Networking used to be tough. There were no GUIs or Plug and Play. You had to know the technology backwards as well as inside and out. Configuring a router or tinkering with NetWare meant hacking away at a command line interface.
Most of us would prefer a trip to the dentist.
If you listen to networking vendors today, though, they tell you that those bad old days are over. Today, any reseller that can configure a PC can piece together a small network, and any business that can afford a PC can afford a small network.
While I'm still a tad unconvinced that networking is quite as simple as the vendors would now like us to believe, I am inclined to believe that any competent reseller should be able to make networking a part of its business. If you're not, you're missing an opportunity.
I will admit that I am biased towards networking. I've been covering the network beat since I started in IT journalism and I was editor of Network World for more than a year. But I'm biased because I've seen the difference that networked solutions have made to businesses.
Networked solutions are the key words here. If you go to a customer and put Ethernet cards into their PCs, connect them up with cabling to a file and print server and walk away, you've done your customer and your business a disservice.
It may be a network, but it's sure not a solution.
A school I know has done almost exactly that. It has a network that connects all its PCs to a file and print server. And that's all the network is used for - file and print sharing. Not surprisingly, nobody uses it. Teachers and students seldom need to share files, and if they need to print something, they just take their floppy to the PC that has a printer attached - just like they've always done.
Jumping for joy
The person responsible for IT can't understand why everyone isn't jumping for joy over their wonderful new network. Well, duh. It doesn't do anything. If you put a network in for a customer and it's just used for file and print sharing, don't be surprised when they don't jump for joy. And don't be surprised when they don't come back asking for more of this fabulous whiz-bang technology that does absolutely nothing for them.
Networks are enabling technologies - nothing more. Don't sell networks, sell networked solutions. Don't pitch a network, pitch e-mail and Internet access, groupware, videoconferencing, shared databases and electronic commerce.
This week's front page story on electronic commerce indicates that few channel organisations are doing it.
You'll have to integrate the solution together of course, and this is where your services revenue comes from. Even better, networked applications are addictive because they benefit the business. The customer will want more and soon that little network you installed is going to need upgrading, which means they can do more and so the cycle goes on.
If you're convinced by the likes of Netgear and 3Com that you can do this, then go for it. But do yourself a favour and make sure you can also add all of the application pieces that make a network a solution.