We came. We met. We forgot to include the channel

The end of November marked the beginning of an important new initiative at IT World Canada. In partnership with the City of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance, we launched a new portal called Technicity.ca and an event of the same name at the Allstream Centre. More than 300 people showed up, representing everyone from the government and academia to major vendors and promising startups.

Although Toronto has a lot of great high-tech companies already, many of us believe it has the potential to rival Silicon Valley and New York. That won’t happen without a lot more venture capital investment, some strategic thinking around attracting new talent, and a whole lotta resellers.

Although we discussed the first two issues in great detail – along with issues around innovation, commercialization and so on – I realized in hindsight we failed to examine the health and aptitude of the distribution channel to bring all the products and services Toronto-based firms create to market. One thing that did come up was the lack of a critical mass of Canadian customers willing to take a chance on homegrown technology solutions. More often they’ll prefer to stick with an international, established brand that has a Web site full of glowing case studies, even when the local alternative might be cheaper and more customizable to a particular client’s needs. Again, this is where the channel can help – if enough channel players are willing.

Besides being able to hire and retain the right people in a startup, firms in Toronto and elsewhere sometimes forget to focus on setting up the kind of reseller programs that will give them the partners they need to be successful. If the IBMs and even Dells of the world can’t completely provide the sales and support coverage their customers demand, it’s hard to imaging how new entrants to the IT industry will compete without VARs. Yet many early-stage companies seem to begin with a direct-only approach. You learn a lot by working with customers, of course, but if you have the ability to scale properly you shouldn’t need to work with all of them. In fact, it could be argued that by creating the right kind of training materials and best practice guidelines for partners at the beginning, a startup will be able to scale much more quickly.

It’s also important to recognize that many resellers are also developing the kind of companies that will make Toronto’s IT sector flourish. The focus tends to be on the app developers, but many VARs are creating a different sort of product: expertise in deploying technology in ways that help businesses grow. One action item I’ll be taking back to our advisory board is figuring out how to include this community in the plan we develop with the rest of the Technicity.ca audience.

At the same time, it will be important for Toronto-area resellers to think deeply about their role in growing and supporting the local high-tech cluster. Obviously they can sell and market the products, but with all the hands-on experience they’ve gained they might be able to offer more help than anyone involved with Technicity.ca has realized. Much of the success in Silicon Valley and elsewhere has been built on the backs of resellers.

Maybe this time we can do it hand in hand.

Follow Shane Schick on Twitter: @ShaneSchick.

IT World Canada’s full Technicity.ca coverage:

* Technicity speaker asks GTA techies to start gloating
* Technicity: Grow Toronto’s IT cluster by aiming global
* Small firms dominate Silicon Valley North
* 10 Scenes from Technicity.ca 2010

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