Next-Generation VARs

Earlier this month Senior Editor Chad Berndtson and I sat down with Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers to talk about the company’s vision and his advice to solution providers as the economy starts to rebound. Chambers and Cisco have always been on the forefront of creating channel programs that push solution providers to the next level. In the early 2000s, Cisco was one of the first vendors to talk about specializations and adding services on top of hardware. Today, Cisco is taking it a step further. It believes that business consulting is the next area that solution providers need to invest in, and it is encouraging and offering training around services.

In our current business environment, technology is an enabler for a business problem or an idea. More often than not, the conversation is less one about procuring technology and more one around business outcomes. And that takes a different skill set. It is not just technical and integration services expertise that a solution provider needs but, rather, business consultant services. Integration and technical skills will help to get the job done, but it won’t be the beginning of the conversation. Those solution providers with the consultant chops will be the ones that succeed.

While companies are demanding business outcomes, the technology seems to be evolving at a breakneck speed. Future solution provider models need to support smartphone integration, virtualization up and down the stack, cloud services, social media and more. As a result, organizations need to make investments in new skills. This was the reasoning behind our newest list, the Tech Elite 250. Much like our Fast Growth 100 and VAR500 lists, this is a solution provider list that recognizes solution providers that are growing and have been able to differentiate themselves from the pack.

With the Tech Elite 250, CRN is recognizing solution providers that have invested in a broad set of data center certifications, which allows them to be vendor-agnostic and become a critical asset for the customer. While the investments of time and money are great, the rewards also have been impressive.

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These new skills may be out of the comfort zone of many. Solution providers will need to invest in technical skills across the stack, from virtualization to cloud to infrastructure to security. Another skill that solution providers need to think about is application development. Are they investing in the development skills needed for the next-generation applications? As companies of all sizes move to cloud offerings, can solution providers customize and build applications on top of the cloud? Many of the successful cloud VARs today are already doing just that.

What’s more, the phenomenal growth of smart devices and the iPad will make app stores commonplace. In the not-too-distant future, your customers will expect work-related access to app stores on their iPads and other smartphones. You are going to need to be in the middle of this conversation to keep pace.

While it is a lot to take on, this yet-again inflection point is what makes technology exciting. The game and the players change all the time, opening the doors for new opportunities and business models. It’s what keeps us young, challenged and, hopefully, growing and thriving. Good luck!

BACKTALK: Kelley Damore is VP, Editorial Director for Everything Channel. Reach her via email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @kelleydamorecrn.