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XChange: Channel Can Be Disruptive By Turning Best Practices On Their Heads

Luke Williams, executive director of New York University's Berkeley Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, told channel partners at XChange Solution Provider 2017 that they need to look at their best practices with a critical eye in order to trigger disruptive change.

Disruption is key for the channel to make money and get ahead in the competitive technology landscape – but too many solution providers are still balking at the idea of change, instead relying on their traditional best practices.

Luke Williams, executive director of The Berkley Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the New York University's Stern School of Business and an expert in disruptive thinking, said Sunday that channel partners need to look at their best practices with a critical eye in order to trigger disruptive change in their industries.

"There's never been a more exciting time for [the channel] to be thinking about how to restructure your business," said Williams, speaking to a room of solution providers at XChange Solution Provider 2017, the channel-focused conference hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company. "The potential for reinvention is all around us. We need to cultivate an instinct for change and remake our market landscape."

[Related: Q&A: Tom Bradicich On How HPE Is 'Pioneering' IT And OT Convergence And The New Breed Of IoT Channel Partner]

Solution providers need to look at the clichés, also known as "best practices," that make up their business model – and "invert them, or turn them on their head," he said. For instance, the channel should look at their current processes in place around interacting with clients, selling services and products, and pricing models.

Williams said that many solution providers are complacent about business processes that are based on outdated ideas created decades ago, and aren't seeing opportunities for disruption until they are "backed up into a corner." Instead of reacting to a crisis, he said, the channel needs to lead the disruptive change, and "let go of the notion that this will be a comfortable process."

"There is far too little emphasis on deliberate provocation – the willingness to take all of your business model's ingredients and reorganize them," said Williams.

Creating disruption takes a lot more than merely a disruptive idea, said Williams. Solution providers need to take their disruptive hypothesis, define the disruptive market opportunity, generate ideas, shape a solution, and make a pitch.

"We know there's a big difference between ideas and solutions – you have to convince others you're expecting to make a change, and it has to create value," said Williams. "The richest areas for growth are the unbroken aspects of the situation, where nothing appears to be wrong," stressed Williams.

Cosmo Gazzani, business development director at Wekos, a Woodbury, N.Y.-based managed services provider, said that the channel needs to look critically at the best practices that they are relying on in order to become more nimble in the industry. For instance, Gazzani said, more solution providers are realizing that customizing solutions is more valuable than keeping a "one size fits all" model for customers.

"Disruption has been around for awhile, it's been a common term for the past couple of years," said Gazzani. "But we're looking specifically looking at these clichés, or best practices, and how to break them down. The key message was find something that's a pain in the neck to do, and see if you can make it better."


Williams, for his part, stressed that solution providers are used to various ingredients of their business model – including the revenue model, value proposition, relationships with customers, resources available, and channels used to deliver value – but the value of the business is not in these assets, but in the "mental model" of channel businesses.

"It's the mental model that thinks the way these things need to be arranged is the way they are arranged," he said. "The challenge is not disrupting what you're doing right now, it's about coming up with new arrangements of processes to change what's possible."

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