By the time you read this, there is a high probability that the waistband on your trousers or skirt will be significantly tighter than it was last week. The Easter bunny is just a couple of hops away and nationwide chocolate bingeing is set to replace all those 40-day junk food diets.
Unlike the eating habits of a nation though, companies such as Compaq and Microsoft are looking to become slimmer and more efficient, respectively. Compaq, fresh from its recent anti-Dell ranting, is planning all sorts of changes to its channel model.
Not all of these are good, but then that isn't too surprising from the company that has 'no plans to go direct'.
In the UK, Compaq is planning to let a few distributors go as part of its new approach to the channel. Cynical watchers would claim that now it's selling direct to customers via its Web sales site, it doesn't need as many distributors. The less enlightened would claim that it's just good business sense in a weak economic climate.
Whatever your view, distributors are going to be cut loose and there's not a lot of other very strong PC vendors out there with which to link up.
They could go with Fujitsu, but it seems more intent on selling PCs through channels such as supermarkets and BT/Egg stores. IBM is no longer the force it once was. What with its multi-billion dollar deal with rival Dell and the revelation that its PC business has just incurred losses of almost $1 billion, there's a big cloud hanging over the future of the vendor in the PC game, despite its number two status in terms of sales.
In addition to reducing its UK distributor count, Compaq is ready to kick off its manufacturing and distribution plans - PartnerDirect - for the SME sector with the help of Ingram Micro and Tech Data. In case you feel out of the loop on all the different ways Compaq is managing to sell direct but still 'support our channel', check out http://www.compaq.com/betteranswers/the plan where you can find out what scraps Compaq is willing to throw companies for nicking their customers.
Another company intent on changing is Microsoft, which has finally outlined its big restructuring plan that will see it split into six divisions to target specific customer segments. Please be aware that these changes will in no way guarantee that products will actually arrive on time, or even the the same year as they were intended. All the information so far points to no more than a reshuffling of bigwigs into roles very similar to their current positions. There's no information on how this might affect its channel operations, but rest assured that any bad news will arrive faster than the products.
We usually take time out to ask large players at the start of the year how they think this year in the channel will be different to last year. Surprisingly, no one predicted the scale of backstabbing and upheaval going on. Considering that we are only a quarter of the way through the year, the next nine months could herald some of the most significant changes to the UK channel since selling direct made an impact.
Finally, a piece of good news for network players in the channel has arrived from research giant, IDC.
According to its latest findings, the skills shortage is forcing companies to scramble for network consultancy and outsourcing services. And scramble they will until at least 2004 due to the greater demand for e-commerce and Web facilities. So, whether or not vendors will let you supply the kit, take heart in the knowledge that someone in the channel will actually get to connect it all up. Until next week, that is.
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