ASCII Group members receive IT industry advice, success strategies

Before an audience of ASCII Group members, Gary Bixler explains the business opportunities involved in today's tech trends and 'anti-trends' and outlines strategies for channel success.

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island -- About 120 vendors and ASCII Group members gathered here yesterday to share strategies for success, engage with their peers, and take home tools to help grow their business.

The event was one of nine IT SMB Success Summits scheduled for 2014 by ASCII Group, which is made up of independent managed service providers (MSPs), value-added resellers (VARs) and solution providers.

One highlight from yesterday's IT SMB Success Summit was the IT industry insights that Gary Bixler, founder of and consultant at Bixler Enterprises and partner with CompTIA, presented before an audience of ASCII Group members.

In his presentation entitled "2014 IT Industry Outlook and Trends to Watch," Bixler pointed to some key trends as well as to what he called "anti-trends," both of which offer business opportunities for MSPs, VARs and solution providers.

"There are some things working to slow [down] what industry researchers call 'trends.' These are anti-trends, and the reality is that there's business opportunity on both sides of these trends, sometimes at the same time," said Bixler.

He kicked off his educational keynote by talking about some of the technology trends today.

The first technology trend he noted: In both the public cloud space and private cloud space, cloud wars are intensifying. Still, cloud hasn't taken over the world and there remains a lot of churn among vendors in this space.

At the same time, the anti-trend is that on-premises systems are still in play. "What we're seeing in the data is that some early adopters of cloud solutions are reversing course," he said.

These early adopters may be switching cloud providers while others who tried cloud but felt like they got burned by it or it was too risky, for example, are bringing some infrastructure back on-premises or are building private clouds.  

"We're seeing that one-quarter of these companies are taking things out of the public cloud and taking it back on-premises," said Bixler.

Another trend, driven by mobility, is the diversity of devices flooding the market. However, the prediction that mobility would displace laptops hasn't happened.

"The PC is still big business," said Bixler. "Laptops are still the technology of choice for deployment to business users," he added.

The third technology trend is big data and using insight from the data to help with decision making.

The anti-trend: According to CompTIA research, 80% of corporations have data siloed. The opportunity for partners here is to help companies break down those silos, he said.

The final trend he noted is that the appetite for software has not been satisfied. "You need to have your finger in software somehow," said Bixler, who stated that industry data shows the majority of IT growth is in software and services.

At the same time, the anti-trend is that hardware is still required. "The software has to run somewhere," he said.

The industry consultant highlighted some key trends on the channel side, as well.

For example, MSPs, VARs, and solution providers were told that when it comes to business focus, it's okay to stay in two lanes. Looking at the four technology trends and anti-trends that Bixler highlighted, there's opportunity for partners to make money in more than one area.

For example, for partners transforming their business to cloud, their business can include cloud services and solutions as well as project-based and hardware-based work.

The next trend for partners is to rethink the label "trusted advisor."

Bixler pointed to a statistic that says in less than five years there will be a turnover in the workforce and more than half of the workforce will be made up of millennials. Research shows that as these employees move into management positions, IT purchase decisions will be less about brand loyalty -- i.e., trusting the brand and the trusted partner -- and more about collaboration and hands-on participation in the decision-making process around technology purchases.

"They're going to want you to provide more of a consultative, collaborative approach, and you need to be ready for that," he said.

This coincides with purchasing authority moving to the business executive.

At the same time, it's back to basics for partners or time to reinvest in technical expertise around technology trends, such as mobility and hybrid cloud. He advised attendees to train existing staff, hire specialists with these skills, or partner with peers.

The last trend is to rethink channel dynamics. With the blurring in definitions regarding partner types -- VAR, systems integrator, ISV, etc. -- it's difficult to classify yourself in one category. "Don't be constrained by these titles," said Bixler. "Do what you do, even if that means working in a partnership with someone that you thought was your competitor just a few years ago."

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