‘Why the IT channel must redefine itself to cope with future challenges’ – Simon Meredith interview

We interview Channelstar Media consultant Simon Meredith about the changing IT channel, ahead of our distie panel session he will be hosting at PCR Boot Camp on May 18th.

The panel will offer delegates the chance to grill senior figures from the tech distribution sector in a no holds barred format. It will include Westcoast’s Alex Tatham, Widget’s Mark Needham, VIP’s Rich Marsden and Target’s Paul Cubbage.

Meredith has over 25 years experience working in the IT industry as a writer, editor, media consultant and advisor.

In our Q&A below he talks about future challenges and opportunities in the channel, how distribution is transforming and adapting to how IT is being bought and used, and how resellers are having to adapt.

PCR: Please give us a taster of what you’ll be hosting at PCR Boot Camp – the Distie Question Time panel. And how did you find the discussion at Boot Camp North last year?

Simon Meredith: I thought the panel discussion in Leeds last year was lively and frank. It was a great opportunity for retailers and resellers to ask some direct questions. One the whole, it was a well-balanced discussion.

In my view, that’s what they should be – a discussion about the key issues that concern us all in the channel right now. Where are the future opportunities and how do we meet the challenges that the channel faces?

I hope that we’ll be able to continue in that vein at the Southern event. As ever, we’ll be looking to ask the questions that are preoccupying the channel at the moment. There is still, I think, some real concern about the kind of business model that resellers and retailers will need to adopt in the future as everything moves online and into the cloud.

Make sure you sign up to attend PCR Boot Camp and view the distributor panel discussion here

Please give our readers an idea of what they can ask disties and why this is a good opportunity for them?

In Leeds there were a couple of really tough questions for the panel – there was one on why small businesses should buy from distributors, when they [the retailer] got better options and pricing from Ebuyer and Amazon, for example.

Another question asked why prices were different online and when you call up – with some distributors they are and others, they are not, it seems and they have their reasons. One member of the audience wanted to know if distributors were prepared to offer more gaming products on a sale-or-return basis along with some decent POS material.

I don’t think anything is really off the agenda, but I do think it is important that this is not seen as a distributor-bashing session or a forum in which to bring up specific or isolated issues. It needs to be constructive and relevant to everyone in the audience and to the readers of PCR.

On the whole, in my view, distributors do a very difficult job extremely well and they are there because the channel needs them.

I think the opportunity at the Boot Camp forum is to get some different perspectives on some of the key issues and challenges facing retailers and resellers right now. What happens to pricing and availability if the UK exits from the EU? How much is the cloud really changing things for distributors and vendors and how is that changing their approach to the channel? 

It would be great if there are a few questions from the audience. But they do need to be constructive and relevant.

If anyone wants to float any ideas or suggest questions I can ask the panel on the day, please email your ideas to simon@channelstar.co.uk

What are your thoughts on the current state of the tech and distribution market in the UK?

Distribution, like the whole channel, is going through a transformation and adapting to the changes in the way IT is being bought and used.

Change is the natural state of affairs in the channel (and in life in general). I think in some ways the channel is struggling to understand and redefine its role. We do still need the basic products and customers obviously need solutions that get the job done – but we all know what’s happened to margins.

The shift to subscription models and a greater emphasis on services has compelled distribution, as well as resellers and retailers, into reassessing and redefining their role to some extent. I think that process is still going on and will continue for some time. 

Please tell us a bit about your background and how the industry has changed during that time.

Everything has changed and nothing has changed. We have been talking about adding value and moving more towards services since the mid-1980s. While the technology industry is fast-paced in terms of product development, change has been relatively slow in terms of how business is transacted. The channel is still worried about being cut out of the equation and margin erosion.

The shift to online sales and the cloud have started to change the dynamics of the channel now and the big change really – the catalyst for it all – has been the wider availability of faster, higher bandwidth connectivity and 4G. That has really changed everything. It’s made mobility the central theme of the industry and now that it’s possible to do more, we expect to do more.

The good news, I think, is that there is no sign of technology development slowing down.

As for my background, I worked as programmer and as the company’s very first micro support exec at Star Computers in the early ’80s, then switched to journalism, working on the launch of PC Dealer in October 1986. Since then, the industry has kept me going and, amazingly, it still does.

What do you think of events like PCR Boot Camp that bring retailers, vendors and distributors together?

I think any event that brings the channel together to share ideas and discuss issues is positive. There are not many forums that enable resellers, retailers, distributors and vendors to do come together in this way. I’d encourage everyone to attend these and other similar events – the more you support them, the better they are.

I think it is quite easy today for channel businesses to feel a little bit disconnected and cut-off from what you might define as ‘the channel community’ and events like this help everyone to feel part of that community.

I think this is something that has been lost to a certain extent over the last decade or so; most big events are focused on a single vendor and don’t give you the same opportunity to explore wider issues.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to stick up for the channel media. Not just PCR, but all of it. We need a strong independent media in my view, but it does not get enough support. All the vendors and distributors have the details of all the retailers and resellers now, and see the media as less relevant as a result.

It is still powerful and important, but it needs more backing from the industry. A strong media helps retailers and resellers to identify themselves as part of a community and it gives them a collective voice.

I’d like to see major vendors and distributors all doing more to support and uphold a strong, vibrant, independent media. I’m not sure how we make that happen though.

For more information about PCR Boot Camp 2016 and to register to attend for FREE, visit www.pcrbootcamp.com

If anyone wants to float any ideas or suggest questions Simon can ask the panel on the day, please email your ideas to simon@channelstar.co.uk

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