The Changing Channel

Yes, Partners: There Is Still a Channel

As the recent ConnectWise conference demonstrated, the channel hasn't been made obsolete -- it's just gotten more evolved.

Anyone who attends channel conferences with any regularity will know what I'm talking about when I say it's kind of like the get-togethers many families have around the holidays.

So it is with some familiar melancholy and feelings of nostalgia that I write this last installment of The Changing Channel for 2012 while attending the annual ConnectWise IT Nation conference in Orlando, Fla. What's most interesting about this crowd of more than 2,000 attendees is that the thing they all share in common is their choice of Professional Service Automation (PSA) tool. In my opinion, this puts them in the vanguard of those most aggressively confronting the challenge of the changing channel.

Seems like only yesterday that Microsoft's Bill Patterson was telling me that we're witnessing "An Evolution of Solution" -- but in fact it was almost two years ago, and nowhere is that more evident than here. The major manufacturers who are here -- HP, Cisco, Microsoft -- all have relatively small booths. The larger booths are occupied by LabTech, Axcient, Datto, Level Platforms and others who want to see these attendees adopt their platforms and services. The conversations are less about gross margins and more about service-level agreements (SLAs) and quality of service (QoS).

There are more techies here. In fact, the sales guys who are working the vendor booths really stand out as the loud ones compared to the more-reserved engineers and consultants who are stepping up to learn more, and asking if there's anyone at the booth they can talk to who actually knows something about what the product does.

Gone are the "bake-offs" comparing hardware to hardware. Instead, the list of breakout sessions includes such titles as "Leadership Growth Milestones," "Build a Company Culture: Getting Employees Invested in Your Company's Vision and Goals," "Differentiate Your Managed Service Offering" and "Successfully Managing to Service Level Agreements."

This ConnectWise IT Nation conference really is the embodiment of everything we've been talking about in this column for the past year, and answers the recurring question: "Are we still a channel?" The answer is a resounding "Yes." We're a channel for the sale of services and servicing platforms. We're melding the best of old-style customer satisfaction-focused skills with modern technologies to create a new channel. The products -- the hardware and the software -- are still important enablers of what we do, but they are no longer at the center of what we do. We're no longer dependent upon the capricious nature of discounters, manufacturers and distributors to determine how healthy our companies can be. We can now determine that by how intelligently and diligently we differentiate our services and manage quality.

This conference and ConnectWise itself are the brainchildren of Arnie Bellini, who has been and continues to be a true citizen of the channel. Fifteen years ago Bellini was visiting us at Micros-to-Mainframes to try to sell us his new software, ConnectWise.

I remember Bellini working his own booth at trade shows wearing a headset microphone so he could encourage passers-by to come and see his latest version. The category had by then become more filled with contenders, but he never wavered in his focus or his confidence that he could bring a superior offering to market.

ConnectWise, the company and the success it has enjoyed, and the assembly of channel cousins who are here building our channel of the future, are a testament to Bellini's commitment, diligence, discipline and confidence. Not only other ISVs, but all of the fresh new faces of the next generation of channel citizens that are here owe a debt of gratitude to longtime members of the family like Bellini.

Have a wonderful holiday season visiting with friends and family. Most of all, please remember that the more good you do for more people, the more good finds its way back around to you.

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About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a consultant to IT vendors and channel partner companies and a board member of the U.S. chapter of the IAMCP. Reach him at [email protected].