Playing Nice in the Sandbox

By Dave Sobel  |  Print this article Print

Some pundits are predicting the destruction of the channel. But rather than disappearing, the channel is instead morphing into a model that is more collaborative in nature.

I spent my weekend with my seven-year-old nephew and five-year-old niece out in the "country" at a farm with plenty of kids activities. An Easter Egg hunt, time in the "Corn Bin," a giantmaze, and a massive inflatable balloon for jumping on. I then took them out for dinner, filled them up with junk food, and drove them home to their Mom and Dad. It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

As the two ran around and bounced on the balloon, playing tag with other kids, chasing different people at random, and stopping to build sand piles in the sand around the edges, I was fascinated to watch the dynamics of the playgroups. Groups formed and disintegrated on a whim, as kids would pay together, then go off and do something else, then re-form, then change again. They would add people, lose people, or change purpose as the individuals felt it should.

I watched my niece build a sand castle, then be joined by another girl, who continued the work as my niece was distracted, but then returned later. A third girl on the task, who apparently knew the second girl and promptly did the introductions to bring the three together on the task at hand, joined them.

Children form and re-form groups as their whims decide, and align with those who they have common goals with. The groups are generally task-based – they come together to play, they come together to build – but it’s task-based. Now I’m sure you’re asking, why is Dave bringing this up?

There’s been a lot of talk of the "destruction of the channel." Karl Palachuk wrote a piece on it. He boldly claims "The distribution of hardware and software through traditional distributors will cease to exist." Now combine this thinking with Avnet buying Bell Micro, which is consolidation within the distribution channel. Does this spell gloom and doom for the channel? Will we see less and less players and will the middle man be cut out?

No. Manufacturers make product, distributors are very good at getting boxes from one location to another, and resellers put it all together. I agree with Karl that the "traditional" roles of the various components may move, but we need all these components. Even in a cloud world, there is still the requirement for some physical device to work on. Notebook, netbook, desktop, iPad, or some yet to be invented device – you’ll still need some gear (or kit, or software, or whatever you’d like to call the parts, supplies and components you need to assemble the solution). You may need less, or new kinds, or different, but you’ll still need someone to get it from.

What I think will happen more is changing roles, and like children playing, we’ll align more around specific tasks. This works rather well among solution providers now, coming together to form groups to take on projects and tasks. "Coopitition" is alive and well among resellers, and perhaps the model will change more to that style of interaction with distribution. I think it’s simplistic to think the channel will be destroyed.  

This is a time of great change. We’ll be continuing to see more and more changes within the traditional channel, and I expect that what we’ll see is more casual alliances. And like children, this will sometimes be best served by putting aside the perception of competition and instead working together for a common goal. It’s proving rather successful for many in the channel. Peer Group efforts (like HTG, which I’m a) involved with and thus b) biased to) are making a big difference for solution providers, and we see a similar uptake with user groups, both organically driven or brought together by vendor partners like ConnectWise and Autotask.   

I think the key to success in the new work is not the destruction of the channel. The key to success will be those who play nicely with others in the sandbox will find that they are much more successful. 

A lesson that was driven home to me by the smiling face of my niece, covered in sand with a spot of ketchup on her cheek, who spent the day playing with other children on the playground, and met her goal – having a lot of fun on a Saturday afternoon.

Dave Sobel is CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Washington, D.C.-based solution provider, and is regular contributor to Channel Insider.

Dave Sobel is the founder and CEO of Evolve Technologies (www.evolvetech.com), a consulting firm that provides information technology and computer networking services to small businesses in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.Evolve Technologies provides a wide array of services including server installation, virus protection, network security, backup services and complete information technology outsourcing. The first Microsoft Small Business Specialist located in the Washington, D.C. area, Evolve Technologies is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. Prior to founding Evolve Technologies, Sobel worked as a Web architect for a consulting company. He also has experience doing security, network and infrastructure design for Fortune 1000 companies. Sobel holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the College of William and Mary. He can be reached at dave@evolvetech.com.