Tallying up the channel

After more than 17 years and two stints with CA, Allan Smith was recently appointed as the software vendor’s vice-president of channel sales, Pacific. He caught up with ARN to talk about his progression into IT, the differences in business culture abroad and getting the most out of life.

What was your first job?

I stacked shelves at Woolworths. My first full-time job was with the Commonwealth Bank in Adelaide as a clerk. I was born in England but spent most of my life in Adelaide.

How did you get into IT?

I went into the Commonwealth Bank's IT unit. I spent a couple of years in Darwin in the ordinary bank as a teller and trainer then went into IT. The division was called EDP - electronic data processing - in those days and was a whole different world of shift work. Then I moved to Sydney and ran the disaster recovery centre. A few years after that I moved into vendor land. A few of the senior guys I was working with at the bank moved across to a company called Uccel, which CA later acquired. The product line was related to stuff I was doing at Comm Bank, so one of the guys there asked me to come on-board and support it. Six months after I joined CA as they acquired Uccel. So I had 14 years with the Comm Bank, then took the plunge into a new job only to join someone else six months later.

Have you had much exposure to channel in your roles with CA?

I have in bursts. I was the country manager of Korea for nine months at one point and 99 per cent of business there is channel. There was the added complication that the partners spoke another language. I also spent time in Hong Kong which is another big channel country for CA both for tier-ones and tier-twos. The year in Korea was good because it honed me in terms of communications: It had to be quite clear and unambiguous. The programs were somewhat different in each country - Hong Kong was dramatically different to Korea and the small work I did in China was different again. But on the whole business in Asia is much longer-term focused. In the US there wasn't much channel there, but even in Australia in the direct organisation, we interface with channel partners a lot in enterprise accounts. That model has occasionally been different year to year and it's an interesting challenge to communicate that to partners.

What do you like about your current job?

The variety. Even the different people in my team, and the partners I've met so far, have presented a variety of characters.

What's your biggest achievement to date?

Latterly it's been developing people. Korea was a good achievement for me and for the team there as that was a difficult environment and we had difficult issues to deal with. We brought a good guy on-board after I put together a profile to take to the recruitment agencies and that worked out really well. Under his leadership that business is doing well despite looking difficult for a while. The recruiters told me that in Korea all companies go through cycles like this - other vendors like BMC and Oracle seem to go through it too. Business over there is quite personality based - the figurehead is the key person. For us to avoid that downturn despite having the change of country manager was a good thing.

Do you have any dislikes in the IT industry?

The IT industry is maturing and we're getting more regulated than before. I don't dislike that, but the end effect of that and how it creeps into our processes does take some adaptation from us and our partners.

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Do you think this makes it harder to be innovative?

I don't know. I like to draw a differentiation between innovation and spontaneity. I'm a big planner; I like the guys to have a partner plan agreed on that contains all enablement, mutually agreed goals and so on. Some people would argue that's not innovation but I think it is - reacting spontaneously to a partner's request may not be the best answer. A partner may want pre-sales resources one day, but if we don't help them develop their own or have a model for leveraging those from somewhere else it's a short-term solution.

What's the main focus for you this year?

This year it'll be the clear development of a partner base along our three areas: Volume, value and managed service providers. We understand there will be some overlap, but having a clear plan and making them successful is the key.

What's the next big thing in the industry?

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) - not necessarily in and of itself, but because of the way it makes both parties in the arrangement start with the business outcomes. Some of CA's existing managed service provider partners are doing this now and treating it as another option for distribution.

From a small and mid-size organisation's perspective, SaaS has been around for a while providing benefits such as cost savings, reduced staffing requirements and rapid deployment and implementation, but I think we'll start to see a lot more interest from larger organisations. This will bring both opportunities and challenges for partners. SaaS isn't a magic bullet; it needs to be viewed as an alternative application delivery channel to leverage if and when it makes good business sense.

What do you do when you're not at work?

I play Scrabble with my wife who had won five games in a row before yesterday. There's also a little bit of cooking, walking and we do a lot of travel. We don't have children so it's reasonably footloose and fancy free.

Do you like gadgets?

Partially - I like gadgets that have a clear benefit. My Blackberry is good because it does email, SMS and phone in one device. Sometimes we need approval to last-minute changes to meet regulations and a laptop isn't always the available solution.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to be an actuary because it sounded cool and I liked numbers. I went to a careers night at school and they explained to me that only a small percentage of people became actuaries but I still wanted to be one. But I didn't end up even getting close.

What's your biggest ambition?

I don't have any big ambitions - I just think we live in the best of possible worlds in Australia. We have great food, wine and a lifestyle so I want to just enjoy it. Professionally I still have a passion for helping people achieve things - whether it's clients, resellers or CA folk and that carries a long way.