The Mobile Quandry: Q&A With Lenovo's Chris Frey

CRN: What's your view on BYOD and mobility as it relates to the channel?

Frey: In my personal view as it relates the channel dealing with BYOD, I think it's maybe the biggest challenge on the device front for quite some time because, historically, replacing a mobile device or laptop you had a clientele to pick from and it wasn't that hard to pick a product; whether you wanted an entry-level notebook or a premium notebook, they were all pretty much the same years ago.

But now one of the concerns that partners have and address is what I call 'device confusion' in the market. I think that not only for business partners and solution providers but also for customers—with XP support going away and a fresh cycle taking place—the challenge is understanding what to choose in a world where there's many different choices for devices. It could be small-form-factor tablets, it could be [tablet-notebook] convertibles, or it could be touch-screen clamshells coming out later this year.

So I think it's hard right now. And from Lenovo's standpoint, one thing we aren't spending a lot of time on is explaining to business partners why to go with Lenovo versus everyone else. You can imagine, with all of the sellers in the marketplace today, trying to get partner mind share on four or five devices when they get to pick from 50 or 60 devices is going to be pretty tough.

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CRN: So how do you clear up that confusion?

Frey: The way we're looking at mobility is a little different. We announced recently new ‘combat touch kits' and these are kits with four of our current touch-enabled devices [Thinkpad Tablet 2, Thinkpad Twist, X1 Carbon touch and Helix] that we made available through distributors to the business partner community, and they can then put those in the hands of actual users. This is important because people are confused about which device to get and partners aren't quite sure what to recommend, and I think consumerization is enabling every single person to have their own user experience and want their own usage model.

CRN: So once they have these devices, what's the next step?

Frey: My sales organization is talking to business partners about a couple of things; first is making sure the partners understand our devices, showing usage models and educating them through these combat kits. And secondly, we're talking to them about a [mobility] practice, which is critical over the next six to nine months so that partners can talk to customers about BYOD and mobility.

CRN: Why is the channel important in the mobility space?

Frey: If you look at our most recent earnings announcement, for both worldwide earnings and North America earnings, the commercial channel is a very strategic part of that success. So 85 percent of our commercial business in North America goes through the channel and we've grown at a 20-point premium compared to the overall market for many quarters in a row, which means a lot of revenue growth. So the No. 1 reason is, they helped up get to where we're at today. And we owe them the best innovation in the planet so that they can go and address the concerns that customers have. So we can't desert our channel partners during a time of complexity and uncertainty.