IT vendors are letting a huge opportunity slip through their fingers. That's the conclusion I came to after listening to dozens of solution providers voice their opinions about today's hottest technology trends at our recent XChange conference in San Diego. While there are several pressing issues facing VARs today, one of the biggest is identifying the hottest technologies that are shaping the market. It's like the search for the Holy Grail.
|Robert C. DeMarzo is VP/publisher of VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR.|
Solution providers make their livings by delivering technology to a broad set of customers, so when they start asking questions about the hottest trends, I'm not sure if they're seeking validation of their efforts, suffering from a bout of paranoia or trying to figure out whether a rival VAR is cashing in on an opportunity that they've missed. The answer is probably all of the above, but it does open up an interesting debate about which vendors are leading the technology charge and whether the industry is suffering from a lack of leadership.
There's no one tech trend to watch, and any VAR worth its weight in MDF funds knows that its organization has to play in one of the key markets--IP telephony, wireless, video, virtualization, open source and security, among them--if it's going to have a future. Yet the real issue voiced by today's VAR boils down to whether there are any identifiable or inspiring individuals leading those mega-trends. What appears to be missing is an evangelical technologist leading the charge.
The big questions: Which personalities stand out today? And who's making noise? There aren't too many by my count. Maybe we're between generations, or perhaps the great minds have turned their attention elsewhere. Today's channel executives are getting mired in conversations about business processes, partner enablement and lead generation, but, ultimately, they need to sell technology.
Not that long ago, there was a group of individuals that took a stand on certain technologies and rallied the channel around their cause. Take Bill Gates, who took a stand on office productivity, or the obstreperous Philippe Kahn, who touted spreadsheets. Let's not forget Mitch Kapor and Jim Manzi, who spoke out on collaborative applications, Steve Jobs on ease of use and Ray Noorda on the network. While it's true that those individuals stood for their companies' breakthrough technologies, if you looked at their stances more closely, you'd see that they represented so much more than that. They all took careful aim at an installed base they perceived as unhappy and ready for the next step forward.
Today, the first names that probably come to mind are those of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the thirtysomething founders of Google. After that, the list dwindles pretty quickly.
But therein lies the opportunity for today's big technology brands--and alternative vendors. For the lesser-known names to grow, they have to be willing to take a stand and bear the blows of the established leaders. That's how vendors such as Adtran, Juniper Networks, McAfee and Network Appliance can separate themselves from the pack.
But they may be missing the boat. Do their existing partners really know what they stand for when a competitor's rep takes them to lunch? Does the broader solution provider community understand how McAfee's security products may be superior to Symantec's? I'm not so sure that yes is the answer to those questions.
Undoubtedly, Jobs, Gates, Noorda and the others are rare breeds. But the lessons they taught us are being lost on today's technology and channel leaders. The old guard stood for something--and stood up to much bigger rivals. They acted as if they had nothing to lose. Today's vendors are playing the game safe. Unless they take a stand, there won't be much ground left under their feet.
So tell me, what technology company is taking a stand that you believe in?