WWT CEO: Why Partnering With IT Startups Drives ‘A Lot Of Value’ For Customers

World Wide Technology’s Jim Kavanaugh also shares how the solution provider giant is helping customers with adopting generative AI, which he says is not a ‘fad’ as some might claim: ‘I think there’s real substance.’


For IT powerhouse World Wide Technology, partnering with up-and-coming tech startups is a major source of the value it can offer to many customers — even if “we’re not driving a lot of revenue from them at this point in time,” WWT CEO Jim Kavanaugh said Monday.

“There’s a lot of value that we provide to our customers to help them get better insight into these new technologies that are coming out,” said Kavanaugh, who is also the co-founder of St. Louis-based WWT, No. 9 on CRN’s Solution Provider 500.

[Related: AI And The Channel: It’s Go Time]

Sponsored post

Kavanaugh spoke Monday during a session at the 2023 XChange Best of Breed Conference, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company in Atlanta. He pointed to the company’s unique approach of working with early stage, venture-backed tech startups in addition to a wide array of well-established IT and cybersecurity vendor partners.

Notably, WWT’s work with IT startups includes testing out the new technologies at the company’s Advanced Technology Center. The physical and virtualized tech lab includes six data centers and more than 200 specialists and is capable of performing exhaustive tests on a range of IT technologies.

“We see it as something that’s important to the future of our business and helping our customers figure out, ‘How do we evaluate some of these early stage technology companies?’” Kavanaugh said. “A lot of times, there’s not a quick ROI around the investments.”

Among WWT’s vendor partners are numerous venture-backed companies founded less than a decade ago and some within just the past few years. Those include authentication startup Beyond Identity and “next-generation” network tech startup Graphiant, both founded in 2020, and observability startup Cribl, founded in 2018.

For WWT’s customers, “it’s very helpful for them to be able to get a third-party perspective on different leading-edge technologies that are going to be impacting the future [of their business] and to be able to test it out in our lab,” he told an audience of C-level executives from leading IT solution and service providers.

Among the other key opportunities WWT is seeing with customers right now is generative AI, Kavanaugh said, with many customers coming to the solution provider amid the complexity of trying to utilize Large Language Models (LLMs) to enable new functionality in their offerings, or as a tool for their workforces.

In addition to determining how they’re going to consume LLMs—for example, from ChatGPT maker OpenAI, Google, Microsoft or open-source platforms—customers need help with choosing between cloud, on-premises or hybrid infrastructure to support the new technology, he said.

In other words, “Customers are trying to figure out, how do they do this?” Kavanaugh said.

“What should that platform look like? How should it be designed?” he said. “And then you think about all of the costs that go along with it. Because every time you’re going to be writing prompts into your [GenAI] platforms ... if it’s in the cloud, you’re going to be charged for that.”

Shannon Hulbert, CEO of Hillsboro, Ore.-based Opus Interactive, said there’s no question that generative AI is poised to create “new opportunities for everybody” in the coming years, particularly when it comes to helping to address the skills and talent shortage in IT.

This shortfall is a pressing issue for providers of managed IT services, “but we’re not the only ones—every one of our customers also has a skills shortage,” Hulbert said. “And so we’re all competing for the same people.”

The issue is compounded by the sizable gap between college curriculum and industry needs, leading to a rush to train individuals once they enter the workforce, she said.

“And so I see that AI has a really huge opportunity for us being able to automate but then also really be able to make sure that we’re empowering our people to do as much as possible with as little as possible,” Hulbert said.

During Kavanaugh’s session Monday, the WWT CEO said he has no doubt that GenAI is “just going to accelerate” the entire IT industry as well as push forward digital transformation for customers.

“We’re in the really, really early stages of AI and what that’s going to mean,” he said. “But I don’t think AI is a fad. I think there’s real substance. But it’s going to take time to navigate through what does that really mean to your business?”