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Despite the geographic boundaries the Internet has broken down in the business world, national organizations and small and midsize businesses alike will always need a local service provider to cover their IT services needs.

Enterprise-level service providers could be national systems integrators with local offices or, just as often, bands of smaller VARs that join together to fulfill a specific customer’s needs. Increasingly, the latter model is the one being embraced by both the VAR community and the clients it serves.

There are two overwhelming factors driving the rapid rise in VAR partnerships: First, VARs are faced with the challenge of satisfying demanding customers that may have offices spread out across the country (or world for that matter, but that is another story). Doing business with the local VAR in each market is not an ideal strategy for these organizations.

Most customers want one number to call when they need IT services. While there are regional VARs that can handle customers with widely separated branch locations, most cannot. The only way to service these accounts is through partnerships with similar VARs.

But in doing so, the lead VAR must be sure any company it partners with offers the same level of expertise and level of service. There must be rules of engagements drawn out ahead of time that stipulate quality assurance measures and make it clear who is the lead on the account in a given location or situation.

If possible, the customer should have as seamless a relationship with the VAR partnership as it would doing business with one company.

The second big reason for VARs to join forces—and arguably the more important one—is to round out their service offerings and bring a more comprehensive solution to the table. A service provider specializing in security could gain an advantage in a competition and ultimately win more accounts if it also brought infrastructure management capabilities or even specific telecommunication skills to the equation.

Take Alvaka Networks in Huntington Beach, Calif., for example. Close to 80 percent of its revenues already come from professional services, and the practice is growing at 60 percent annually. The company acknowledges that it needs to partner with other providers to obtain the high service levels required in the professional services market.

In fact, at least half of Alvaka’s business involves partnerships with other integrators and VARs, according to company President Oli Thordarson. A quarter of the overall business involves heavy involvement with other channel partners within accounts, with another quarter involves partners who are “moderately” involved, he says.

“We partner with other VARs all the time,” Thordarson said. “We usually look for technology expertise coupled with geographic compatibility. For instance, we work a lot with accounting software specialists while we do the directory services and infrastructure stuff.”

It is no secret that VARs are becoming more specialized along technologies as well as market verticals in order to differentiate themselves. Therefore, joining forces with other VARs that offer a different skill set can open the doors to a wider customer base.

But partnerships aren’t just a tactic of necessity; the VAR you bring into one of your accounts to round out your service offerings will most likely do the same for you, increasing your sales resources as well as your technical reach.

Alvaka is one of thousands of providers that have found this practice rewarding. If you haven’t made the leap of faith yet, every day that goes by is a potential lost opportunity.

And if you are not sure where to begin, try CompTIA, which for years has been bringing together the vendor community with the channel and with VARs.
Elliot Markowitz is editor-at-large for Channel Insider. He is also editorial director of eSeminars for Ziff Davis. He can be reached at