2009: The Year of CooperationBy Lawrence Walsh | Print
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Dire and bleak was the outlook this time last year, and many companies in the channel didn’t think they would survive the recession. Through communal cooperation and collaboration, many companies not only survived, but flourished.
The ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun-Tzu said you should "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." History may record 2009 as a year where we did both; we all hung on tight and maintained close contact with the allies, friends and competitors to ride out the what many called the worst economic downturn in a generation.
From my perspective, the year started in September 2008 with the crash of the credit and financial services market. Ever since then, we’ve been coping with the consequences—the frozen budgets, the rapid decline in IT spending, the rise of disruptive technologies such as cloud computing. Disruptive trends typically take years to develop, and we usually are only hit with one or two at a time. During this period, we were barraged with multiple, devastating challenges.
Few people I speak with are sad to see the curtain fall on 2009. While the year started on a bleak note, many solution providers and vendors are reporting surging orders and receipts in the final quarter. And that’s fueling a cautious optimism as we head into 2010.
Ingenuity, innovation and cooperation are what got many people and companies through this recession. Over the past year, I have literally met and spoken with hundreds of vendors, solution providers, MSPs, consultants, service providers, associations, trainers and plain-old gurus that make up this thing we call the channel community. Competition is competition, but there was a general air of cooperation among the members of the channel community—everyone wants to win, but no one wanted to see longtime friends and colleagues suffer as a result of an economic downturn. In fact, many solution providers found the expertise and resources they needed in partnering with their peers to fulfill the precious deals they needed to keep their businesses alive.
If I had one wish for the new year, that would be that cooperation and collaboration continue as catalysts for growth, success and innovation. We often forget how big the channel really. Generally speaking, many companies I talk with will line themselves up with three to five competitors as a benchmark. The reality is that the channel is made of more than 100,000 companies, ranging from sole proprietors to Fortune 500 enterprises, from Main Street retailers to major telecom carries, from small box pushers to large services organizations. The reality is that the channel is large enough to support thousands of diverse companies while providing enough separation where collaboration and cooperation won’t—in many cases—hurt your business.
We could learn much from the successful and emerging models of cooperation and collaboration. HTG Peer Groups, winner of the Channel Insider Bull’s Eye Champion Award for Channel Communities, is growing because it’s perfected a system in which solution providers are organized in small groups with noncompetitive peers to collaborate and cooperate. This type of organization was started out of necessity to give participants a sense of security, but what it has evolved into is pockets of cooperators that are competing against their fellow peer groups in a friendly meritocracy.
1nService, a collaborative of solution providers across North America, is reinventing itself to provide its members with greater collaboration facilitation and peer assistant for growing their businesses. In the 1nService model, members retain their sovereignty but act in concert with their peers. It’s a powerful combination when they compete for large deals.
The Big Apple chapter of the Ingram Micro VentureTech Network is a prime example of what a group of solution providers can do when they work together. This group—made up of companies from New Jersey, Manhattan and Long Island—often work outside the VTN umbrella to exchange resources, share technology know-how, exchange market intelligence and refer business.
And many vendors are rapidly developing their community models to provide greater peer-to-peer connections and bonding. Microsoft is fielding an increasing number of automated tools that enable solution providers to share leads and develop services relationships. Cisco is pairing U.S. partners with counterparts overseas to facilitate cross-border exchanges of resources, project management and knowledge. And IBM is pumping steroids into its network of ISVs and resellers, building stronger connections to ensure that they act together to meet customer needs rather than separate channels.
Peer collaboration saved many businesses from being crushed by the recession. This same spirit of openness and cooperation will fuel growth and open new opportunities in the coming year. It’s a movement that should not just continue, but be encouraged as a way of doing business.
Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. Click here to read his blog, Secure Channel, for the latest insights on security technology and policy trends affecting solution providers.