In an Agile World, the Channel Concept Makes Perfect Sense

While the channel has many nuances and differing practices, it continues to play a significant role in the success of many tech companies. Lorna Garey offers valued insight and key observations from her first few months at the helm of Channel Partners.

This week I attended a fascinating presentation by the Harvard Business Review called “Man, Machine and the Future of Work” on the changing nature on human employment in an age of AI and robotics. Afterward, I mingled on over to a cluster of tech journalists, all from non-channel-focused publications. A guy from HBR politely asked what I cover. After a few minutes explaining, to mostly vague looks, I stopped talking and started thinking, “That was me six months ago, only worse. Lord help us.” 

I’ve been with Channel Partners since February, but I’ve been in the business of tech journalism since 1994, when I joined eWeek (then PCWeek). Most recently, I was content director of InformationWeek digital media; I also spent time at Network Computing as executive editor. I remember when Cisco only sold networking gear, Linux in the enterprise data center was controversial, perimeter security was hip, and we stuck a fork in backing up to tape. The first time.

I had an awareness of the channel, of course, probably more than most editors. My most valued content contributors were associated with consultancies, including Michael Biddick at Fusion PPT; Mike Healey, who was CTO of GreenPages; Mike Davis, founder of Savid; Michael Finneran of dBrn Associates; and experts from Neohapsis, Dimension Data and RISC Networks. I valued their insights because they worked with multiple vendors and had the trust of our end-IT-customer readers.

 But here’s the problem: To the vast majority of technology reporters, the channel is at best a simple conduit through which products (which we understand) flow from vendors (whose every move we watch) to our target readers, enterprise, midmarket and vertical CIOs, plus network architects and security practitioners. For tech journalists, the channel is analogous to a dumb pipe. Product in, product out. And that’s a bad thing for everyone.

Note to former self:

Look, no matter how many columns you write about how small companies really need DevOps, you’re not getting anywhere. Just stop. Also, no IT pro from a small retailer is independently evaluating alternative payment systems or lobbying congress about spectrum. And would it kill you to include a sidebar aimed at MSSPs in a 40-page report on the state of security?

Please set up a call with Larry Walsh or Tricia Wurst and get a clue. When you ignore the complicated, messy reality of how hardware and software get from vendors to the vast majority of companies, you’re doing your readers a serious disservice.

 Sincerely, Future me

There are some legitimate reasons for this disconnect. Tech vendors like to see their channels as seamless extensions of their sales and marketing teams. And it’s difficult enough to get press love for new product releases, even if you’re Cisco, IBM or Microsoft. What’s your incentive to talk to reporters about the channel mechanism that moves those products into the real world? First, it’s complicated. There are ISVs and integrators and VARs and MSPs and agents and master agents. Ain’t no mainstream tech scribe got time for that. Then there are questions of margins and deal registrations and who gets to sell what. Talk too much about how the sausage gets made and you might face uncomfortable questions.

From the business IT reader’s point of view, MSPs can be seen as threats. For all the talk of outsourcing day-to-day operations so IT can focus on innovation, the fact is, technologists are territorial. There’s no angle for them to have end users realize that a third-party disaster-recovery-as-a-service provider rescued their files. Joe from operations just made the call and took the credit. Cloud only adds to that “nothing to see here, folks” dynamic, for all the good it will do.

One thing that’s become quite clear in my six months on this beat is that the channel isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it’s strengthening. Nimble tech startups that don’t even own servers surely have no desire to hire and incentivize internal sales teams. The channel concept makes sense in an agile world.

 The challenge, to me, is adding some transparency. That’s one of my goals at Channel Partners. One way is by opening up our fall Cloud Partners show to all technology press and analysts; click here, or drop me a line direct. We’re not limiting free passes to channel journalists (though of course, they’re welcome). I’m also staying in touch with former colleagues, and looking to evangelize how interesting this beat is. I think that by the time I left Cambridge, that HBR guy had a little more insight into the pipeline. Channel providers are only going to get more intrinsic to the business of IT. It’s time they got their due.

 Lorna Garey is editor in chief of Channel Partners. Contact her at lorna.garey@informa.com or on Twitter at @LornaGarey

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