Case Studies: VARs Showing VARs The Way

Case-By-Case Basis

At last week's NexTI exchange conference, which like CRN is published by The Channel Company, solution providers were treated to several days of information aimed at helping them better use emerging technologies to grow their businesses. Among the most popular events were the Solution Provider Case Studies, which were sessions in which solution providers themselves took the stage to give their own experience with such technologies as cloud and BYOD, and showing their peers ways to profit from them. Turn the page, and learn how four solution providers learned to prosper in a sea of technological change.

Peace Of Mind In Public Clouds

While making the cloud a part of a solution provider's practice can be scary, one VAR has bet his business on public clouds. David Geevaratne, president of New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based provider of Microsoft technology, including Azure and Office 365, told his peers to stop believing that helping customers maintain physical infrastructures for delivering services is right. Instead, Geevaratne said, solution providers should move quickly from the break-fix world of physical infrastructure into a world with no hard-drive issues, or heating or cooling failures at 2 a.m. "It's 2013," he said. "We should be able to transform our customers in ways to make it easier to use a services model."

Both New Signature and its customers avoid hardware issues by adopting Windows 8, which makes it easy to manage licenses for downloaded software, as well as Azure and Office 360, Geevaratne said. "There are probably a lot of VMware partners in the room. ... You know, I don't want the complexity," he said. "People want solutions. Customers don't care about what virtualization platform they run. Their only question is, does it work?"

Facing The Future

David Powell, vice president of managed services at TekLinks, a cloud solution provider near Birmingham, Ala., combined famous quotes and humorous movie clips with useful insights and parallels to IT-related situations resellers often find themselves in today. Powell reminded attendees that Henry Ford once said that if he asked people what they wanted, they'd ask for faster horses. "Customers will not innovate. We have to innovate on their behalf," said Powell, who went on to describe recurring revenue opportunities presented by cloud services.

After playing a clip from the final scene of the 1985 smash hit movie "Back to the Future," Powell riffed on the final line: "Where we're going we don't need PCs. The PC is not dead, but hospice is visiting." His point was that "cloud is the new mainframe, and PCs are like the dumb terminal." The difference is that "the bandwidth is ready for this now."

Powell urged solution providers to think of the cloud as an inevitable part of future reality. "Cloud is like fall; sometimes it comes early, sometimes late," he said. "But you have to go through it to get to winter."

Show Me The Money

Alex Brown, CEO of Chicago-based solution provider 10th Magnitude, has completely reorganized his business to focus 100 percent on the cloud while getting away from depending on its own hardware infrastructure. Part of that reorganization is a focus on agile teams of no more than three people, because on the cloud, IT projects are much smaller than in the past, Brown said. Those teams will need a new customer approach, he said. "We're not talking about speeds and feeds," he said. "We're not talking price. We're talking about customer needs."

Moving to the cloud has its challenges for solution providers, including learning how to manage cash flows and learning how to shift from product-focused sales to a focus on long-term relationships. When talking about the cloud, don't emphasize the ability to cut personnel, Brown said. Instead, the focus should be on repurposing people to work on projects that drive their business. "I do not sell cloud based on cost reductions," he said. "That brings in people protecting their position."

Understanding Security And DR

Jeremy MacBean, director of business development at IT Weapons, a Brampton, Ontario-based solution provider, said that when it comes to IT security and disaster recovery, people are irrational. "You can inform clients with all the facts -- but at the end of the day, people make decisions based on warm and fuzzies," MacBean said.

When talking security and disaster recovery, the first step is to help customers reflect on their needs, MacBean said. He suggested asking them to make a list of the five things they would definitely take with them to Mars to replicate their business as a way to see the importance of disaster recovery. The second step is to partner with an insurance company or auditor, MacBean said. Solution providers should also consider setting up a redundant workspace that would be available to customers in case of a disaster, he said. He cited the case of a 20-employee customer that moved into his company's data center for one month while its new offices were being painted.