From The Editor | October 19, 2017

Rising Rates Of Fatal IT Myopia In The Channel

Matt Pillar

By Matt Pillar, chief editor

Healthcare Vertical Promises Big Growth For Beacons Through 2019

Apologies for the alarmist headline. In literal terms, nearsightedness in and of itself isn’t, of course, fatal. It’s what you don’t see as a result of myopic vision that can take you out. A speeding bus. A grizzly bear. The Tiangong-1 Space Station that’s due back to earth sometime soon.

Similarly, it’s what legacy tech resellers and MSPs aren’t seeing—or what they’re refusing to explore—that’s poised to hasten their demise. The disease is called IT Myopia. Early symptoms include stunted growth caused by a narrow solution set limited by a legacy definition of information technology. Susceptible solutions providers are those who limit IT offerings to the boxes, cables, routers and software that comprise a point-specific system. Point of sale resellers are a high-risk group.

As the disease progresses, affected resellers and service providers experience rapid client loss. Drooping customer satisfaction causes clients to seek healthier hosts, those with broader views of expanding IT environments and clearer vision of the value of interconnectivity among previously disconnected (i.e. “non-IT”) devices.

For all the risk it poses to the channel, IT Myopia is a wildly underreported and misunderstood condition. 

How To Identify IT Myopia

Allow me to recount a recent discussion with a colleague that sheds some light on IT Myopia. I was sharing a story opportunity about a managed service provider that gathers data from IP-addressed sensors on HVAC, refrigeration, and lighting appliances—as well as electric, water, and gas meters—in distributed commercial enterprises. The data is gathered and crunched in the cloud. Automated reports are delivered to stakeholders’ desktop and mobile devices in an app, drawing attention to immediately addressable anomalies (e.g., freezer case 16 in Des Moines  is on the blink, let’s get it fixed before it costs our client another grand in black angus).  More detailed ad hoc reports identify opportunities for longer term capital expense reduction (e.g., an LED retrofit would save our client a million dollars a year in electricity expenses). The data is compared to utility invoices to ensure billing accuracy. The managed service provider sells the cloud-based software as a service. It also sells the hardware (albeit limited) and network infrastructure that facilitates the data.

When I finished this brief and high-level explanation to my colleague, he looked at me, perplexed, and said, “I thought you covered IT.”

I immediately diagnosed my colleague with IT Myopia.

Of course, we do cover IT!  And that which I just described isn’t just IT, it’s great IT. It’s IoT IT. It’s measurably impactful IT. It’s sells itself as a service IT that creates all sorts of paid consultancy and ancillary hardware and infrastructure sales.

It’s not PCs and servers and routers. That’s not IT anymore.

Beating IT Myopia requires the afflicted to recognize that IT is much, much bigger than it was just a few years ago. Today, IT is about data. Data is pervasive, multiplying at unimaginable rates, and multiplying in value at even more unimaginable rates. Accessing data and putting it to use is the soul of modern IT. The rest—the wires and boxes and monitors that we used to call IT—those are all just details. This is fundamental understanding for modern IT service providers.

How The Channel Contributes To IT Myopia

To avoid an untimely expiration at the hands of IT Myopia, VARs and MSPs need to expand their vision and get out of their traditional lanes. That’s tough in a channel that buttresses itself from disruption by doing things the channel way. But just look around at what happens when new lanes are explored.

Arbnb is hurting hotels because it broke consumers out of the “great travel experiences require billions of dollars in hospitality real estate” lane. Netflix killed Blockbuster by getting out of the “customers have to come to us to rent a movie” lane. Uber and Lyft plucked consumers right out of the “my ride has to have a medallion on the dash and an illuminated sign on its roof and cost a fortune” lane.

These disruptive success stories share many commonalities, but two strike me as particularly important:

  • Successful rules breakers break the rules on the behalf of customers, to meet customer demand.
  • Disruptors refuse to be limited by established standard operating procedures and protocols, written or implied, that govern the industries they play in.

Historically, the IT channel has been rife with procedures and protocols. Who you buy from, how much of it you buy, and at what price you buy it predicates who you sell to, how much of it you sell, and the markup you earn. Whether you sell something else that your customer might need is often determinant on whether someone else is already selling that something. These protocols have created some semblance of order and they’ve manufactured a sense of comfort in alliances. They’ve also contributed to IT Myopia, and they haven’t always served the best interests of the customer. 

This isn’t an indictment of the channel, nor is it a prediction of its demise. The channel is a virtuous go-to-market machine. It’s an indispensable community of experts that can expedite the matchmaking and deal making necessary to pull afflicted resellers and MSPs out of their IT Myopia despair. Look no further than the ISV programs springing up all over the channel for proof. Software developers see what we’re doing here and they want a piece of this action. They’re engineers for God’s sake. Smart folks who recognize the good thing we have going on here.

I’m simply suggesting we could stand to create a little more latitude for disruption.

In a truly customer-centric IT channel, the balance of power should lay with the provider – the VAR or MSP. The VAR or MSP should exhibit the fortitude to serve the customer need, while vendors and distributors should support them with the latitude to do so.

VARs and MSPs represent the channel’s eyes on the ground. There’s a weighty responsibility there that makes nearsightedness a very dangerous thing for the channel. Our VARs and MSPs need clarity of their customers’ vision, and the rest of the channel needs to stand ready to help that vision become the customer’s reality.

Even if it means bending some of the lines that (used to) separate our lanes.