CRN Exclusive: Xerox Looks To Turn Channel Partners Into App Builders With First-Ever U.S. Forum

Xerox is doubling down on helping its channel partners develop intellectual property and differentiate their businesses by building personalized applications.

The Norwalk, Conn.-based vendor is hosting 50 high-potential solution providers Wednesday and Thursday and teaching them to how to build, price and market custom apps for Xerox's multi-function printers. Xerox's first-ever U.S. Personalized Application Builder Forum will allow attendees to learn the secrets of success from channel partners that have already successfully developed apps on the platform.

"The idea of doing customized apps can be a little bit daunting," Roger Ellefson, Xerox's general manager of office solutions, told CRN exclusively. "But it isn't as daunting as they think. It's much more within their grasp than they imagined."

[Related: Distinguished Xerox Partner Just-Tech Buys Apple Valley Office Products To Accelerate Managed IT, Custom App Businesses]

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Some 131 U.S. channel partners have joined Xerox's Personalized Application Builder program since it launched back in 2014, according to the company. As of March, Xerox had a total of roughly 4,500 solution provider partners in the United States, according to Darren Cassidy, president of the U.S. Channels Group.

Although the number of apps developed by channel partners thus far hasn't been huge, Ellefson said the impact of those apps has been very large since they leverage the close relationship between the solution provider and the end user to address true business needs.

In addition to using the apps in their own business, Ellefson said solution providers can sell their apps to other channel partners for either resale to their end customers or use in their managed print services operations. One of the key objectives of the forum is to demonstrate the return on investment generated by other Xerox partners that have built apps.

Xerox has targeted the forum to channel partners that are entrepreneurial, active in professional services, and already take advantage of selling off-the-shelf apps as part of their day-to-day business, Ellefson said. The company relied on its channel business managers to identify the partners that would stand to benefit the most from what the personalized application builder program offers, Ellefson said.

The forum goes beyond teaching technical people how to build apps and instead focusing helping the decision-makers within a solution provider practice understand the investment costs associated with the new partners, Ellefson said. The format is designed to facilitate conversations between channel partners that have successfully built application practices and those that are still sitting on the fence, he said.

"This is something that's growing and catching on," Ellefson said.

Xerox's first-ever Partner Application Builder forum took place in October 2016 in Uxbridge, England, according to Ellefson. Solution providers that participated in the forum have, over the past year, successfully develop new revenue streams and become more competitive in the marketplace, Ellefson said.

The Rite Group hopes to build apps that leverages automation to turn time-consuming, repetitive tasks into a single, straightforward one-click process, according to company President and CEO Robin Cole. The Jackson, Mo.-based company plans to train its field personnel to identify small, repetitive tasks that are unique to a specific client and can be automated, Cole said.

Off-the-shelf apps are usually built for wide, general applications, Cole said, meaning that they often don't entirely address the circumstances facing a specific client.

"It's the opportunity to make something that exactly fits that's so appealing," Cole said.

However, given that the Rite Group is looking to write apps for a single customer with a handful of multi-function printers, Cole said the cost of development needs to be very low and the process needs to be efficient. Cole is therefore pleased that Xerox offers a smooth, low-cost development template for small workflow applications.

"Xerox has taken a fresh, new approach," Cole said. "We're excited about the opportunity."