Once upon a time, back when I first started reporting on the IT industry, a channel journalist had to work pretty hard on interviewees or at press conferences to extract a story angle relevant to ARN's unique readership.
Across the table or floor, hyperbole was a constant but the level of understanding of the channel was a variable. Executives and their spin-doctors mainly focused on either end-user or technical issues and there was a fairly broad ignorance of the channel's role and existence, irrespective of who you were talking to.
At any press conference and at most interviews, it used to be a minimum requirement for an ARN reporter to fire in the "yeah, but what's in it for the channel?" question. This ritual was followed by groans from around the room as "mainstream" IT hacks chatted amongst themselves before the recipient of the question would come back with some vague response that often missed the point.
How things have changed. With far tougher market conditions prevailing in today's economic environment, the channel is the flavour that all vendors want to stir into their go-to-market strategies and public relations campaigns.
Today, channel hacks usually have their issues addressed without having to prod or probe, albeit with the company spin applied. When you do chime in with a drill-down query, the answers are usually close to being on the ball.
IBM is a classic example. In facing the press as part of last week's IBM Focus 2002, Big Blue's local CEO, Philip Bullock, opened proceedings by referring to the new importance IBM was placing on its business partners. Even just six months ago, IBM didn't seem to give a stuff about the channel.
"We are in different times," Bullock said last week. "Everything has changed. We are tied very tightly with business partners of all kinds and that dependency is growing. Our success and their success is the same thing."
IBM's huge annual user conference was "built heavily around our business partners", he said.
This is just the most recent of many examples. There is a definite pattern emerging where vendors in all shapes and sizes are far more aware of the essential nature of their alliances with channel entities. The market has slowed as customers become far more prudent with their technology investments. Where value is being added, the channel is now a highly sought after ally.
Slimmed-down vendors are looking for cost savings and are therefore looking to shift some of their marketing and customer relationship burdens further down the supply chain.
And why wouldn't they? It is completely legitimate that the channel's elevation in importance be recognised by vendors and the media alike. It is business partners who have influence over the new wave of small and medium enterprise customers, which represents the best current opportunities for vendors.
It is the channel companies that can be a vendor's champion or its army of feet on the street where trimmed costs preclude them from covering all territories themselves. It is the alliance partners that understand these customers' businesses and that know their legacy systems. They also comprehend how a complete solution for the customer comes together and have access to all the components from a range of vendors.
In short, resellers of all shapes and sizes should be proud of the fact they have enormous and growing influence over the whole industry. I think those of us in the channel have probably known this all along, but many of the larger vendors are now discovering this as well.
Better late than never.
Gerard Norsa is the editor of Australian Reseller News. Reach him at email@example.com.