A place in the clouds – for VARs?

Larry Walsh wrote a great article entitled “Managing the Mass of Clouds, which you can find here .

Here is some ramblings I replied to him with:

  • VAR’s value the “R” (reseller) part of that, to our core. So, when it comes to choosing a vendor program we guard the client relationship part closely – “own the client or walk away” might describe a typical opinion. An example is the backlash Microsoft is getting from VAR’s about their S+S model. In fact, I am just finishing a term as one of the 16 worldwide Microsoft SBSC PAL’s (Partner Area Lead), and the feedback from the worldwide SBSC community is definitely a resounding NO to the agent model that Microsoft has suggested for delivering S+S.
  • Do VARs feel threatened of becoming extinct? Or, are we a community that has proven itself adaptable enough over time and will do so again? I think the latter.
  • Do savvy vendors who understand – and will support – the VAR model, win out? I, for one, have already looked at offerings from cloud vendors who will allow me to “own” the client, and have already done business with them before using things like BPOS. For me, adding some cloud based services has already become just another part of our “managed services” offerings to our clients. I say “managed services”, because while that is the generic term, our clients do not buy “managed services” from us. Rather they buy our own branded services which we market and sell and which will continue to expand and add more features and value. Our clients do not even worry which of these are cloud based, and do not care when we tell them.
  • As long as the VAR owns the client, then discussions with the client are no different than they’ve always been … “if you choose Option A, here are the benefits and weaknesses; if we compare to Option B”, etc. Once the client chooses what’s best for them, they want us to implement and manage. They will – ultimately – not care if that is in the traditional client/server model, or thin client model with some hosted, or completely cloud based. In the short term there are fears to overcome, but ultimately they still need from us what they’ve always needed – a trusted business advisor that will make everything just work the way they need it. We have been a trusted advisor long before the term was used, and even before we became a VAR.
  • Will different skill sets will be required? Absolutely, but hasn’t that always been the case? How many VAR’s who are successfully doing VOIP installs today would have guessed 10 years ago that they would be competing against the giant telcos? And, who would have given them a chance? Yet, telcos are not leading the way with VOIP installs into SMB – VAR’s are! So, if you tell me I need to become more business savvy… I hear you, and I already am. Personally, this has been the #1 focus on myself and my business for the last 3 years, and I don’t think we’re alone. And, if I need to hire that expertise, I can actually find that a lot easier in my area than to hire specific technical skills.
  • Can we adapt? Sure, we already have. Will all of us? Absolutely not; some speak technical, not finance or business admin. They would make great employees at my company ;-)

So, and this is the key – As long as the VAR owns the client, nothing changes. However, if the VAR does not own the client, everything changes. In the latter, the VAR needs to learn to be a consultant, not a VAR. That will be ok for some, and devastating for others.

What do you think – where will VAR’s find their place in the new world of cloud based computing?

Bradk

Will a slower economy accelerate cloud adoption?

As we are all aware, Microsoft is rolling out BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services). Basically, you could compare this to a “rent” versus “own” conversation – in the past we have traditionally bought and “owned” our technology, and we are now considering “renting” these applications that will be hosted in the cloud.

So, does the current state of the economy mean that “renting” is now a more attractive option than when the economy was strong? Can we look at other industries to see trends there that we could apply to IT?

My thoughts? I believe this is coming, but I wonder if Joe average small business owner is ready for this. What “tipping point” needs to exist? For example, it took Y2K to force many to dump DOS applications – will we need a huge event (or non event) to push cloud solutions?

Let me know your thoughts, thanks! Bradk

New Vista Means Business training

Here are a few details of a new course around Vista, and an incentive to take the training:

Microsoft has launched the new Windows Vista Means Business course on the Partner Learning Center, targeting partners who serve small business customers. Partners that take the course and pass the assessment get entered into a sweepstakes for a free copy of Windows Vista Ultimate (25 winners per week will receive English-only version of the software)!

See below for Promotion Official Rules; game ends June 12, 2009. Creative visuals keep learning for partners interesting over the short 30 minute course in English (only). This promotion is available to participants worldwide – visit https://partner.microsoft.com/global/40095310 to learn and enter to win today!

Enjoy!

Brad Kowerchuk

Microsoft Change of Heart

As most of us know already, Microsoft sees their Software + Services as being the future of software delivery and expects that we, as partners, will play a large part in this.

Probably the most controversial part was that Microsoft announced their intention to directly enter into the agreement with the customer, and to bill them direct. More than a few feathers were ruffled! Well, it seems Microsoft has had a change of heart on the matter, as you can read at CRN: http://www.crn.com/software/215801162

What do you think? Is this a change that you were looking for? Do you now feel like you will begin to market and sell S+S to your clients?

Let me know,

Bradk

Volume licensing for small businesses

I’ve heard that Microsoft is “seriously considering” a volume licensing option for small and medium businesses that would enable them to afford take advantage of features that Microsoft has reserved for its enterprise customers.

Microsoft’s first step will be assembling an engineering team to look at what a small/medium business volume licensing package will look like, and what specific set of tools it will contain. No timeframe for that, but by this time next year, Microsoft expects to know what will be in it.

So …  here’s a couple of my personal thoughts:

  • Provide an easy (and heavily discounted) way to “upgrade” all existing licenses. People will get standardized and legal if it’s easy.
  • Reduce the spread between OEM and licensing costs. When licensing is at times twice the price of OEM, then many small businesses only buy new software when they purchase a new PC. If Microsoft were to reduce or eliminate that spread they would drive people to a new licensing model.

What do you think Microsoft should include in this new volume licensing program?

Let me know!

Bradk

0% Financing from HP

HP has announced 0% financing. Here’s part of their announcement…

In times like these, businesses face some tough decisions. To stay competitive you have to invest in technology. To stay lucrative you have to mind your cash flow. Who says you can’t have it all? Put HP’s reliability—and capital—to work for you with two new zero-percent financing plans1.
0% 12-month same as cash ownership – Invest in new technology while keeping the costs manageable and predictable with this 0% financing plan. At the end of your term, the equipment is all yours for one dollar.
0% 36-month lease – Does leasing make better business sense for you? This zero-percent lease provides a fair-market-value purchasing option at the end of your term.
To take advantage of these special promotions, contact your local HP Financial Services Representative or in the United State, call 1-888-277-5942. In Canada, dial 1-800-HP-LEASE.

What do you think about financing options, such as this one? Will this be a “stimulus” that will help increase sales to your clients? Or not?

Bradk

Who is really qualified?

Sometimes I just feel like getting things off my chest, and today is one of those days. Do you ever compete against those who sincerely believe that they are qualified to do IT? I mean, they’re not arrogant, but they really do believe that somehow their hobby around technology makes them qualified to be an IT professional and do the work.

To me, this leads to all sorts of silliness around our industry. Here’s just a few examples:

  • A company hires an internal IT person for the first time. They have no idea who to hire, so get someone with a nice personality. He proceeds to speak over the heads of the executve and convince them to completely change everything to suit his personal biases. Relationships with existing service providers suffer, and the company often spends money in the wrong areas and less than ideal solutions.
  • A company grows an internal IT person from a non IT position. Gradually this person assumes more control over the technology while allowing their real job to suffer. Often this person gains enough skill to think they no longer need any outsourcing and the company begins to get tunnel vision. Usually it takes a major train wreck for anyone to even see the downside of this.
  • An IT pro gets an “entreprenuerial seizure” as Michael Gerber of eMyth fame would tell it. They assume that their technical abilities qualify them to run the business of IT. They undercharge for their services, and often recommend lowest cost solutions. Also, they often come from a background of internal IT, so now they apply their personal biases to a number of companies.

What do all of the above have in common? These are individuals who are often not operating from a solid foundation of training, certification and experience. More importantly, there is no way for the companies involved to know if the person they hire to do the work is really qualified. I blame the IT industry for this problem. After all, what qualifies an individual to be an IT professional? Further, what criteria can a company use to judge whether the person is qualified to run their entire IT budget? Or, what regulations guide who can or cannot start a business and even call themself an IT professional?

Other industries don’t struggle with this. If I was a handyman, could I convince my boss that I should draw up the architectural plans and be the contractor for the new office building? If I was a bookkeeper, could I convince my boss that we don’t need a tax accountant anymore, because I’ve got Turbo Tax and can spit out the company return for less cost? In both examples, regulations are very clear as to who is and who is not qualified. Try and start an engineering firm if you are not hiring a PEng! So, why do we in IT keep having to deal with these types of conversations??

I think it’s past due to have some real change around who is really qualified to call themselves an IT professional. Governments aren’t the answer, so where will the change come from? I’d love to hear your comments – what do you think?

Bradk

Effectively selling technology

Ok, so we all know we need new sales in the pipeline to grow our business. And, we all realize that selling technology is different than selling vacuum cleaners door to door. But I also think that to be good at sales requires an ongoing and committed effort – a lifetime of learning and progress.

With the above in mind, here is a link to a concise article that can serve as a great refresher:

5 Tips for Giving Presentations That Consistently Sell Technology
http://clac.integratedmar.com/comments.cfm?item=125 

Great ideas on what to do, and just as important, what NOT to do! Take about 2 minutes, it’s a good read.

Good selling,

Brad

IT needs a paradigm shift

There is a great article from Robert M. Cohen about the need for a shift in how IT work with VARs to deliver solutions to the SMB market. See the story at…
http://www.echannelline.com/canada/story.cfm?item=DLY010109-1

Here’s a couple of key takeaways:
– VARs have strengths and weaknesses that are accurately outlined here.
– VARs have declined in numbers from about 150,000 to only 85,000 in North America.
– The current relationships between vendors to VARs to market is not working, and there is a long list of reasons why not.

In my opinion, the auther hits the nail on the head. Vendors do want to sell at all costs, but VARs are struggling to maintain profitability, and the days of selling things at all cost are long gone. Astute vendors are starting to realize that VARs need help in strategic areas, and are addressing this with training focused more on selling, marketing and business management. However, IMHO the majority of vendors have not yet got that message.

What’s your opinion? Is it broke, and in need of fixing? If so, where do we start? I’d love to hear your comments.

Brad

Old year, new year

It seems that 2008 could not possibly be coming to an end, but here it is. This is the time of year to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past year, and to plan for the new year coming up. Here are a couple of things that can help:

1) Tune in Tuesday, December 30th at 3 pm EST to discuss 2008 in review.
URL is http://www.smallbusinessitradio.com

Host – Stuart Crawford
Guests – Sean Fullerton, Joddey Hicks and many others
All are welcome to call in! It is open mike format.

2) Begin your planning for 2009. I like to keep things simple, and we’ve had good success with using the One Page Business Plan. See the following URL for more details.
http://www.onepagebusinessplan.com/

The most important thing is to set your goals for next year. What will your goals be? What challenges might you expect in 2009? What opportunities may present themselves? Remember, bad times for some often means great opportunities for others. Which group will you be in during 2009?

All the best in 2009!
Brad