Guest Column | February 13, 2009

Staying The Course In The Channel


Written by: Mike Jachimiec, director of channels for Psion Teklogix

These days, it seems the only thing constant about the IT channel is that it’s in a perpetual state of flux. According to analyst research firm AMI (Access Markets International)- Partners, traditional VARs and systems integrators should re-examine their offerings and become service providers to remain competitive. As vendors learn to adapt to shifting market demands and customer needs, now is a time to strategically review trends and best practices for VARs and systems integrators.

Whether your company is hardware- or service-centric, understanding how the channel can best leverage products and services to suit customer demands will provide a compelling customer advantage. It’s no secret that today’s end users demand solutions with a smaller IT footprint, minimal training requirements, and a swift payback. It’s increasingly important for VARs and systems integrators to ensure they are working with vendors that provide flexible product offerings tailored to the specific needs of their customers. Understanding the specific value proposition your vendor brings to your customers plays a vital role in not only closing deals, but maintaining customer relationships and long-term partnerships.

Customization Increases VAR Value To Clients
Customers look to VARs for help with evaluating their IT needs. Likewise, VARs should continue to enhance the end user experience with their solutions. Having a one-size-fits-all approach to products and services simply doesn’t cut it anymore. VARs need to ensure their applications and products are built within a framework that allows a high level of customization.                               

For example, consider a manufacturing client with specific mobile data collection needs. Blue Dot Solutions, a mobility software and hardware VAR based in Denver, CO, can modify its mNOW! Mobile Business Applications to meet that customer’s requirements. The solution provider’s offerings are designed with a complete infrastructure for enterprise mobile applications that can be easily modified to grow with customers’ ever-changing business processes. Blue Dot Solutions incorporated its configurable mNOW! Mobile Business Applications with Psion Texlogix’ WORKABOUT PRO rugged multi-modal device, providing their clients with a custom-branded mobile device. VAR/vendor relationships can be expanded with these types of co-branding projects. Solution providers should expect to see more examples of these associations in the marketplace, and should investigate how they can develop their own.

Testing And Quality Assurance
In order to ensure the device has been cleared of any kinks or malfunctions before the software is preloaded, develop a thorough quality and assurance testing process. This includes the process of “learning” your software and confirming that the software is running perfectly on the device after the hardware test. The ultimate goal is to reduce IT complexity and provide a solution that simulates a plug and play experience.                                                                                                              

Another way for VARs to effectively target customers is to increase the level of modularity and flexibility within their product and service offerings. This enables end users to build out their IT environment incrementally and reduce lock-in to specific business processes or hardware. For example, some customers want to start small when shifting from a batch mode to wireless – perhaps starting off implementing a specific device and attaching additional functionality (such as scanning and ID capabilities) later on.                                                                                                              

Not only does this provide end users with more IT flexibility by not having to purchase a whole new device each time, it provides opportunities for VARs for ongoing product support. It’s all about empowering the customer – giving them enough control to really absorb the lifespan of that device so they aren’t forced to purchase new devices every time their needs change. Modularity also provides the channel with the opportunity to develop a custom brand.                              

Manufacturers are becoming more open to giving up their label space on devices and allowing VARs to share the brand location on the hardware. VARs should be providing a complete hardware and certified software solution to end users by leveraging vendor expertise to create a hardware device that appears as their own. Providing a comprehensive product and services solution not only creates customer satisfaction and increases revenue, but also ensures increased levels of differentiation.

Training And Knowledge Transfer
Keeping abreast of current market trends and understanding your customer base are strategic best practices to follow. This includes tracking the technologies and software solutions that customers are requesting the most and tailoring software offerings to meet the needs of niche industries. For example, within the mobile computing solution space Psion Tekogix discovered a growing demand for multimodal devices that streamline multiple methods of communication. This enables workers to call customers, upload route maps, and use voice recognition software to capture data in real time – all with only one mobile device. In addition, Psion Teklogix is seeing continued interest in RFID devices, work order management solutions, and inventory management tools.

It’s also important to remember the role VARs play in providing end user support and training services. A good best practice for solutions providers is to transform project implementation and training processes to empower end users. This involves engaging the customer’s IT group during the project. While VARs typically take the project lead, they should also assign a member from the customer’s IT group to facilitate knowledge transfer. Under this scenario, when the solution is fully implemented, that company’s IT department is able to provide support in-house.                        

VARs have traditionally been the middleman between the vendor and end users, but that role is changing. They are beginning to collaborate more often to develop tailor-made end user solutions. In order to remain competitive within the channel, VARs will truly have to live up to their name. According to AMI, these firms should incorporate more value-added integration and managed services into their business models. By keeping an eye on current trends and following best practices, VARs and integrators clearly communicate to end users how their products and services address specific business challenges, provide tangible value, and increase their bottom line.