The problem of how to successfully integrate the human element with business imperatives, rules and ethics is a timeless one. Last week, I used this space to examine the right of an employer, PC assembler Total Peripherals Group (TPG), to assert control over setting workplace rules in the context of responding to its employees' spiritual needs.
The issue may have been solved amicably in the meantime, but the debate about the TPG versus Kamal El-Masri case is showing no signs of abating. Judging by the number of letters ARN has received on the topic (see the opposite page), workplace dilemmas go far beyond rules and regulations and rate as highly on your list of concerns as price wars, hard-drive shortages and warranty woes.
As many of you have argued, the ever-increasing focus on productivity and efficiency, driven by what the members of the financial profession would describe as the underlying and only reason for the existence of a business - profit - seems to be encroaching on some of our fundamental needs as human beings. On the other hand, the reality of the Australian workplace, which is dominated by small business, dictates that its ability to provide jobs depends as much on nimbleness, perseverance and hard yakka, as it does on observing and enforcing the widely preached and accepted belief in productivity and efficiency.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to either. The facts suggest that we live in a world where profit, productivity and efficiency are kings. Furthermore, it is very hard to negotiate human values with business imperatives when we as a society have - willingly or not - given in to money fetishism. But now that we're there, problems like El-Masri's need to be looked at from all angles, and that includes the business perspective.
I'm glad you felt compelled to use ARN as a forum to share your thoughts on the issue and I'd like to encourage you to keep doing so, as issues like this can only be solved through debate and public discussion.
Going back to everyday business in the channel, it's great to see that despite the persistent economic downturn, the news for the channel is far from bad. Scanning the headlines in this week's issue ("Novell recommits to the channel", "IBM to increase channel margin", just to name a few), I can't help but notice that the messages from the vendor community to the channel confirm two fundamental facts. One, the channel remains the lifeblood of the industry; and two, that the economics of the IT market in times of reduced buoyancy make channel relationships an imperative for any vendor. And that can only mean good news.
Take for example the newcomer to the Australian PC market, British tier-two vendor Hi-Grade, which last week guaranteed to deliver 10 to 12 per cent margin to resellers selling its product, while at the same time offering one of the most competitive warranty deals around (see page 20). At a time when resellers' margins are reduced to as little as $5 and every vendor and his dog is repeating the services mantra, taking up Hi-Grade proves that it is still possible to make money on a good product, just like it is possible to make channel engagement compelling enough simply by delivering on the number-one value proposition from the channel: good service. And for vendors, as Hi-Grade and the newly recommitted IBM and Novell hope to show, good service should start with the channel. Do you agree?