An information technology (IT) solution is a set of related software programs and/or services that are sold as a single package. IT vendors, service providers and value-added resellers (VARs) market their software suites and service bundles under the label solution to promote the idea that purchasing the product will help the customer successfully solve a problem or deal with a complicated situation.
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Many vendors, software developers, in particular, refer to all of their individual products as software solutions. For example, a vendor may call its antivirus software a solution because it helps to solve a particular problem.
In a stricter sense, however, an IT solution is an aggregation of products and services, as opposed to a single, discrete product. To accurately be called a solution, therefore, the antivirus software should be bundled with related products, such as a spam filter or backup service.
The product versus solution distinction extends back to the 1970s, when VARs emerged. At that time, the rise of microcomputers moved computing beyond the glass house and out to other departments, such as manufacturing and engineering. In response, VARs bundled software -- their own or a third-party package -- with a particular hardware platform and sold the bundle as a turnkey solution designed specifically for a particular use case. Frequently, such hardware/software solutions targeted customers in niche vertical markets.
Types of IT solution providers
In the 1980s, some VARs began marketing themselves as solution sellers or solution providers -- a label that many channel partners continue to use today. VARs and channel partners learned to get close to their customers, learn about their pain points and then bundle products to solve their problems. Systems integrators also emerged under the solution provider banner, offering a mix of consulting, software customization and implementation services. In the 1990s, VARs began to offer consulting and other professional services to complement their turnkey solutions.
The rapid growth of local area networks in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave rise to network solutions, as customers requested help in designing, installing and supporting networks. Network-oriented resellers, also known as network integrators, initially focused on Novell's NetWare product, but eventually shifted their network solutions' emphasis to Windows and open source operating systems, as those software platforms gained networking capabilities.
Internet expands possibilities for IT solution providers
The arrival of the internet pushed the IT solution industry in new directions. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, managed service providers began to emerge. These companies took advantage of the internet as a cost effective means to remotely oversee their customers' on-premises solutions using lights-out management. This development quickly turned remote monitoring and management into another component of IT solutions.
More recently, cloud computing has further expanded IT solution possibilities. Solution providers now offer customers infrastructure as a service, software as a service and other on-demand offerings. The provider either builds and supports its own proprietary cloud services or resells (or recommends) the services of a public cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure or Salesforce Service Cloud. Cloud solution providers offer consulting and professional services around one or more cloud platforms, helping customers use public, private and hybrid cloud environments to solve business problems.