Technology industry buzz typically feeds off rather amorphous labels such as "cloud" and "IoT," terms that transcend international borders, even though their meaning is subject to broad interpretation and rather loose application. The buzz in technology distribution, however, plays out behind the scenes, yet fully in sync with widespread industry evolution. It begins with remarkable relationships up and down "the channel." A vastly renewable resource.
Engagement is completely different compared with other pivotal eras in our collective history. As the digital economy's roots started to grow, partnerships between distributors, vendors and solution providers branched out in extraordinary directions. Strategic longer-term thinking supersedes shorter-term inventory-turn aspirations. A lot of what is "shipped" these days doesn't even hit the conveyor belt. Distributor cloud journeys essentially began, for example, with the proliferation of software licensing in the 1990s. Many success stories continue unfolding beyond logistics centre loading docks.
Insiders know that distributors are rapidly advancing their business models across all the boom categories of today. Those in the know also grasp that the channel hallway conversations have shifted. It's not about products on shelves. It's about solutions driving better business outcomes and services enabling them as well as higher personal and team productivity. This is the course of the future.
The course isn't really a new development. Distribution has been on this path for years, at times imperceptibly, especially to those not close to what they do. Comprehensive solutions are the foundation. Distributors provide this distinct advantage and much more everywhere they operate.
Our organisation, the Global Technology Distribution Council, has gained unique perspective on how distributor value has changed over the past two decades, backed by years of industry-wide sales-out data. We see a clear story; a dramatic transformation. Hundreds of additional brands are now entering the picture – from both mainstay and up-and-comer ends of the portfolio spectrums. The diversity of offerings from one distributor to the next reflects the much more dynamic, more specialised roles they perform today. Services, on the other hand, define them more than the boxes they ship.
Separating fact from fiction
Sometimes the buzz we hear doesn't reflect this reality. We've heard the pundits for years predicting the imminent demise of distributors. Whether associated with direct-model challenges or the internet's rise to fame, these and other perceived disintermediation threats ended up on very different courses than those which outsiders theorised. Indirect is more in vogue than ever. Distributors are among the world's largest e-commerce engines.
Misperceptions aren't unusual when stemming from external sources, of course. Sometimes misinformation even rumbles from within, depending on the perspective taken – whether geographical or philosophical in nature, for example. Our industry organisation has even been misconstrued by some as catering to "global" distributors despite actually having more regional members. And we're striving to add more to the mix.
The "G" in our name signifies the scope of technology distribution, with events and initiatives across the world to help give all distributors a stronger voice, a greater sense of industry unity, plus unparalleled vendor engagement opportunities. Healthy competition has always characterised this industry too, and we know this will continue no matter what.
Regardless of what pundits or certain practitioners say, constructive and productive conversations are still winning by a very large margin, not basis points. We all know the balances and imbalances of power don't hinge on industry association doors. It's about business actions on the street – the service paradigms that support partner and end-customer success in the digital economy.
"Fulfillment" will be much deeper now than what goes inside boxes. Innovation is reshaping the playing field. Global, regional and local distributors are going to cover every inch of it. From the most mundane and tedious services the world needs, up to truly profound strategic breakthroughs. Count on it. Distributors will deliver.
Tim Curran is CEO of the Global Technology Distribution Council
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