Social network for the channel rolls out pilots

A social networking venture specifically for the channel community has begun rolling out pilot access for its early adopters.

ChannelEyes LLC, based in East Greenbush, NY, calls itself the first secure social network for the channel. It was the brainchild of Bob Godgart, the founder and chairman of Autotask Corp. and current chairman of CompTIA Inc.

Early access sign-up has been available to partners, distributors, vendors and other partner associations worldwide since the fall of 2011.

“We’re just now, day by day, rolling out the pilots,” said Jay McBain, a co-founder and advisor with ChannelEyes and a former executive at Autotask, Lenovo Canada and IBM Canada. “By February, we want this to be out in the public.”

Keeping track of various vendor relationships can be very difficult and ChannelEyes’ goal is to simplify the process. From internal research, the company estimates that only five per cent of partners use vendor portals.

Related story: Top channel priorities for 2012

“Traditionally when vendors … sent out an e-mail, there was one gatekeeper and you’d hope that gatekeeper would send your information to the right people,” McBain said. ChannelEyes estimates that only 17 per cent of those e-mails are actually opened.

“One piece of research that CompTIA just did shows that the average channel partner has seven vendors that they follow very, very closely,” he said. After those seven, there are 10 to 20 other vendors that a partner might potentially follow. “The amount of vendors, as we get into cloud computing, are multiplying exponentially.”

Using the site, vendors can set up feeds that different audiences can follow. They can set up a public feed, then authenticate users, such as partners or other associations that they’d like to share more sensitive information with, that competitors wouldn’t see, such as whitepapers or product news.

“Vendors will use Facebook and Twitter and other social media tools as a place to advertise and a place to build their brand,” McBain said. “You can do that on ChannelEyes, but it’s not the sole purpose.”

The site is instead meant to streamline collaboration and communication among members of the channel. “The partner gets to choose their content, they get to choose who they follow and choose based on their job role,” McBain said.

ChannelEyes had about 1000 channel partners sign up for early access within a few days of launching the teaser site. “Our goal is to get up to a million channel professionals.”

“We’ve had over 500 vendors jump on board for early access,” McBain said. Those include what he describes as the “top 50” vendors in the industry if ranked by revenue. Other organizations already in pilot mode include HTG Peer Groups, CompTIA and Computer Troubleshooters.

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The site is free for channel partners. At a basic level, it’s also free for vendors, but offers premium services at a cost, such as a management dashboard for multiple feeds and a tool for measuring metrics.

“We did a lot of work beforehand, taking to vendors,” McBain said. “One thing we had to do very specifically was security.”

ChannelEyes uses proprietary technology for managing its security and is working with vendors to authenticate or de-authorize followers efficiently. A vendor could, for example, send out an e-mail to channel partners with a link that would authenticate them or use a ChannelEyes wizard for authenticating multiple accounts.

That authentication and identity verification piece is important to getting users on board, according to Ileana Funez, a research manager with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group. “Identity is something that’s raised as an issue when people use social media for advice.”

Security has in fact been one of the site’s differentiators, McBain said. The company has filed for a U.S. patent and claims to have 26 unique patent points that make it different from other major social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

Similar ventures for the IT industry have emerged in recent years. In 2008, Vancouver-based enterprise app store provider Partnerpedia launched a similar pursuit, Partnerpedia Community, aiming to be Facebook for the channel.

Related story: Partnerpedia wants to be the Facebook of the channel

While the two companies frequently have been compared, Partnerpedia now functions as more of a partner relationship management service, not a social network with user-generated content like ChannelEyes, according to McBain.

“Social networks are really appealing to people who are already on social networks,” Funez said. Many channel partners aren’t using social networking in a business capacity, but on an individual level for personal use or professional networking, she said.

“For large solution providers, there’s very little incentive for them to join a social network for collaboration with vendors because they already receive a lot of attention,” she said, and have dedicated account managers. But for smaller, growing partners, the site has more potential, she said.

The network could also prove useful for partners looking to expand into new geographies as well, she added, along with emerging vendors that have reached a point in their business where they’re creating a channel program.

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Harmeet Singh
Harmeet Singh
Harmeet reports on channel partner programs, new technologies and products and other issues relevant to Canada's channel community. She also contributes as a video journalist, providing content for the site's original streaming video. Harmeet is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism.

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