Channel Chiefs: Change Just Means More Opportunities


There's never been a better time to start a solution provider business, according to some of the top channel chiefs in the industry.

During CRN's recent Channel Chiefs Roundtable, we asked the five participants if they were optimistic about the channel today and why. Would you start a solution provider business today? Or better yet, if you have a son or daughter graduating from college, would you advise them to get into the channel?

All five channels chiefs responded with a resounding "yes."

"I would absolutely advise them to do it," said Scott Dunsire, vice president and general manager of the Printing and Personal Systems Group and Americas Channels at Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, Calif. "If you are good at creating value, you will be employed the rest of your life, so it's different than the paper business or a commodity business. Technology is where all of the action is, and it's exciting stuff. It creates a lot of great entrepreneurs."

Frank Vitagliano, vice president of channel sales at Dell, Round Rock, Texas, said the IT channel is still a great business to get into today, especially because of the growing impact of and reliance on technology. "They get the ability to go and do something that matters in the marketplace -- in other words, solving customers' problems, doing it in a way that is taking new and exciting technology and finding a home for it and making a solution out of it," he said. "And they are doing it in a way that really matters."

But what specifically about today's IT industry and economic climate make it the best time to be a solution provider? Frank Rauch, vice president of Palo Alto-based VMware's Americas Partner Organization, said the barrier to entry for aspiring solution providers is lower today for a variety of reasons. For example, startups can focus on pure services without worrying about carrying vendor products and they can lower expenses by offloading a lot of back-office IT into the cloud.

"A lot of that back-office stuff that was a burden before that they really had to learn and do by themselves doesn't exist," Rauch said. "If you want to get in the game today and you are smart, it's relatively easy. In fact, it's a lot easier to get in the game today."

The channel chiefs also cited the growing IT ecosystem as a major driver of channel growth and opportunity. While there may be fewer vendors in the IT industry today than there were 10 years ago, the range of solutions and services has continued to expand.

"I think the opportunities are much bigger today than they were even two years ago. The reality is that the number of solutions they can bring is more than they ever could before, or that the tools would ever allow them to do," said Chris Frey, vice president of North American channels and SMB at Lenovo, Morrisvile, N.C. "So their portfolio, the things they have at their fingertips today to be creative and to bring to a customer, is so big. The challenge we have is how to make sure that we are a significant part of the menu when they are choosing for their customer because the menu is getting large and it's only going to get bigger."

Edison Peres, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco Systems, San Jose, Calif., believes it all adds up to a greater number of solution providers in the channel in the future. "I think that you are going to see over the next few years the evolution of the channel," he said. "By the way, more partners out there, not less, and they are going to be more geared toward satisfying vertical solutions in the marketplace."

Specifically, Peres said trends such as the Internet of Everything and the rapid proliferation of connected mobile devices will create even more opportunity for solution providers. And while seismic shifts in the industry can create a lot of uncertainty and pain, they'll ultimately lead to a larger and more vibrant channel, he said.

"I think this is a very exciting time, and I think that the next 20 years is going to allow a lot of new opportunities for new players," Peres said. "There are so many market transitions happening in our world that create opportunity. Unlike a lot of other industries that might need more flatness and less change, the change actually is the exciting part because that is actually what generates a lot of the possibilities."

PUBLISHED OCT. 14, 2013