All for one… and more of the same

Collaboration
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Billy MacInnes asks whether it's possible for can collaborative efforts work across the channel?

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15 February 2019 | 0

Here is something to think about. I was planning to write an article this month which looked in greater depth at a story which I had read on the MicroScope website. Nothing unusual about that. It was the kind of story that I thought chimed with what we are told is a shift of emphasis towards a collaborative channel where partners share their expertise to provide a more complete solution to customers. You know, the new world order where partners who don’t have particular skills in one part of an overall solution find others who do have them and collaborate together because it’s much easier (and cheaper) than trying to develop all the skills themselves.

The story itself concerned an initiative by Westcon, the distributor of “unified communications, security, networking infrastructure and collaborative solutions”. The initiative is known as the Westcon Tech Xpert Community. As its name suggests, it is a community “where technology experts can network, get support, mentoring, share information and experience best practice to grow their skills”. It is open to all partner system engineers, technical support and pre-sales staff.

The details are skimpy at this stage but, according to Westcon, participants will have access to online conferences, networking events and online challenges to tune up their skills. It invites them to “join a community of Xperts who have the relevant qualifications, skills and experience that can be of an advantage to broadening your knowledge and expertise”.

MicroScope quotes Mike Cox, Westcon vendor and alliances director, who says it will enable individuals to share experiences and build relationships with technical peers and give them “the opportunity to learn from each other and deepen their understanding of technologies. Ultimately everyone will be able to design and build better solutions at the crucial pre-sales stage and deliver greater customer value”.

You cannot argue with that, particularly when he goes on to stress: “One thing is sacrosanct, no sales or marketing allowed. It is created by technical people, for technical people and all about sharing and learning together.”

Starting point
Taking the Westcon announcement as my starting point, I posed a number of questions to people in the Irish channel asking for their perspective on what the implications could be. Does it make sense to create a technical support community for partners, I wondered. Is it something distributors could take a lead role in trying to put together? If so, why haven’t they done so before? What are the obstacles to creating such a community? And can such initiatives really be vendor-agnostic?

The good news is that no one argued with the initiative. The bad news is that no one said anything about it. At all. Why not? Maybe they didn’t want to talk about a specific initiative from a specific distributor. That is something I can understand. Companies are, often, reluctant to give more oxygen to a rival’s initiative, especially if they don’t have something similar of their own.

But the questions I was asking were designed to broaden the scope of the story beyond Westcon to look at whether a technical community for partners, preferably something that was vendor agnostic, would be a good thing and, if so, how it could be achieved.

Establishing collaboration
One of the problems may well be that, despite all the talk of collaboration at a reseller level, it is much harder to put in place at a vendor and distributor level. Yes, I know that vendors have announced many collaborations on specific solutions or strategic alliances over the years but those collaborations are also restrictive in that they relegate other technology in favour of a chosen vendor’s technology. If you are a partner that has put together a particular solution because it works best for specific customers, it’s not helpful if your vendor suggests you use a different technology just because it has signed a worldwide deal with someone else.

Distributors also expend a lot of time and energy developing and maintaining relationships with vendors. A lot of that relationship is based on strengthening and deepening the ties between the reseller and the vendor. Providing an opportunity for resellers to tap into technical skills for offerings from rival vendors would probably not be viewed favourably by a distributor’s existing vendors. A forum where a reseller that sources, for example, a security product from this distributor but feels free to proffer the view that the distributor’s offering in collaborative solutions isn’t technically as good or suitable as a product from a rival wouldn’t stay up for long.

Hard earned
Resellers are not dispassionate either. They have their own loyalties to specific technologies and vendors. In many cases, that is a loyalty that has been earned by the vendor because the technology works in the way it is expected to. But a lot of technology does that. However, the investment a reseller makes in a specific vendor represents a commitment it has made to that vendor.

In any technical support community, the contribution from a reseller will be coloured by its expertise and support of a chosen vendor’s technology. So, you may well broaden your expertise and skills in that type of community, but it is very likely to be restricted to the narrow confines of a specific vendor’s technology.

Which leads me to conclude that while many players in the IT industry might be happy to enthuse about collaboration and sharing, it is usually only on their own terms.

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