XChange 2017: Emerging Technologies Present Massive Opportunity For Partners

About 18 months ago, OST only had what it called two "true" Internet of Things projects. Today, the company's Director of Marketing and Communications Michael Lomonaco said the company had seen a massive acceleration, with 14 IoT projects in progress and two more contracts in the works.

"These are big projects and for us. It's taking our skill sets … and we're working with customers on some fantastic projects that are big opportunities," Lomonaco said. Grand Rapids, Mich.-based OST is using IoT to help its customers grow their businesses, run more efficiently and improve operations, he said.

OST isn't alone. A panel of top solution providers at XChange 2017, moderated by The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra in Orlando, Fla. on Tuesday, said they are seeing an increasing opportunity for partners around emerging technology areas that offer higher margin services and the potential to work across more areas of a customer's business.

[Related: Fortinet Channel Chief: A New Wave Of Security Technology Is Needed For Today's Threats]

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The partners said they see opportunities to help customers in several emerging tech areas, including the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and the cloud. However, they said partners have to approach adopting these new technologies in the right way if they want to succeed. "It’s fantastic," Lomonaco said. "The margins are awesome … But, it's not without a lot of pain."

John Head, chief evangelist and business development for Schaumburg, Ill.-based PSC Group, said his company, every quarter, takes five to eight of the company's 120 consultants and creates a technology labs team that works 16 hours a week in a new technology area. This helps PSC Group evaluate technologies early to see if they fit into customer environments, he said.

"We're already starting to see the effects of that," Head said. "It allows our staff to get involved early … The effects from that bubble up."

Michael Knight (pictured), president and CTO of Greenville, S.C.-based Encore Technology Group, said his company evaluates many "bleeding edge" technology areas and focuses on making sure the technology can fit within or be adapted to a customer's existing capabilities, instead of trying to "boil the ocean." For other areas, he said Encore Technology Group teams up with other ecosystem partners with strong skills in areas outside of its expertise.

John Shaw, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Digital Nebula, said that when embracing new fields like artificial intelligence, the partner's role is to help business leaders think differently about technology. "We get the business folks together and talk about how they can use AI to transform their businesses," Shaw said. "We try to teach businesses to start with the customer experience and work backward."

However, Shaw said embracing new technologies does mean customers need the ability to "throw away" technologies that don't fit their new way of doing business.

OST's Lomonaco said his company created an entirely new role around 24 months ago focused on "marketing insights." He said the role works across the organization, talk to customers about their needs, and ask tough questions of technology vendors. The goal, he said, is to find technologies that OST can build a business around, not just "one off" opportunities. Also, that role aims to help customers use new technologies to run their businesses more efficiently.

The panel of partners agreed that the transition to emerging technology areas isn’t easy as new markets and use cases are still being defined. Also, adding capabilities to sell new tech means balancing the need for new staff and the early days of a new revenue stream.

OST's Lomonaco said his business experienced some growing pains as it looked to embrace several emerging technologies. He said his business saw three quarters of "rocket" growth, followed by a setback due to personnel expenses. He said OST is back on track, having resolved the issue and made sure the company's stakeholders are all working toward the same goals.