Many channel partners run the rule over technology vendors in the course of doing business.
Trace3, an IT solutions provider and consulting firm, has taken the next step and made tech research a part of its business strategy. The company, based in Irvine, Calif., has been growing its Innovation Research Team over the past couple of years. The group’s charter is to provide a bi-directional conduit between the venture capital (VC) community and the startup world, on the one hand, and enterprise customers and CIOs, on the other.
Trace3 president Chad Cardenas says the purpose of the Innovation Research program is to provide CIO clients and prospects with early access to the next game-changing, disruptive technologies. Cardenas said Trace3’s innovation research model, which he called a pioneering effort, helps IT buyers “make much more informed purchasing decisions.”
Mark Campbell, who heads the team as vice president of research at Trace3, said customers face a multitude of new offerings hitting the market every year. Finding the appropriate technology needle in the haystack of early-stage companies and early-phase technologies can prove challenging. That’s where Trace3 believes it can assist customers.
“Clients … have a real need for implementing new and emerging technologies,” Campbell said. “They need some help sifting through that.”
There’s a lot to sift through. Campbell estimates that the Innovation Research Team looks at about 1,000 products a year, most of which are from startups. The team consists of full-time researchers in Denver and Phoenix, and there’s also a college intern program in the summer, Campbell noted. The core team reaches out to subject matter experts from Trace3’s engineering ranks to “accelerate and deepen our product evaluations,” he added.
The research team evaluates startup companies with varying degrees of depth. Some are ruled out immediately. Companies that make it through the initial screening get a closer look, with phone meetings conducted with the startup’s top engineers. The next step involves technology demos, in which the research team partners with the company’s field engineers to put products through their paces. If a particular technology looks promising and a customer expresses interest, Trace3 will install the product at the customer’s site for proof-of-concept testing.
Trace3 may go on to forge partnerships with a startup that makes it through the vetting process. Startups, for their part, are increasingly looking at channel partners as a way to scale more quickly and leverage partners’ customer relationships.
Trace3 gets an early view of the startup pipeline through its relationships with 25 top-tier IT venture capital firms, Campbell said. That VC affiliation gives Trace3 the inside track on products in the alpha stage, before they are available on the market but may be introduced to select customers. The Trace3 research team, meanwhile, provides feedback to VCs on their tech investment ideas, based on Trace3’s knowledge of what customers want and what they are willing to pay for.
Trace3 houses the data it collects on startups and their technologies in a repository. The repository, Campbell noted, includes both commercial and open source offerings, as well as information on “incumbents” — established IT vendors. Trace3 users, such as field engineers, can search the repository. A few months ago, Trace3 opened access to the repository to select customers, who can now go into the database and conduct searches on their own.
The Trace3 innovation research group also combs the repository for trends in particular technology categories. The company now publishes monthly reports, geared toward CIOs, on a rotating set of topics such as storage, hybrid cloud and cybersecurity. In July 2016, for example, the research team released research on user behavior analytics and security information and event management.
The research team’s efforts also feed into Trace3’s Venture Capital CIO Briefing program. The team handpicks what it views as the best of the up-and-coming companies it has evaluated and matches those to the challenges its customers face, Campbell said. Trace3 conducts six or seven briefings each month.
“The briefing program is something that has really caught on,” Campbell said. “We can tailor [the briefing topic] and focus on problems relevant to customers.”
Campbell said Trace3’s research provides the ability to anticipate trends through its early access to emerging technologies.
“It’s a differentiator … that puts us at a huge advantage when we talk to a CIO,” Campbell said.