Channel Chiefs Need to Watch More Football

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 2006-05-23 Email Print this article Print


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Opinion: Line football teams and IT vendors tend to stick to one way of playing. By doing so, they ignore other plays that would help them in the channel.

Watching various vendors put their channel programs together has always been reminiscent of watching professional football coaches build their offenses.

In the National Football League, coaches tend to prefer to either pass the ball or run the ball. Passing the ball a lot is generally referred to as a West Coast offensive scheme, because it is favored by teams that play in sunny climates where you can more easily throw the ball. On the East Coast, coaches tend to rely more on running the ball in an attempt to win the game by controlling the ball a lot more than their opponents.

Ironically, most vendors have similar types of schemes when it comes to building out their channel programs. For instance, companies on the West Coast, such as Cisco, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, tend to use the same basic channel model, which mostly relies on big plays sent in from the sidelines by their channel chiefs.

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In that model, a company such as Cisco likes to script, for example, a major offensive push in VOIP (voice over IP) in the hopes that some unknown subset of its channel players will eventually make a big score.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have companies such as IBM, EMC and Citrix that prefer an offensive scheme where they pretty much grind out every yard gained. Typically, they tend to have a much tighter relationship with their players, in that they know a lot about every player on the team. The end result of this approach is fewer spectacular plays, but overall they tend to be successful because they are more deeply involved in every play.

Both approaches have a lot of merit, but the down side of the West Coast offense is that it relies heavily on reams of data that must be analyzed before the play can be scripted. That means anywhere from six months to a few years could go by before these companies have collected enough data to be sure enough that the score on the field is actually changing for the worse. Once they get that data, however, they usually can put together a few quick big scores to get back in the game.

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Meanwhile, the vendors that prefer a ball control offense usually have a much better handle on the overall flow of the game, so they tend to react more quickly to events and work more closely with their players. But because their usual method of doing business is to try and run out the clock by continuing to grind out yardage, they rarely have enough points on the board to decisively forestall the fourth-quarter burst of offensive power that typifies a West Coast offense.

The end result is that game always seems to come down to the final two minutes, with one company trying to run out the clock while the other throws as many passes as possible downfield in the hopes of pulling off one more thrilling come-from-behind victory.

Unfortunately, none of these companies seem to be unable to understand that teams, such as the Packers, Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys and Patriots, which ultimately became dynasties in pro football, all have one common trait: They could all run and throw the ball.

That combined approach allowed them to keep their competitors off-balance for years. But very few teams can accomplish that, because they tend to get addicted to one style of play over another. This ultimately explains not only why there are very few dynasties in the history of the NFL, but why no vendor seems to be able to consistently put together a winning model in the channel.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media's Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at



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