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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. 

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