No one could deny that the Australian channel is facing challenging and changing times. However, it's all too easy to focus on the negative aspects of the game.
It's right, in fact it's imperative, that we all keep a very close eye on competitive threats and issues of concern. However, occasionally it's just as important to step back and, in the immortal words of Monty Python, "always look on the bright side of life".
Let's take Dell. Now, sure it represents a substantial threat to many in the channel. As reported on last week's front page, its $1.6 billion OEM agreement with IBM has the potential to transform it into more of a complete technology provider. What's more, it is going to aggressively ramp up its Web retail presence with the launch of the new Gigabuys.com site and an alliance with Web giants like Amazon.com. This new site will not only sell Dell computers but also 30,000 related products including software and peripherals. I promise you I'm getting to the positive bit.
That makes Dell kind of sound a lot like an online retailer, doesn't it? In fact, take a look around you and the line between vendor and channel is getting more and more blurred as an increasing number of vendors look to muscle in on the territory of resellers, retailers and integrators.
Why? Because that is where the big money is. Clearly the two biggest money-spinners in IT in the foreseeable future will be online retailing and IT services.
I'd be far more worried if vendors were desperately trying to get out of the channel's business.
First port of call
While the big advantage vendors have is their big marketing dollars for building loyalty among customers, the big lead held by any reseller that has properly serviced their customer is that that loyalty should already be there. If you are running a successful business, then it is more than likely your customers trust you as their independent advisor on technology and you are their first port of call.
After all, as we reported in the very first issue of this year, resellers and integrators are the most important influences on IT purchasing in Australia.
Most vendors don't have the same relationship with customers. Already this year Compaq and Hewlett-Packard have declared they want to have greater ownership over the customer. Be very wary. You have to ensure your customers remain your customers.
As a number of Compaq distributors have found out, the more information you share about customers (see front page), the easier it makes it for someone you consider to be a partner today to make a play for that customer if the relationship turns sour. You HAVE to partner, but you also probably need to have legal guarantees that the resellers, distributors and vendors you partner with won't try and steal your customer tomorrow.