Following Christine Harrison's appointment as Intel's UK and Ireland Channel Manager last month, we ask what's in store for the chip giant's channel support programmes and what will will be the key threats to the sector over the coming year...
Will you be looking to make any changes to Intel's UK channel business now you've taken over?
No, due to the climate and the environment I think that would be unfair – not just to the Intel team but also to the customers and the infrastructure that supports us.
We've got a number of different programmes in place depending on what type of customer you are – whether you're integrating or reselling, or if you're an e-tailer or a distributor. They've been stable now for about 18 months, so we're in a position where everyone is accustomed to using the existing infrastructure. I think it would be silly at the moment to bring in any new programmes, especially when people are already seeing benefits from what we're trying to achieve.
Are there any plans for expansion?
The programmes that we have in place allow different types of partners to join or leave if they please. There are three different levels of support within our partner programme – whether they're retailers, integrators, resellers, or etailers, they will fit into one of those boxes. Obviously the whole channel hasn't signed up to the programme, and it's a constant effort for us to try and get them engaged as far as we can so that they can attend our events.
That goes for our online events too, as obviously we want to get as much information out of these guys as we can. One of the most important things the team and myself will be doing over the next 12 months is to ensure that the communication between ourselves and our partners is very open, and to ensure that any information we have gets to them as quickly as possible so they can make any decisions on product launches we're doing, and marketing plans we're executing.
How far does Intel's channel partner initiative go back?
To be honest, in some way shape or form we've had a partner programme for at least ten years. When we feel the time is right we may make changes to it, depending on whether the channel has evolved and customers are taking on different opportunities or different challenges. It's evolved consistently over time. We add bits on, and if we're doing things that don't add value to our customers, or if there are aspects of the programme that are going really well that they want to see more of, then we make changes as we go along.
What would you say the mission statement of the channel programmes are in general and how does it specifically help those that get involved?
The mission of the partner programme is to enable communications between Intel and the channel. Whether that's sharing of information, whether that's open communications in terms of what the channel is working on, or whether they need our support. It enables some very practical things such as when are we doing price moves, when are we launching new products, and what marketing tools are available. For example, with the branding changing around Intel and the badges that we're using for integrated units, they need to really be part of the programme and have access to these. But they also need to be given the information in a more timely manner, rather than finding out from somebody they meet at another event.
How important is it that vendors provide dedicated channel programmes like this in the current economic climate?
All a vendor can do – whether it's Intel or anybody else in the industry – is provide as much information as possible about any changes they're making. Even if it's very tactical things like supply lines and pricing, we need the channel to remain agile. And this is where the channel has always won in previous times. It has been agile and flexible, and a lot of that is down to the level of emphasis the vendors put on open communication.
It's very important that we don't lose traction. I appreciate fully that it's a difficult time, and some may say that a sharing of information is not enough. We appreciate that as well, which is why the programme has other elements to it. But it's difficult to make any decision over what your business is going to be doing over the next month, six months, or 12 months as it is in the current climate, without vendors making snap changes and decisions, without any information going out.
Where do you see the programme evolving in five years' time?
It will change, as it has done in the previous two years and the two to four years before that. What that will be, currently I can't comment as I don't know. The marketing team will take feedback from things like the channel conference towards the end of the summer. We do online webcasts, and online training, and all of these things are for our customers to give feedback. As much of that is taken on board as possible. The programme is global as well, so Intel is looking at a global channel structure and how it can help.
What do you think the biggest threats to independent retailers and resellers are at the moment?
We know credit is causing a lot of problems. We're trying where we can to cover distribution and to try and cover our accounts with managers from Intel to try and stabilise shipments – so again very tactical stuff. But credit is going to be a big threat.
The guys in the channel don't just compete against themselves, they compete against the entire industry. That isn't going to change. Will there be more pressure on them? Potentially. I think everyone is trying to make the best of a bad situation. The opportunity for the channel is for them to remain flexible and agile, they can move a lot quicker than some of their bigger competitors. We made a major product launch this year, which the channel was very much a part of. But their biggest problem is going to be credit; that's where some of their biggest problems lie.