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As the channel wrestles with new business models and an increased need to collaborate on major projects that increasingly are going to be global in nature, one has to wonder if the industry as a whole has the information technology infrastructure in place to really support the direction the channel as whole seems to be moving in.

The two big IT issues looming on the horizon stem from managed services and the need for an approach to vendor portals that really works for the solution providers.

With the acquisition of SilverBack Technologies by Dell and the ever increasing number of managed services being offered by vendors, it’s becoming pretty clear that solution providers in the future will be offering customers a mix of home grown managed services and services provided by vendors that are resold by the solution provider.

The challenge this creates is that solution providers are going to need some sort of central management tool to manage all these divergent managed services in order to service the customer and ultimately get paid for who is using what service when.

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That may ultimately mean creating a pretty sophisticated network operation center or leveraging a third party provider that can actually provide that service. In either model, it’s going to require a set of open Web services interfaces that at present are not very robust.

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The second big IT challenge facing solution providers is the ever increasing zeal of vendors to move more of their business processes online. This has led to a major work being done on corporate portals for the channel across as the industry as vendors look to lower their cost of doing business. The challenge this has created for solution provider is that working with multiple vendors essentially requires them to renter the same data for every deal across every vendor that has a product that makes up any given solution.

Beyond the fact that this is tedious labor, it’s also shifting more of the cost of transaction to the solution provider. In effect, it’s no different than a retailer getting its end customer to fill out all the forms for a transaction online versus having a customer representative take that information over the phone. It may be cheaper for the retailer, but it puts more onus on the people that have to fill out the forms.

What’s really needed to solve this problem is a set of open standards for portals that will make it easier for solution providers to share deal information with vendors without having to renter data multiple times. But just as in the case with managed services, this standard is a nascent effort at best as well.

What really needs to happen is that the major vendors in the channel—Microsoft, Symantec, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and IBM—need to set aside their own issues for a moment to create a few technical standards that will help power the next generation of commerce in the channel. Today, it seems like every vendor is committed to pursuing its own strategies and internal goals without considering the context that those changes have in the real world of the channel where every solution touches three different vendors at a minimum.

Eventually, the industry as a whole working through various associations will be forced into coming up with a solution to these IT challenges, but it would be nice to see for once a proactive rather than reactive approach to the problem because these issues are going to be at the heart of whatever the next generation of the channel. And the longer they go unaddressed, the longer it will take to create a model for the channel the truly reflects business in the 21st century.