There were many organizations recognized yesterday at the 2023 edition of CDN’s Channel Innovation Awards thanks to their ability to implement forward-thinking and creative strategies and services.
Their achievements put them in a favourable position to continue to succeed. But possessing that ability to change, and pivot quickly, is about to be severely tested, all because of a tsunami of transformational realities headed not just at them, but the entire Canadian channel industry.
That much was evident in a keynote speech delivered by Bill Brandel, senior vice president and country chief executive, Canada for Ingram Micro, that centred on this year’s event theme: Evolving the Channel Ecosystem Amid Digital Transformation.
In an address void of sugar-coating, he said that any evolution must revolve around becoming more digital, because “digital platforms are eating our world.”
Those platforms, in the early days of digitalization, he said, came in the form of Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb. All three entered industries that were well established and ended up being market leaders, largely due to the fact their ease-of-use coupled with analytics and machine learning created what he described as a “white glove customer experience.
“That is what I believe our entire ecosystem needs to do from an evolution perspective,” said Brandel. “As a distributor, I believe it’s our job to evolve and to lead the way of evolution. I believe we should be helping companies on their journey by building a platform on the front-end that they can plug into and leverage as they grow and continue to transform their organization.
“We have to evolve, for several market forces are going to challenge the distribution landscape forever.”
These include changing business models and the movement to anything-as-a-service (what he called X-as-a-service (XaaS)), the acceleration of industry consolidation, the need to focus on customer experience, and the continuing digital transformation movement.
Demographics will also play a role. Staying relevant to the customer, said Brandel, is critical, and the type of customer is quickly changing. “By 2025, 75 per cent of all B2B buyers are going to be Amazon-obsessed, digitally-centric millennials. By then, it will be our children making the purchasing decisions for the companies they work for.
“If we look at the iterations of evolution that we need to go through, and where we believe we need to end up, right now we must move from a very fragmented kind of limited distribution model. We ultimately must evolve to an area where we have marketplaces, consolidating into dominant B2B platforms. We need AI-driven technology as the foundation of these platforms.
“When we look at what we’re doing to meet the needs of this new digital world, our platform (Xvantage) is built on AI and machine learning, because I believe it’s those functions that will allow platforms to provide the real value – leveraging data, being a data driven resource, so companies can use insights they gain from the data they’re given. And having the AI that’s layered on to provide the type of recommendations that companies will need to focus on for growth is ultimately where we have to get to as an ecosystem.”
Launched in Canada in September 2022, the digital experience platform is, according to Ingram Micro, powered by a “global real-time data mesh containing many years of operating and transactions data, as well as by several proprietary engines which are enhanced by AI and machine learning.”
Transforming to be a platform business, he said, “requires a huge change in organizational mindset and culture. And again, it’s not just about the technology. Technology is important. Technology needs to work. But it’s about a mindset. It’s about the people in the organization, and the change in mindset that will drive a platform, a digital journey, all of the things we’ve been talking about in our time together.
“Think about where you are, who is in your organization, and where their mindset is around the need to transform. And then we all must make the necessary changes to make sure we have the right people with the right mindset to help us with this journey.”
According to Brandel, the reality is that technology is becoming so useful within a sales process that the need for human interaction is going to be lessened. “Now, for any of you who are in sales, I don’t want you to worry, I don’t want you to walk away from this conversation thinking, ’oh, my gosh, what am I going to be doing?’
“The reality is the sales role will evolve. It will be far less about, how do we educate partners about our technology, our products, our speeds, our feeds, and it’s going to be much more consultative. We’ll be leveraging AI and the machine learning from the platforms we build in order to be able to provide a greater level of insight, and in fact, a greater level of value to those companies that we do business with.”