Facebook for the channel?

Facebook for the channel?

With increasing demands for integrators and VARs to exhibit specialised, in-depth knowledge around technology sets and customer environments, I've been wondering whether it's time we had our very own Facebook for the IT channel.

Late last year I spoke with Gartner's worldwide channels analyst, Tiffani Bova, about how partner programs are going through a major transition as vendors recognise and reward their channel for services and skills development, rather than just transactional revenue.

During that conversation, Bova brought up the need for more partnering between integrators. The channel has traditionally been sceptical about the concept of "co-opetition" for fear it gives competitors the opportunity to steal customers. But the idea is slowly gaining merit as a way to tap into skill sets that are difficult to retain in-house.

Those who've embraced the 'partnering with partners' concept claim that ability to access skills tackling specific customer pain points or that round out a complex project helps customer stickiness and ensures the client gets the best quality service. While the first reaction is inevitably to try and do that component of the project themselves, I think most integrators have realised that it's not worth risking the loss of a customer by botching it. Sun partner manager, Sam Srinivasan, agrees social networking can play an integral role in helping partners leverage the wider channel and ensuring the longevity of smaller, niche players. While vendors can lead the horse to water however, he said the channel has to drive it.

Bova highlighted several third-party agencies in the US, such as OnForce, which are acting as channel matchmakers by hosting marketplaces where resellers can meet. Although she agreed vendors have some role to play to getting channel partners together, Bova said a third-party organisation wouldn't push its own product range or corporate line and compared it to organising a dance: while vendors could provide the dancehall, a third-party organisation was better suited to coming up with balanced rules of engagement.

Several distributors are also seeing themselves in this position and have started formalising initiatives to help bring partners together. A case in point is Avnet, which announced its OneTech Connect partnering scheme in the US late last year to hook up integrators looking for third-party services assistance with other partners. The service is due to rollout in Australia shortly.

But what if we had a vendor-agnostic site like Facebook for the channel? Given our position of independence in the industry, ARN would be a great vehicle for this kind of interaction and we are already looking at ways to introduce this type of functionality to our website. This channel-specific site could include basic contact information about an organisation as well as certifications and skill sets, vendor partners and program participation, customer focus and geographic reach.

Users could "poke" individual organisations they are interested in starting a dialogue with. And much like Facebook today, they could restrict the level of information general users can access from their profile, while providing greater detail to 'friends' or 'partners'.

Once they have engaged on a particular deal with another integrator, users could also rank organisations on a scale of 1-10 and more specifically by quality measurements such as ease to deal with, timeliness in delivery, skills and expertise, customer service and feedback, and support capability.

One of the key things I've learnt working at ARN is that the IT channel has a strong sense of community. Given the highly interactive nature of Facebook, a similar initiative for the channel could be a great way to network and foster even stronger industry relationships.

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