What's the difference between a used-car salesperson and a computer salesperson?
The user-car salesperson knows when they're lying.
This is a popular joke within Sun and was told to me recently by that company's chief technology officer John Gage, while I was interviewing him here in Sydney at the recent Sunergy conference.
Sun, of course, has argued for a long time that the hidden costs of the Microsoft-based desktop computing environment, makes the total cost of ownership far more than it should be.
And while Sun's Java-based and network computing solution may not have been universally accepted as the answer, Sun has at least raised the awareness that something needs to be done about these hidden costs.
The real reason though, why true computing costs blow out, is not that everyone is running PCs with a Microsoft operating system, but rather because technology just doesn't work as it should.
Computers and software crash, networks go down, applications are either difficult to develop or implement and so on. And every time something like this goes wrong, it costs money to fix.
The irony is that, while basically without exception, we bemoan this state of affairs, it actually keeps half the industry in a job. The PC or network support person may swear blue murder about the faults they have to fix, but if the faults weren't there, they wouldn't have a job. Similarly, many resellers and integrators derive much of their revenue from of their customers' computer systems needing to be constantly fixed and serviced.
The question we all need to ask is how long can this model sustain itself? Gage doesn't believe it can last and foresees a time in the not-too-distant future when computer components simply plug into each other and work. Imagine if we woke up tomorrow and that was the case. Where would your business be?
Gage argues that when the industry does get its act together, resellers and integrators will need to stop thinking about fixing technology problems and start thinking about fixing business problems.
I'd say you need to start thinking that way now.
Talk to CIOs and they are becoming empowered by the fact that senior management is beginning to view IT as a way to improve its business and make more money.
Today's CIO can probably make a compelling argument that IT needs to be kept in-house, because only internal staff know the business and know what solutions are needed.
The only way you can respond to this threat is to know more about your customers' business than they do. You need to know what problems they are facing and work out how technology can fix them. This is all the easier to do of course, if you concentrate on a certain niche in the market.
Not only can you then bring a fresh perspective to your customer's business, you can bring experience of what others in that market are doing. Once again, it's the same old story - get big or get niche.