Key Takeaways From The 2009 State Of Technology: Peripherals Study4:00 PM EST Fri. Jan. 16, 2009
Everything Channel's 2009 State of Technology: Peripherals study only further reaffirmed what solution providers have known about peripherals for years: boxes alone are not solutions. Sure, every end of the peripherals space has hot new technology, from razor-thin, energy-efficient displays to smart multifunction printers (MFPs) and state-of-the-art racks and power supplies.
But a customer wants to hear exactly what that monitor is going to do for workflow productivity, and how much money can be saved with a document management solution as part of an MFP, and what you can do to help them max out the power capabilities in their data center without going broke in the process. The 774 North American solution providers who assisted this year's State of Technology: Peripherals research definitely don't see time to waste; belt-tightening times mean only rock-solid solutions win the business.
Following are some of the major trends that emerged from this year's peripherals research.
Despite the gains in peripherals sales of business direct-marketing resellers (DMRs), e-tailers, brick-and-mortar retailers and, well, each other, solution providers still say vendor direct sales organizations represent their greatest competition. Sixty-eight percent of solution providers surveyed for the study indicated direct sales organizations were among their top three competition sources.
"It's certainly Dell and people like that who are more of a direct model," said Philip Smith, vice president of sales at Datec. "They're still taking the most business away."
While 78 percent of surveyed solution providers stated economic downturn was among their greatest inhibitors to growing business, a greater percentage -- 87 percent -- cited aggressive pricing and commoditization.
While 37 percent of respondents said they had not changed their selling habits for peripherals in the past year, at least 30 percent indicated they sold few peripherals direct and were referring more of their customers to direct market resellers. Another 35 percent suggested they often make recommendations to customers and have those customers fulfill the purchase through other sources, and 22 percent said they were offering more leasing options.
When asked what they viewed as the three greatest growth opportunities for their peripherals business, 59 percent of solution providers indicated the ability to upsell their customers and 53 percent indicated that peripherals increased their ability to bundle products. The bottom line? Pushing boxes alone isn't going to grow business -- fitting peripherals as pieces of an overall solutions is.
"It's difficult to get rich selling racks," said Datec's Smith, by way of example. "But if you understand racks and are willing to tell a story about them, then they can become a reasonably important part of a cost-effective solution."
After the ability to upsell and the ability to bundle, solution providers indicated that the ability to open up new opportunities in the small business market was the next greatest growth opportunity in peripherals. Nearly half (47.7 percent) of all solution provider customers are in small businesses with less than 100 employees. Solution providers also said that in more than any other market segment, innovation of peripherals counts most in small and lower midsize businesses ranging from five to 499 employees.
Sixty-two percent of solution providers surveyed picked standard, single-panel desktop LCDs between 19 and 24 inches as the display product that will offer the best profit opportunity this year, and also the product that since a year ago has become easiest to sell. It's clear that extra-large LCD desktop displays bigger than 30 inches are still finding their footing, and everything else in between -- from large LCD desktop displays to plasma TVs and commercial-grade digital signage displays -- is showing modest gains tempered by economic realities.
For Marc Wolfe, CEO of ProActive, a display has to be more than a glittering panel with a price tag.
"Clients realize a price-value relationship with displays," he said. "Some [vendors] try to lead with 'we're the lowest price.' But I can't sell just based on lowest price. I need a client for a long period of time and don't want to be just a box-pusher. It has to be more than just a big screen."
Solution providers said the highest level of opportunity to attach services for displays and monitors was with commercial-grade digital signage, sized 32 inches or greater.
"It takes a lot of commitment to get into the signage industry," said Andy Teoh, product manager for digital signage at DT Research. "You need to have the skill sets in networking and skill sets in audio/visual. LCD prices will continue to fall and be affordable. As long as [vendors] have a good VAR program in the space, [they'll] be strong when the economy starts to look up."
Solution providers see the greatest sales increases and best profit opportunities in the next 12 months in networked multifunction printers.
"Three years ago, it was the move from black and white to color. Now it's definitely the move to MFPs," said Vincent DiSpigno, co-owner of Webistix.
At Everything Channel's Print and Imaging Summit in December, Gartner Managing Vice President Peter Grant suggested the three "lighthouses" guiding print through a troubled economy will be smart MFPs, software and managed print services.
In print and imaging, the technology that not only promises a paperless office but also positions peripherals in the context of greater solutions is document management software. Tier one vendors like HP, Xerox and Oki Data all offer comprehensive document management solutions, and everyone from Laserfiche and eCopy to newcomers like GoScan has a VAR program tailored specifically around the technology. While plenty of solution providers see the opportunity to attach services to networked printers -- color, photocopier and multifunction -- it's document management software where the opportunity is greatest.
Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said that mobile projectors have become a lot easier to sell in the past year -- a considerably higher percentage than those who said meeting room/midsize projectors (27 percent) and installation/large, fixed projectors (11 percent) had become easier.
VARs said they have noticed an uptick in demand in the SMB space as more and more traveling executives need to set up presentations at trade shows and meetings. Ranjan DeCosta, CEO of OmniPro Systems, said he is also seeing increasing demand for mobile projectors in education, specifically the K-12 vertical.
"Most classrooms do not have projectors," he said. "Teachers need to carry around presentations with them from class to class, which is easier with a mobile projector."
For desktop external storage, 64 percent of solution providers said LAN-connected storage devices offered the highest profit opportunities, followed by 500+ GB hard drives. (On the flip side, USB flash drives or thumb drives have the lowest profit potential.) Both LAN-connected storage devices and 500+ GB hard drives also present the best services opportunities.
Brian Lisse, owner of Madison Computer Works, a solution provider catering to small and midsize businesses, said that, for him, services is the only reason to sell external desktop storage devices.
"We don't make money selling hardware, period," Lisse said. "The real money is in setting it up and training customers, and offering support and other services."
Solution providers indicated that of all peripherals segments, uninterrupted power supplies would see the most increase in solution provider sales focus this year. And as results in both the State of Technology: Peripherals' power protection/management and racks/rack accessories categories show, solution providers see everything from environmental monitoring to rack enclosures as a potential part of the sale -- areas, in other words, that were formerly the province of facilities, and not of IT.
"Things like virtualization and server consolidation have created business and IT trends that all have a power and cooling play for solution providers -- and that's pretty dramatic," said Rob McKernan, president, North America, for APC by Schneider Electric. "Our solution providers are excited about that, but it also leads to their biggest request. They'll say, 'I'm selling a single-phase UPS or individual racks today and I'm getting asked for more sophisticated power and cooling devices and being asked more specific questions about how to maintain them. How do I take advantage of that opportunity?'"
McKernan's advice to partners? Get to know what power can do for you.
"The partners that have been successful are the ones that are either developing their own in-house electrical or mechanical expertise, or collaborating with other types of partners who are electrical and mechanical-type shops anyway," McKernan said. "Some of the truly special solution providers out there are really getting paid to do more of the front-end design work as well. A customer says to them, 'Help me design my data center as it is today, and show me how I go about future planning.' That's how you take it from a box sale into much more of a solution play."
In all six categories, VARs were asked to access a selection of major peripherals vendors and if they were extremely willing to sell or recommend that brand, moderately willing to sell or recommend that brand or not willing to sell or recommend that brand. ViewSonic topped the list of vendors in the State of Technology:
Peripherals survey's monitors/digital signage/LCD TVs category.
HP was overwhelmingly tops in printers/scanners, with 74 percent of solution providers describing its print products as extremely willing to sell or recommend.
APC by Schneider Electric dominated the power management and protection category, with 61 percent of solution providers suggesting they were extremely willing to sell or recommend APC products.
Out of all six categories, solution provider selections for projectors had the tightest results. ViewSonic edged InFocus and Sony in terms of solution provider brand preference in the category.
Where desktop external storage brands are concerned, solution providers picked narrowly in favor of Seagate over Western Digital, but there were plenty of other storage names with high marks, too.
In rack and rack accessory brands, APC ranked highest in favor among surveyed solution providers, with plenty of admiration for HP, as well.