The 2013 CRN Tech Elite 250

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Once a week, World Wide Technology CEO James Kavanaugh gets on a WebEx conference call with 200 or more company managers and employees to talk about the solution provider's advanced technology strategy, reviewing the latest intelligence gleaned from vendors and leading-edge customers to get an idea of what technologies and services the company should be investing in.

It's just one of a number of ways that St. Louis-based World Wide Technology stays ahead of the curve in such red-hot technologies as cloud computing, big data and virtualization. Another is the $20 million-plus Advanced Technology Center the company built on the headquarters' campus last year that's used by the company, its customers and its partners to develop, test and demonstrate state-of-the-art solutions.

"I sum it up in one word-innovation," said Bob Olwig, WWT's business development vice president, when asked about the company's philosophy about staying current with technology trends and leveraging that expertise for competitive advantage.

[Related: Channel Certified: CRN 2013 Tech Elite 250]

That's why WWT is among this year's CRN Tech Elite 250, the definitive list of solution providers with deep technical expertise and top-level certifications from IT vendors. Those certifications, in fact, are the core criteria for making the Tech Elite list. Why so much emphasis on vendor certifications? Solution providers today who do little more than resell hardware and software products aren't going to thrive-or even survive. Solution providers have to be trusted advisers-and that requires a deep understanding of IT vendors' products and how they can be incorporated into complete solutions for customers.

Some VARs may chafe at what they see as vendors' increasingly demanding certification requirements. Savvy solution providers, however, see meeting those requirements as a means of gaining a competitive advantage in today's marketplace and the certifications as badges of their technological prowess.

"It's a huge job. And it's a huge expense. But I think it's core to what we bring to our customers and what we bring to the marketplace," said Mont Phelps, president and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based NWN, which has "hundreds" of certifications from Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, NetApp and other vendors. Phelps' philosophy? "If you're going to do something, be good at it. And if you're good at it, get certified."

"In order to be the best at what we do, we have to be highly knowledgeable, from engineers all the way to sales," said Thatcher Alexander, corporate president at Alexander Open Systems, an Overland Park, Kan.-based solution provider with operations throughout the Midwest.

Alexander estimates that AOS spent more than $500,000 last year on employee education and certifications. That includes certifications from Cisco, EMC and VMware for the company's account managers and technical architects, and from those vendors plus Microsoft for AOS engineers.

Many of those certifications relate to cloud computing technology and services. "It's based on our customers' expectations of AOS who demand that we be highly knowledgeable," Thatcher said. "They've made our motto, not us," he adds, referring to the company's "Expect The Best" tagline.

The company has focused on Cisco, EMC, Microsoft and VMware because AOS management sees those companies as the industry leaders in the key technology areas on which the company focuses. En Pointe Technologies has more than 500 certifications from Cisco, Dell, Microsoft and VMware. With Microsoft technologies accounting for almost half of the Gardena, Calif.-based solution provider's business, the relationship with that vendor is particularly strong-as evidenced by the pool of more than 80 engineers with Microsoft certifications. Case in point was a recent project the company undertook to upgrade a customer's 20,000 Microsoft Exchange mailboxes-a job entrusted by the customer to En Pointe because of its certified resources.

NEXT: Meeting Customer Expectations

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