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Channel companies have an opportunity to innovate and invest as the COVID-19 economy continues to reshape demand for technology and business services.
That was one takeaway from a panel discussion at CompTIA's ChannelCon 2020 virtual event, which runs online through Aug. 6. Industry executives generally agreed that while the pandemic's business effects will clearly hurt some companies, it will also create openings for new products and services.
Juan Fernandez, vice president of managed IT services at ImageNet Consulting, an MSP based in Oklahoma City, said current market conditions are "empowering the channel to become more innovative" and consider options they might not have looked at before.
Serving as a trusted partner, channel companies have an opportunity to build offerings that future-minded customers will pursue, Fernandez said. He pointed to IoT and AI as areas in which partners can help customers cross the "digital divide."
Helping customers launch new business lines, as well as exploit new technologies, is another opportunity. Tim Basa, vice president of sales and operations at AppSmart, a B2B technology services marketplace that works with channel partners, said some partners have evolved into business consultants amid the pandemic. He cited the example of helping food service industry customers launch carryout businesses and providing the enabling technology.
Tim BasaVice president of sales and operations, AppSmart
Basa said many of his partners are having a record year, despite the coronavirus, "because of the brainstorming that is going on."
That said, many channel partners, such as MSPs, are small businesses that serve other small business customers, noted Carolyn April, senior director of industry analysis at CompTIA. An MSP's success will depend on the health of its customers and the vertical markets it pursues, she said. Some verticals, such as hospitality, have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
Amy Luby, chief channel evangelist at Acronis, a data protection vendor, noted the significant channel contraction that occurred in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. She said a similar scenario could happen again with COVID-19. Forrester Research principal analyst Jay McBain has said the population of traditional channel companies dropped 36% since the 2008 recession.
But Luby also pointed to an influx of new MSPs during the Great Recession. That period brought out a "subsegment of the channel ready, willing and able to do things differently," she said.
April said channel companies that could think strategically and make some investments during the 2008 recession were well positioned for improving economic conditions. Partners should also invest strategically, if they are able to, this time around.
"We're not going back to the way it was," Basa noted at ChannelCon 2020. "We are going forward. You have to be forward thinking. This is chess, and you have to be thinking about your next move."