Expanding Your Tech Value Horizons

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

Solution providers servicing the SMB market can broaden their role to derive more business.

If you ask a small business owner what his solution provider does, the typical answer will be "that’s the computer guy," which amounts to a generic description for a particular task.

Digging down deeper into the small business owner’s mentality, you’ll often find that he has a phone guy, alarm guy, copier guy and so on.

That begs the question: Should the solution provider be more than just the computer guy?

In some cases, that question is a resounding "yes." There’s no reason, why a solution provider can’t become the phone guy (thanks to VoIP technology), the copier guy (multifunction printers), even the alarm guy (convergence of physical and IT security). But, most solution providers already know that. The real trick is to find other areas of value to contribute to your customers’ business.

Luckily, there are several ways of doing this. For example, if the small business owner has vehicles used for business, a solution provider can offer products for that area of the business – products such as OBDII monitoring devices, which are plugged into a vehicles OBDII port to perform diagnostics, monitor fuel use and in some cases, train drivers to drive more efficiently.

Following along that train of thought, solution providers will find that there are several GPS vehicle tracking devices on the market, which log the travels of a vehicle and keep track of where and when a driver has traveled. Those devices have more in common with IT technology than they do with automotive technology, making them a natural fit into the solution provider’s bag of tricks.

Of course, expanding horizons doesn’t begin and end with automotive applications, solution providers can dip their toes into the physical security and automation pool. Here, products such as IP-enabled alarm systems, IP surveillance cameras and even environmental and lighting controls can be integrated into the network infrastructure. That brings new capabilities to the customer and can even help "green" the business.

In medical office settings, a solution provider could offer digital signage and flat panel TVs for the waiting area. Better yet, how about setting up a wireless hot spot, which would be a good addition to any type of waiting or service area. If your small business customer is still using cash registers, perhaps now is the time to suggest a point of sale solution.

It all comes down to observing your customers needs and expanding your service offerings to meet as many of those needs as possible. And, in some cases, you may just discover a need that the customer did not even know that they had.

Using the trusted advisor relationship, a solution provider can readily become more than just the computer guy.  

Frank Ohlhorst is senior technology editor at Channel Insider.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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