With continuous changes in the technology industry-some that are inevitable- vendors and channel partners know they must adapt to best serve their clients, but they just may not know how.
Steve White, program director of software alliances research at IDC presented some recommendations for how businesses can adapt to the “new normal” in technology, software in particular, as part of CDN’s Top 100 Solution Providers event and awards celebration on April 27.
“This was the broadest economic downturn that our analysts have ever seen,” he says of the 2008 recession. While there is still a certain lack of confidence in terms of investment, the tech industry is steadily recovering following the 2008 economic downturn, he says. Some of these changes are inevitable, according to White.
Perhaps the most important shift will be for businesses to begin using social networking tools to connect with clients and get feedback on their companies. But creating a Twitter account is not enough, though– using it strategically is the real challenge. “I’m being sold slowly and painfully,” he jokes about the micro-blogging site. Like him, there are many businesspeople who simply sign up for social networking sites but aren’t using them effectively, he says.
“The downside is horrific if you don’t do it right,” he says. “Twitter can be very, very time consuming,” he says, so some companies may want to dedicate specific times to engage with their followers. Otherwise, it can be just a black hole of information, he says.
One of the best ways to take advantage of social networking sites is to use them to see what people are saying about your company and gain valuable ideas from them. “You can’t just do this by accident,” he says. Instead, companies must engage through blogging, or groups on sites like LinkedIn.
Procter and Gamble, along with coffee superpower Starbucks have both done this quite successfully, he points out. Both companies are using social networking sites to ask customers and clients for ideas for new products or better solutions to existing ones.
“Team blogging” is also a good idea for businesses that want to take advantage of blogging but are time constrained. This way, blogging isn’t solely left up to management or marketing departments, but can be approached by all areas of the company. White also points to one example where a company replaced its newsletter with a blog for a more interactive approach to understanding its clients.
If they aren’t already, companies should also definitely be embracing the cloud, he says. IDC estimates that by 2014, more than one third of all software purchases worldwide will be cloud-based services. “If you’re not looking at cloud, you need to,” he says. “It’s more than inevitable; it is here.”
Selling the services will be a slightly different task than in recent years, though. While IT expertise won’t go away, selling to users will be more about the business process and less about the technology itself. “They will ask what other companies have done with the applications, not how it works,” White says. “End users are saying that they need everything to be painless.”
White suggests systems monitoring, where partners can tell their clients how they’re using their software and can then approach them more strategically. Long-term commitments to software are also fading with cloud computing, White says.
End-users also feel they’re being tied down with commitments to certain software, IDC research suggests. Instead, he suggests a “pay for performance,” or contingent-fee pricing model for mutually agreed-upon results and little or no up-front costs for the client. It’s risky, but innovative and has great potential if companies can implement the model properly.
Finding a new approach to staffing is also one way companies can adapt to the changing technology scene. “There are some great people who want to work on a contract basis and variable cost model,” he says.
What the “rogue IT people” have been doing with bringing their own tools to work will also slowly become the norm, White suggests. In fact, in 2011, half of the 2.1 billion people accessing the Internet worldwide will do so through a non-PC device, according to IDC estimates. Mobility is becoming highly important in many industries and companies should be adapting to a workforce more keen on using smartphones and tablets than their PCs.
As tech moves forward and the non-traditional software providers like Google grow, channel partners and other businesses must adapt to remain competitive-but it can be done strategically, White says. “There are plenty of ways to get to the end goal.”