**Editor's Note: Please click here for Channel Partners' extensive coverage of Intelisys Channel Connect.**
I spent a couple of days in beautiful San Francisco (home of the NL West Champion Giants) at Channel Connect 2012, hosted by master agent Intelisys. This was an impressive event, gathering a number of highly engaged channel partners that work directly with Intelisys to bring telecom, cloud and IT solutions to their customers. I got a chance to shoot the breeze with a number of the channel partners about how they are working with their customers and witnessed the connection they have back to folks like channel manager Justin Marano, who was recently named a Top 15 Channel Manager by readers of Channel Partners.
The event consists of education programs connecting the channel partners to the suppliers that Intelisys represents, panel discussions with IT VARs and telecom agent professionals, and an intimate environment where channel-partner peers can learn from each other, while challenging the status quo.
Two big themes that I saw pervade the event were cloud computing and the connection between the traditional VAR selling IT solutions and the traditional agent organization representing voice, video and data solutions for their customers. Neither of these are new ideas, but they are definitely trending up, and it is imperative that progress is made on both of these themes through the channel serving small, medium and large enterprises.
A cool panel, hosted by Computer Reseller News, featured traditional IT VARs and telecom agents discussing how the overall market has the potential to grow via a sound working relationship between these once-segregated groups. The rub is a fear of losing business to each other, but the promise is much, much larger — as I am sure you have seen, Channel Partners has been taking the lead on this subject all the way through to our logo, which shows an infinity sign connecting Telecom and IT. As discussed on the panel, this is not just an indirect channel sales thing, it is the reality of the customers that the channel is selling to — they are looking for solutions that add value to their business – period – and they want to work with professionals that can help them achieve this goal. I was inspired to see Intelisys continuing to lead this through its event and through the connections they were enabling.
There are a lot of stats and figures floating around right now on the channel partners that are in the market — are they old school? Progressing to meet these challenges? Or have they made the “pivot" (as Intelisys President Jay Bradley calls it) to change their process and harness the power of a combined telecom and IT channel presence? The adaptation of the channel is being argued left and right, but the reality is simple — those that accept and adapt will win; those that do not will run business as usual as long as they can, but the long tail for them is scary.
So what about the cloud? Both at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo and Channel Connect, the answer to this one question was the same: It is real, it is a massive opportunity and it is what customers are starting to demand. The flexibility, agility and scale that the cloud offers is what businesses want; however, the process, architectural shift and business-process impact can be a significantly more jagged pill to swallow. Therefore, channel partners have an incredible opportunity to take a lead position by helping their customers understand how to make the switch (or how the customer pivots) to leverage the potential of cloud-based communications, storage, apps, infrastructure and more. But (and there is always a but) the technology vendors behind the scenes need to commit here as well. Many of the traditional IT and networking players have made their money with on-premises sales, and many traditional VARs have done the same. A move to the cloud changes the game (a lot) and means traditional VARs need to think differently about recurring revenue models, service level agreements, etc., while also considering the business-impact shifts their customers will go through. Aligning with a seasoned professional who grew up selling services as a telecom agent is a quick and powerful way to make that happen.
All of these discussions about the cloud and the convergence of the channel center on one primary thing: How can channel partners add more value at the point of their customers, and what do they need from organizations like Intelisys and IT/service provider vendors. A very cool part of the Channel Connect experience for me this week, was getting to see a formula starting to brew through the discussions that were taking place. That formula is the embodiment of this infinite loop that needs to define the channel moving forward — one that connects IT and Telecom with the business needs of the customer because that is how they are looking at it.
I went deeper with Jay Bradley on the topic of the cloud and convergence in a video blog interview. Jay and I discuss Intelisys’ moves in the cloud space, the role of their partners and what the future looks like as Intelisys moves to “production" mode within the next 24 months.
John Siefert is CEO of VIRGO , the publisher of Channel Partners.