There comes a time in every vendor's life when it must split up or slim down its channels It is a truth universally acknowledged that a manufacturer in possession of a damned good services arm is not in need of a 100 per cent third-party strategy. The two are mutually exclusive.
Well, this is actually acknowledged among resellers and Vars which are increasingly bemused by the antics of product vendors. The vendors are, on the one hand, acutely conscious of the necessity to declare undying affection and regard for the third-party channel. But on the other hand these vendors still can't resist developing consultancy and support services which are obviously perfectly formed for working direct with the users.
Take IBM. It is the vendor most in the spotlight at the moment as regards channel strategies, as it is trying manfully to come to terms with Gerstner's diktat that the company should make more use of third parties. At the same time Big Blue's services and consultancy activities go from strength to strength - surely this is a situation which cannot continue ad infinitum?
One answer to the quandary, which is something surely being discussed over the dinner tables at Armonk and Austin, where all the IBM head honchos hang out, is to split the company up.
The advantages are blindingly obvious, and benefit the customers and the channel as well as IBM itself. Of course it is not a new suggestion - Gerstner's predecessor John Akers had a breakup blueprint well on its way to being announced two years ago, when the fickle finger of fate stepped in. Gerstner famously reversed Akers' plans, but there is a lot to be said for large vendors with significant and fast-growing services and consultancy divisions separating the two.
In IBM's case one strong reason for a breakup is the rise in share price which would almost certainly result. The overall value of the company is being held back by certain divisions, while the crown jewels like S/390 and global services are being held back from their true valuation by less profitable sections of the business.
Furthermore, it is hard to see how, with the best will in the world, Big Blue's channel marketing executives can ever manage to convincingly square the circle that third parties are a crucial part of their route to market when other divisions are building up direct operations as hard and fast as they can.
Taken a stage further, if there were a breakup it would be logical for chairman Gerstner to sell off the PC and other low-margin operations.
Other hardware divisions like RS/6000 and AS/400 could be more convincingly marketed as a consolidated company. Other divisions like global networks, software development and systems management and integration could be separate autonomous companies, competing on a more open playing field than the one we have at the moment, which is confused by Chinese walls and conflicting messages.
For Gerstner to take this step would require a great deal of courage, not least because when he came on board Gerstner announced that he believed it was crucial to hold IBM together. But there are holes breaking through the strategy all the time, and it must be becoming more and more difficult for Gerstner and his team to hold on to that original homogeneous vision.
Taking the step would not only require admitting that, after all, breakup is best, but it would also require a great shift of the corporate mindset to accept and project the notion that smaller is better than bigger. It would also require Gerstner to give up on his dreams of global domination and it would leave other manufacturers crowing.
But at the end of the day Big Blue would be trimmer, sleeker and more profitable. And if anything is likely to make Gerstner break IBM up, it is pressure from shareholders, who are more concerned with gathering wealth than global prestige.
For the channel it would also be a far more straightforward company to deal with. There would be no need for any more confusion, subterfuge or clandestine direct business. The new smaller divisions would either be clearly direct or indirect, with no grey fudging in between.
What's more, if the breakup of IBM was successful and brought about more harmonious channel relations, it is a route which many other vendors, similarly confused at the moment, poor things, are likely to follow.
MSP plans to use new acquisition to expand its security offerings
Reseller also saw its operating profit fall five per cent in its financial 2017
Wendy Bahr to bring 18-year spell at networking giant to an end
AdEPT says latest purchase will push revenue beyond £50m