Nick Donaldson, director of Software at Avnet Embedded, discusses the end of Windows XP and the pitfalls of digital signage ahead of PCR Boot Camp on Wednesday May 21st at the Brewery in London.
If you’re a dealer you can sign up free to Boot Camp here.
What do you see being the biggest challenge facing PC retailers at the moment?
I think there are huge challenges around the lack of available information on critical industry developments. The impending withdrawal of support for Windows XP on April 8th is a case in point - some two-thirds of PCs in use around the world still run on it, PC retailers probably still have significant stock of XP machines, yet in less than a month it will become a defunct operating system that is also a massive target for hackers.
I just don't think the PC retail sector has been given clear advice on what this means and what they need to do about it.
The other challenge, of course, is that the PC itself is becoming a dying breed - tablet and smartphone sales overtook PC sales quite a while ago, and Microsoft's whole operating system strategy is geared towards devices rather than traditional PCs. If you've built a business and a brand on the idea of the PC, this is inevitably going to cause you some issues!
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing for retailers and resellers to bear in mind when dealing with customers?
Whether you're a retailer or a reseller, the fact is that the customer is a much, much more savvy creature now than ever before. This means that both retailers and resellers have to be much more aware of customer requirements, and, in response, offer not only benefits, but also alternatives (and not necessarily the alternatives that make the most immediate commercial sense!)
As in other industry marketing activities, the customer, not the seller, is now in control of the purchase decision process, and so expects openness, flexibility and transparency in return - sometimes at the expense of your bottom line.
What gadget can’t you live without?
So many of them! But being in the embedded software business I'm a great fan of touchscreen, so my interactive satnav would be right up there. I love touchscreen gaming machines, too, when I'm relaxing with a glass of wine in a convivial bar somewhere on my travels.
What do you think will be the next big thing in tech?
For me, the next big thing in tech is the next big shock that's about to hit it - and that's Microsoft pulling the plug on Windows XP support. We really cannot overestimate the impact of this decision on the entire tech ecosystem, from individual end-users right back through the channel, to the manufacturers, OEMs, component and software providers - not to mention the businesses who actually depend on XP devices and PCs to conduct their daily business.
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about the channel?
Because of what my business produces and the way it works, we're at one remove from the PC channel market, but I think it's true to say that all kinds of channel operation would benefit from closer collaboration between the channel players themselves. One of the most effective marketing initiatives I ever experienced was a forum that got all the key channel players round a table and forced them to talk to each other.
The channel can be a very old-fashioned, aggressive-competitive universe, and it needs to grow up and engage in some dialogue with itself, or it's got no hope of properly engaging in dialogue with its customers.
What is your proudest moment as a company?
Winning Microsoft's Distributor of the Year award was a great achievement for us, as was being shortlisted for a number of other industry awards since. On the digital signage front, I think our proudest performance has been delivering software and services to three influential names in the market - Roland, ITEC Digital, and Mobitec. Of course, being invited to speak at the PCR Bootcamp this year was also a high point for us!
What products and services will you be promoting at Boot Camp this year?
Our business is built on supplying Microsoft embedded software and services to the companies that develop digital signage (and other) products, so we'll be showing and explaining a range of solutions that have been developed in this way.
What distinguishes you from your competitors?
I could talk all day about this! But it's basically down to four things: scale, reach and presence in EMEA, services capability, and a packaged migration offering.
We are the number one Microsoft embedded distributor, and twice as big as the number two. We have some 19 offices across EMEA, ensuring a highly localised support and service presence. We have a dedicated EMEA software services team whose sole role and function is to hold the customer's hand from prototype to finished, profitable product. And, finally, we offer packaged migration services - fixed price, fixed timescale, no expensive, protracted projects. (Ideal for businesses panicking about what they're going to do about the withdrawal of support for XP!)
What are you key brands/lines you carry?
We distribute Microsoft's embedded software, namely WES2009, WES7 and WE8S. WES2009 is a particular focus for us and for our customers and prospects at the moment, as it is built on the Windows XP kernel and so enables businesses, manufacturers and OEMs using XP devices to migrate off them, and out of the XP danger zone, without having to change their hardware.
What are you most looking forward to at PCR Boot Camp?
Well, it's a retail-focused audience with a natural interest in digital signage and advertising, so I think the thing I'm looking forward to most is showing some truly epic examples of digital signage "fails" - and how embarrassing and costly they can be for the organisation that is paying for them!