Having worked in the commercial side of the IT industry for 12 years, and holding positions at organisations describing themselves as VARs, I have often been left wondering where the value is actually being added.
Many VARs perceive that the added value is their consultancy and expertise in implementation, project management, advisory and support. But these services should really be categorised as "purchased value", not "added value", as typically there is an associated cost.
In an ever-contracting industry, I have noticed VARs trying to recover costs wherever they can. Over the past three years in particular there has been a sharp increase in the number of VARs trying to charge professional services fees for running proof-of-concept and pilot activities.
In certain circumstances this is acceptable – the customer may well need a VAR's help to get to a point where the IT or service can go out to tender – a VAR in a financially strong position would surely not expect to charge a potential new client for pre-sales assistance to run a pilot.
Whichever way you skin this, a pre-existing relationship is not a valid reason to procure from someone again. And it can be restrictive rather than liberating. Let's face it, we are all adults, and should all understand the commercial realities of business in the current climate.
Aggressive pricing in certain circumstances can certainly encourage a customer to buy from you. But is a decision based purely on cost a sensible move for the customer? Cost cutting can affect the services "added", resulting in sub-standard implementations or poor ongoing support.
Ultimately, any failure to meet expectations can destroy a client's faith in the supplier, and even lead to contract termination.
There is not a VAR on this planet that does not claim to provide excellent service. However, some do not pay enough attention to the post-implementation service and support.
SLAs are vital. Do you as a VAR publish your performance against these for clients or across the board? Do you actually outsource first and second-line support to a third party? If that is the case, what is the customer actually paying for?
Another thing to look at is so-called "24/7/365" support offerings. Out-of-hours support might just be a telephone answering service, where the customer gets their call returned next day at 9am, which is not good for customers wanting help with business-critical infrastructure.
In other instances, customers are passed to "on-call" engineers who may not be aware of a specific company's infrastructure or their technologies, and therefore are unable to provide the assistance or immediate solution required.
A good VAR will have dedicated resources with a solid understanding of the customer's business and infrastructure. This should give support teams enough insight to speed up issue resolution.
True value-add means customers are offered resources and worthwhile services as part of the overall offering, rather than being expected to spend additional budget on them.
VARs should provide free education and training events as well as genuine first, second and third-line support with qualified tech staff available around the clock. Performance should be rated against pre-agreed SLAs, and made available, both for individual customers and across the board.
VARs should also offer additional services or have experience outside the standard implementation, support and project management for specific technologies – such as risk auditing, compliance, monitoring or managed services. They should have the appropriate certifications and follow current best practice when it comes to support.
Pre-sales technical resources should also be provided at no cost when it comes to proofs-of-concept and pilots. Flexible payment terms and not-for-profit financing services would help customers get projects going.
For VARs to add value, there must be superior-level support, offered to the customer as part of the contract.
Adrian Ringrose is enterprise account director at SecureData
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