TCA Leadership Discusses IT and Telecom Channels
Following the article “TCA Aims to Bridge IT and Telecom Channels,” I spoke with Telecom Channel Association President Rob Butler, managing partner of CrossVergence, and Vice President Evan Gillman, principal and founder of Transit Broker LLC, about TCA's goals and objectives and the telecom channel's changing relationship with the IT channel.
"I see the IT channel trying to figure out how to sell services," said Butler, who's also a former CompTIA Partner Advisory Council member. "There's always talk at CompTIA about these 'born-in-the-cloud' partners and how they do things and how it's easier to operate, and how hard it is to migrate a premises-based or box-based business into an advanced service provider with recurring revenues—and that's what the telecom channel has been doing forever."
Butler noted one significant difference between the telecom and IT channels: Members of the telecom channel seldom— if ever—get to see the services they sell delivered, since much of that involves circuits providing the service. But IT channel members often can see the local area networks they sell deployed and implementation services delivered.
"We wanted to make TCA a very inclusive association when it started eight years ago," Butler said. "The original founders foresaw a big merger between IT and telecom." Sponsors approaching TCA today include many IT-related companies, such as data center providers, hosted PBX companies and service providers that go beyond the traditional telecom company, all hoping to get to know telecom partners. "Now," he added, "companies like [specialty IT distributor] ScanSource are part of TCA."
A New Day in the Channel
"Without a doubt, the IT channel has more technical 'chops' than most of the traditional telecom channel, mainly because that's not what we've been selling," said Butler. "But we now have to learn how to sell disaster recovery solutions and all the specifications that go around that, as well as hosted PBX—anything that needs to be virtualized. So it's really a new day."
TCA anticipated many of these changes, Butler said, and several years ago, it created a certification program for telecom agents called the Certified Telecommunications Professional (CTP) program.
"Previously you were thrown into the lion's den," said Gillman. "You had some training from some of the carriers you work with, but there wasn't a platform to train telecom sales agents on things like best practices."
"CTP certifies the agent on the various technologies and the different facets of the business," said Gillman, identifying education as a cornerstone of the organization. TCA was formed in large part to help legitimize quality players in the telecom channel over those who simply put up a website, signed on with a carrier and called themselves agents. TCA believed education and certification would lend credibility and validity to those who had made serious investments in delivering quality services.
TCA also offers frequent webinars and an annual "Channel Chiefs Summit," where channel thought leaders make presentations aimed at channel executives at director-level and above.
Contrary to CompTIA’s vendor-agnostic model, TCA operations are supported by fees that provide marketing and visibility to participating sponsors. Gillman said TCA is looking to expand its roster of sponsors to better represent the cross-section of vendors that leverage both the telecom and IT channels.
A Voice for the Partner
"How can we make sure we have a voice for the partners?" asked Gillman, describing TCA's challenge. "[We] make sure that the providers understand what the partners' needs and wants are, and how to incorporate more than just telecom to include cloud services, internet of things and more."
It is interesting to note that all the original members of TCA at its founding in 2008 were telecom master agents. Today, TCA seeks to connect master agents, sub-agents, providers, partners and IT channel players. As the IT channel itself is evolving, TCA and similar organizations can go a long way in helping the entire telecom and computing ecosystem find more effective ways to work together and support each other.
IT channel organizations are either vendor-agnostic or vendor-focused, such as the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), for example. Or, they are distributor-owned, such as Ingram Micro’s VentureTech Network (VTN) or Synnex's VARnex.
By leveraging support from multiple vendors, TCA stands a very good chance of providing a more independent environment.