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IT industry outlook: Comp models, competitor lineup evolve

CompTIA has released its IT Industry Outlook 2016 report, which discusses a number of channel trends, including the need for vendors to rethink their partner compensation models.

CompTIA this week released its IT Industry Outlook 2016 report, the organization's annual look at the growth of the IT industry and workforce, including an overview of channel trends.

The industry organization identified 12 2016 trends to watch -- four in each of the following categories: macro trends, technology trends and channel trends. Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA and report author, addressed some of the channel trends with SearchITChannel after discussing some highlights of the 43-page report.

For starters, the published report is based on a combination of research conducted throughout the year and an online survey of about 673 IT industry executives and professionals during late December 2015. The researchers look forward to see which trends may accelerate, while, at the same time, acknowledging that many of the trends will take longer to have an impact. Herbert also pointed out that the trends, macro, technology and channel are interrelated.

"Some key themes that run through the trends are a continuation of momentum that we've seen building up over the years," he said.

So, for example, many of the themes revolve around the concept of digital business and how different elements of emerging technologies -- cloud, mobile, analytics and social -- are coming together to effect more facets of the business than ever before.

A good example of that is cloud technology, Herbert noted. "One trend that we position this year isn't new, but was premature as an analogy we positioned a few years back: The cloud is the new electricity," he said.

Some key themes that run through the trends are a continuation of momentum that we've seen building up over the years.
Tim Herbertsenior vice president of research and market intelligence, CompTIA

Today, there's evidence in the market that cloud has indeed transformed IT operations and technology strategies. "While there are still a number of hurdles, and some companies are still trying to work through the right mix of on-premises technology, cloud and hybrid, cloud is for many firms the default option," Herbert said.

Security is another technology trend that's front and center for many companies. The CompTIA report puts forward the notion that companies are going on the offensive with security. "The research suggests that companies are finally waking up to the fact that some of the security practices that may have been efficient just a few years ago leave them exposed in this era of greater interconnectivity," Herbert said.

He also cited "an increase in the number of knowledge workers that are handling data on different devices" as a factor currently impacting security practices.

In a quest to become more proactive, businesses are leaning toward using a combination of security strategies, rather than just one technology. The report noted that companies plan to increase activities, such as penetration testing, external audits and end-user evaluations, that lead to investments in new security training and platforms.

Channel trends

The first channel trend in the CompTIA report, Vendor Partner Programs Strive to Reach Escape Velocity, addressed the need for vendors to rethink compensation models in their partner programs to better reflect how partners make money in today's cloud-based as-a-service model.

"It's also an extension of the digital services trend that customers are leaning toward, such as combining different elements of technology, so it's no longer sufficient to have technology silos. Any application now has to have, for example, a mobility component, a social component, an analytics component, a great user experience and a way to automate the process," Herbert said.

While vendors and partners may recognize this customer trend and the importance of selling offerings in this manner, many of the vendor partner programs are legacy in nature. "Meaning that many of the incentives and the way they're structured haven't kept pace with the speed of innovation," he said.

According to the CompTIA report, 48% of U.S.-based channel firms recently described the state of their vendor partnerships as either "exploratory" or "shifting," which the organization interpreted as meaning partners are talking to new vendors to work with, or that they've already switched to vendors who are more nimble.

Another channel trend, So Who's a Vendor Anyway, addresses the blurring of lines between vendor and channel roles, as well as the expansion of competitors to include, for example, telecom providers, digital agencies and even accounting firms.

Several things are happening in the channel that promote this blurring of lines, including partners touting their own brand to customers, rather than that of the vendor, as well as more partners developing their own intellectual property.

"We're also seeing vendors who we wouldn't have considered to be part of the core IT channel offering technology solutions, whether it's app development, social media optimization, website development, security services -- and you can go on down the line. Additionally, as we increasingly see IT that resides outside of the technology department -- getting into the Internet of Things trend -- as we see routine devices, objects, infrastructure [and] data intelligence gain an IP address, increasingly, the ecosystem of providers that support this technology is growing. The question is, will they compete with traditional IT partners? And, increasingly, we're seeing this convergence happening," Herbert said.

The third channel trend, Skip the Data Center Build-out -- Everyone Else Is, addressed how if several large players, such as Verizon and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, are considering exiting from the cloud data center business, it makes more sense for channel partners to look to companies, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and IBM, to name a few, as the back engine for their own cloud offerings.

Finally, the fourth channel trend, Getting Closer to the Customer, is one that is a continuation of a dynamic that's been in the works for several years. However, new factors are coming into play and having an impact on how technology is sold and marketed, for example.

Herbert noted that there's a generational component that exhibits a preference for self-service, and how increasingly over the upcoming years, this will impact how technology is purchased.

Additionally, there's a shift in technology budgets from the IT department to the lines of business -- i.e., marketing, human resources, finance and other functional areas in an organization -- that fund their IT projects with their own budgets.

"The applications that are important to digital business strategies are often funded outside of the IT department, shifting the buying influence," Herbert pointed out.

So, how should partners think about these trends?

Herbert suggested reports, such as the CompTIA IT Industry Outlook 2016, offer partners the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on where they are as a business. "Partners could use the results to benchmark where they are in terms of offerings, strategy and how they relate to the customer, and identify potential gaps or areas they need to focus on -- or where they'd like to be," he said.

Next Steps

Read about CompTIA's latest A+ certifications

Gain insight into the top trends shaping the channel in 2016

Learn how training and certification priorities are changing in the channel

Dig Deeper on Traditional and emerging business partner models