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It seems just about every week I get a pitch in my inbox for a new or improved tool to help VARs and integrators do their business better.

This is worthy of notice because it wasn’t too long ago that channel companies by and large were suffering from the cobbler’s children syndrome. While they were selling, installing and servicing some of the latest and greatest technology available, they were running their own business on outdated systems cobbled together over the years as necessity mandated.

Probably in no other place does the maxim that “necessity is the mother of invention” live on as dynamically as in the IT channel. Here you have smart, resourceful folks who, as they faced challenges through the years, figured out how to apply technologies that in some cases were ahead of what vendors were developing.

In the managed services space, for instance, now there is a vibrant collection of vendors that have developed platforms used by solution providers to remotely deliver IT services to customers. But before these platforms came into their own, a handful of providers already had developed homegrown systems to handle services remotely. They had already concluded that remote monitoring of customer systems opened up business possibilities previously unattainable.

Of course, these managed services pioneers were the minority. In more cases than not, you would find that VARs and integrators were pretty much handling the business as they always had—focusing on the next sale or the next repair or service call to extract enough profit margin to keep going.

What should VARs know about firewalls? Click here to hear an eWEEK podcast interview with Deepak Thadani of Sysintegrators.

Along the way, some folks figured out that channel companies needed to get better about running their businesses. Keeping track of service and repair calls on scraps of paper was not only inefficient but was actually hurting business. Without automation, it is difficult to keep track accurately of hours spent at customer sites and to bill properly.

Along came software developers such as ConnectWise and Autotask with automation for these processes and integration with managed services platforms so that solution providers could keep track of the business in unprecedented ways.

Also along the way came tools to help channel companies keep accurate track of commissions and rebates owed them by vendors, analyze what customers buy and how they use it, keep records on maintenance contracts and when they expire, and manage lead referrals.

In addition, marketing tools and services designed to help solution providers become more effective at identifying and retaining customer business have also become widely available. Traditionally, channel companies have practically treated marketing and business development as an afterthought, but as competition intensifies and the market becomes more complex, this attitude is changing.

What more and more providers have found is that they must modernize; they must do for themselves what they evangelize their customers to do.

With no shortage of tools with which to automate and make their businesses more efficient and professional, channel companies have little excuse not to finally cure themselves of the cobbler syndrome.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He can be reached at