Look deep into your soul, put on your best Aretha Franklin voice and spell out the above letters. The IT industry appears to have finally found out what it means to me in relation to their channel partners.

If any further evidence was required of the rising respect for the role distributors and resellers play in the IT distribution supply chain, earning a one-hour slot on the agenda at IDC's Directions conference supplied it.

Not just any old slot, either, but a full-blown panel discussion, which always makes better listening than a single presenter.

The first thing that was made patently clear from the discussion, which was chaired by ARN's publisher, Susan Searle, was that the channel harbours some pretty smart cookies with vast industry experience. Among the five panellists - Avnet's Colin McKenna, Express Data's Peter Masters, Volante's Allan Brackin, Tech Pacific's Anne Mossman, and Data#3's John Grant - and the chair, close to 100 years of service to the industry could be tallied.

Each in turn demonstrated the solid grasp they had on IT business and the issues they were debating. It was also encouraging from a channel point of view to observe the body language around the auditorium.

Keeping in mind that the room was populated by some of the most senior people in the local industry, including country heads for market-leading vendors, attentiveness is a sign of respect. Up on the podium were five movers and shakers from the channel and the audience was keen to hear what they had to say. Barely a soul left the room despite a long morning and an approaching luncheon feast.

One of the key themes to emerge from the discussion was that customers are currently holding the whip and they are holding it pretty tight to their chests. Through the mid-1990s, customers were spending faster than the industry could supply but, as John Grant explained, during the last three years most of the IT spending has been compliance-based. Firstly to comply with Y2K, then for the GST and finally for legislative reasons such as privacy or to secure applications against viruses and data theft.

Just when customers need to be spending for business benefits because of a tightening economic environment, they have no money for it because of the need to keep spending to remain compliant. All present on the panel agreed that extracting money from organisations of all shapes and sizes at the moment requires a different mindset and cooperation between vendors, distributors and resellers.

Allan Brackin was also keen to see all parties working towards transferring some of the risks and costs of technology back to the customer. In his opinion, vendors are often too willing to stuff the market with multiple distributors and resellers so the customer can just shop from door to door for the cheapest price.

In the end, this has the inevitable result of low customer satisfaction levels because the relationship is based around no value proposition other than low price. Peter Masters said this is not the way for any tiers of the channel to engender any brand or relationship loyalty - key components of a healthy industry.

Despite the air of tension and a little bit of negativity amongst the panel, it was clear the audience wanted to hear what they were saying because they need to embrace the channel to achieve their own goals.

As Aretha would sing, we now have to work out how to go riding on this new freeway of love that is being shown for the channel so that all can benefit from a more efficient and profitable supply chain.

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