directly with AV resellers. “They can either get the skills or collaborate on projects. And we are seeing more of this collaboration,” claimed Stephens.
Jon Sidwick, managing director of AV distributor Maverick, agreed with Stephens. AV resellers and IT resellers both have something to offer firms’ AV implementations, so need not cannibalise each other’s sales to survive.
“AV resellers are finding they need to understand the IT side, and that is being driven by product more than anything,” said Sidwick. “Projectors are now networkable, for instance.”
Videoconferencing involves an IP addressing solution, with few videoconferencing solutions now reliant on ISDN. Digital signage, too, has moved away from standalone display products, towards networkable products and even machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.
“These are areas that AV resellers have to understand,” said Sidwick.
Maverick last year began running Cisco training courses, for example, for AV specialists. Yet to deliver a more complete solution AV resellers are still keen to work closely with their more IT-focused peers.
“They see that the industries are different enough that doing so does not represent a major threat,” said Sidwick. “And we have some IT resellers moving the other way, getting involved in the display side.”
Many industries tend towards some convergence over time and that provides fresh ground to plough for channel players who once stuck to what they knew.
“Channel IT companies most probably will buy in the skill sets, and we are seeing that with the large corporate resellers, creating their own AV divisions,” said Sidwick. “Niche AV specialists will probably stick to the high-end installations.”
Between those extremes fall opportunities for IT resellers: the ‘in-between’ players do not represent a dilution of expertise but are complementary, according to Sidwick.
Window of opportunity
Darren Lewitt, divisional director of Midwich, noted that some merging of IT and AV reseller skills has been happening for some time. However, the channel is not saturated, so there are still roles for fresh talent.
“Resellers do have different strengths, but you cannot generalise,” said Lewitt. “If you have one from Birmingham and one from London, their locations might be more important than whether they are primarily an IT or AV reseller.”
Around five to eight years ago, when IT resellers were not selling AV products, it made more of a difference. But diverse skill sets have spread across the channel, and AV technology too has evolved.
“More AV resellers are partnering with IT resellers to try to share their skills,” said Lewitt. “We also believe that primarily, people buy from people.”
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