Hooray for collaborators

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23 February 2018 | 0

Billy MacInnesIs collaboration a dirty word? It certainly used to be when it was applied to people from occupied countries who helped (or fought with) the fascist powers during World War II. In IT, it’s usually seen as a positive, however, at least when it’s applied to technology.

Collaborative technologies and collaboration platforms are becoming very important to many organisations. One recent report suggested the global enterprise collaboration market could grow to $49.51 billion by 2021 (up from nearly $26.7 billion in 2016).

The channel knows all about collaboration in a wider sense because, in many instances, one of the primary functions distributors and resellers fulfil is to make technologies from different vendors ‘collaborate’ with each other.

Now, a further evolution is taking place in the collaborative process among channel partners themselves. This is being driven by the fact most of them aren’t in a position to provide all the IT skills required to support their customers because the range of skills they need to cover is so wide in modern IT environments.

In addition, in the words of Neil Wisdom, managing director at Intellicom: “There are so many touch points because everything links to everything else. If something goes wrong, there are so many touch points that could be causing it.” Not many channel businesses are in a position to cover all of them.

This ties in with some recent UK research, reported in MicroScope, which found the need to plug gaps in their IT skills was prompting more resellers (two-thirds in fact) to look for new partners to work with. The Channel in 2020 research, conducted by IT services company Agilitas, suggested that up to a quarter of business revenue could come through collaboration.

Commenting on the results, Agilitas CEO, Shaun Lynn argued that technical and training partnerships with other channel companies could help to the skills gap challenge. “I’m confident that in the next few years, the number of collaborative partnerships will only grow as the need to meet the exacting requirements of the end-user, in an increasingly customer-centric environment, becomes ever more crucial,” he said.

But while resellers were happy to talk to Agilitas about their new found enthusiasm for collaboration at a business level, they were more reticent when it came to sharing that information with their customers, with only a quarter saying they were prepared to tell customers that some of their services were outsourced.

While that’s understandable at one level because resellers might not want customers to think they were bringing in someone else to do work on their behalf, it does fly in the face of much of what channel partners do for customers, which is to work on behalf of vendors on their technology because vendors can’t do it for customers themselves.

It also hints at a lack of self-confidence in their chosen role as trusted advisers that channel partners don’t believe customers will back their judgement in identifying the best provider of a particular technology, service or skill for their needs.

Far better to be upfront about it and to explain why it was necessary to bring in someone else, especially if you can frame it as a collaboration that will improve the service provided to the customer. After all, if vendors can accept that no one can do everything, why can’t channel companies and their customers?

Wisdom says Intellicom is happy to collaborate with other partners to help customers. “We would work with a number of similar IT reseller service companies and draw on them for their expertise,” he says. “They would draw on us for our skills around telephony, telecom systems and services. Each to his own. You need to acknowledge your weaknesses, focus on the areas you’re good at and bring in others where you can’t [provide the skills].”

You can’t argue with that.

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