It’s been more than 10 years since he left the top job of Canada’s largest distributor, but Gordon Schofield has not forgotten the challenges of working in the channel.
“The idea of value-add has certainly evolved. Twenty years ago it was, ‘I can get the product for you,’” said Schofield, former president of Ingram Micro Canada. “Ten years ago it was, ‘I can install it for you,’ and now it’s ‘I can make it work for you.’”
Schofield will be applying that sense of value-add in his latest venture, an independent IT solution provider called Plan Technology Inc. he founded a few months ago. The company, based out of Mississauga, Ont., will focus on providing networking products such as VPNs, WANs and wireless, communications technology such as VoIP and system-level tools such as virtualization and green IT.
Since his departure from Ingram in 1997 Schofield has kept a relatively low profile. He said he had drifted into legal and financial consulting after trying, and failing, to buy a distributor in partnership with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund and BMO Nesbitt Burns (Schofield would not name the distributor). Then, not long after it filed for creditor protection, he was appointed chief operating officer for NexInnovations. Schofield said he had hoped to help save that business, but now he is intent on building up Plan Technology instead.
“When I started back in the 1970s, the channel really existed to move hardware,” he said. “Now there are a lot more higher-end, more sophisticated applications that cross multiple silos or parts of organizations that the IT and CIOs need to make sense of. Why wouldn’t I go out and – much like there are financial advisory companies and organizational advisory companies – act like more of a professional IT solutions advisory practice?”
Plan Technology was formed in partnership with the Plan Group, a privately-held, 50-year-old Canadian company with roots in mechanical and electrical engineering. Schofield said the company does a lot of large-scale projects with corporate enterprises but has traditionally stayed out of the IT requirements of the business. As an affiliated company, Plan Technology could have some built-in lead generation, he said. “Most people in IT would not know of the Plan Group,” he said.
Schofield said the company is in the process of getting authorized by major OEMs such as IBM, Cisco, HP and Microsoft but Plan Technology will be deliberately vendor-agnostic in order to better serve the needs of large corporate customers.
“Job one with the client is certainly to help them consolidate their IT roadmap and show where they need specific help, whether that’s networking help or a LAN upgrade or a voice upgrade,” he said. “If our target client already has a procurement relationship, we will respect that. We’re not going in trying to unhook their current hardware provider relationship. Most people in the hardware business aren’t able to or haven’t been able to adequately support their customers on the technology font with employees. We’re filling that gap.”
As he re-enters the channel, Schofield said he’s keeping his eyes open about the realities of IT spending in Canada and how difficult it is to stand out from the crowd.
“The days of exclusives disappeared a long time ago. There’s nothing I do that my customer can’t buy from somewhere else,” he said. “If I’m a distributor, I’m one of three or four. There’s an intense focus on service and responsiveness, because there’s very little that’s proprietary. I think there’s ongoing efforts by the channel to differentiate themselves.”