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IT channel partner survey reveals cautious optimism

Value-added resellers and managed service providers expressed cautious optimism regarding their prospects in 2016, sentiments that reflect an uptick in business.

IT channel partner professionals appear cautiously optimistic on the industry's prospects for 2016, with the mood buoyed by a combination of general economic trends and job satisfaction.

That observation is among the findings stemming from TechTarget's 2015 Annual Salary and Careers Survey, which polled 341 people who either work directly for, or are self-employed and work for, a value-added reseller (VAR), systems integrator or managed service provider. A bit more than half of the survey respondents (53%) said they believed the mood will be more optimistic next year, while just under a third (31%) were neutral, anticipating the mood to be neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Pessimists were in the minority at 16% of the respondents.

Those results are somewhat more positive than the survey participants' current sentiments: 46% of the IT channel partner staffers said the IT mood was optimistic, 37% were neither optimistic nor pessimistic and 17% expressed pessimism.

Optimists cited a number of reasons for their feelings, with increasing business, a strong management team and an innovative work environment ranking as the top three factors. Overall, most channel professionals -- 62% -- expressed satisfaction with their jobs.

Tracking with other results

Tech Target's findings are generally on track with other IT survey results. CompTIA's IT Career Insights survey of nearly 2,000 IT professionals -- roughly split between U.S. and international respondents -- found that 73% of U.S. participants said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, noted Tim Herbert, senior vice president, Research & Market Intelligence at CompTIA. The results are not yet published in their entirety; Herbert said CompTIA is still in the process of going through the survey data.

For the most part there is pretty strong optimism among channel partners and channel companies right now.
Tim HerbertSVP, Research & Market Intelligence, CompTIA

In addition, CompTIA's IT Industry Business Confidence Index reversed a downward pattern. The fourth-quarter index saw an increase of 2.2 percentage points, "reversing two consecutive quarters of decline," CompTIA noted. The index is based on an opinion survey of IT executives, polling them on their views of the U.S. economy, the IT industry and their own companies. CompTIA said all three index components posted gains in Q4, with the rating of the overall economy seeing the largest increase.

"For the most part there is pretty strong optimism among channel partners and channel companies right now," Herbert said.

John Reed, senior executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm, said he thinks the optimism is due to the more strategic application of technology within organizations.

"As technology continues to impact most departments within organizations, the need for professionals to implement and maintain these technologies will continue to be important to overall success and increased efficiency and productivity," he said. "IT is becoming much more involved in strategic discussions for progressive organizations, which is providing a renewed sense of confidence and optimism for technology workers as they are seeing their roles expand."

Reed added that his company is seeing tech leaders adding to their teams or implementing new technology initiatives such as digital or cloud projects.

Some unease among IT channel partner staff

There are some currents of unease, however, among the respondents to the TechTarget survey. Less than half of the respondents expect to receive a raise next year and 31% said they believe no salary increase is in the offing.

One survey respondent, a software developer at a consulting firm, said she believes her compensation will stay the same in 2016 if she remains in her current job.

"The company has a new CEO, and they're looking to cut costs all over," said the developer, who requested anonymity. "They already said we wouldn't get [a raise] last year. ... I think it's probably going to be the same next year."

The developer said she might look for a different job and is interested in becoming a software architect.

Tony Adams, owner of betaTech LLC, an MSP in Omaha, Neb., also finds himself at a career crossroad. Adams formed betaTech two years ago "more or less to make money to get through [graduate school]." His graduate studies focus on software development.

With the master's degree almost in hand, Adams is now weighing his options about what his next step will be. The options include focusing exclusively on growing his managed services business or taking a full-time software development job, running his business on the side to grow it out later. The decision is hard because he loves being a business owner. He said it would take a while to get to the point where he could find and take on new clients to make the business more sustainable to support his family.

"Where I'm going I don't know yet. ... I want to make the right decision. I don't want to take on a job and then close down the business and then figure out that that's not what I want to do," he said.

Adams noted that the holiday season is a difficult time to find a job. He doesn't expect the job market to pick up again until January -- enough time to figure out the fate of his business.

"Between now and then, I am going to decide what to do," he said.

This ambiguity spills over into compensation. While many IT channel partner professionals don't expect any salary increase next year, those who do expect a raise, on average, anticipate a sizeable 6.4% boost.

Reed said Robert Half's 2016 Salary Guide indicates an overall average starting salary that's 5.3% higher next year compared with 2015 salary levels. He said salary increases for employees already in a role may or may not prove as significant. He added, "It is important for employed professionals to stay up to date with salaries in their role and region if they plan on having discussions around raises with their managers."

The differing employee fates with respect to wage hikes may have something to do with where they stand on the salary scale. Herbert, while warning against over-generalizing, said he discovered a possible correlation between salary level and size of salary increase when comparing the Department of Labor's Occupational Employment Statistics for IT occupations in 2013 and 2014. He found that workers in the  25th wage percentile received an average increase of 1.5%, while those in the 90th percentile received a 3% increase.

Herbert said that finding could show that certain technology niches experiencing high employer demand and scarce employee supply are pushing up some salaries but not others. Employees working in those niches are likely to be paid more and companies will try harder to retain them. But if employees at the top of the organization get the biggest raises, organizations with fixed workforce budgets will look to make offsets elsewhere. The result, Herbert added, is "fewer dollars for increases and bonuses in other parts of the organization."

Additional reporting by Spencer Smith.

Next Steps

Take a look at a channel salary survey from earlier in 2015.

Review channel trends including staffing.

Read about HR systems adoption among channel partners.

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A guide to TechTarget's 2015 IT salary survey

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