New year, new horizons. That’s what 2017 is shaping up to be.

With that in mind, the editors-in-chief of the Penton Technology Channels Group, which include at Kris Blackmon (The VAR Guy), Aldrin Brown (MSPmentor) and Nicole Henderson (The WHIR and Talkin’ Cloud), have put their collective heads together to single out five companies, five innovations and five people that will shape your world in 2017. I’m contributing five ideas that will influence it as well. In ascending order, here they are:

  1. Traditional IT Departments Will Continue to Lose Influence
    If you thought the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) workforce trend was disruptive to traditional IT departments, then consider the Bring-Your-Own-App (BYOA) revolution. Driven by younger workers and line-of-business managers who prioritize productivity and personalization above securitization and standardization, BYOA will transform IT departments more than BYOD did. You can add some defensive code to a worker’s phone to protect an organization, after all, but to a third-party app? That’s a little trickier. In 2017, workers will demand access to everything from Google apps to their preferred collaboration tools and more. In most instances, they will “ask forgiveness instead of permission,” before using deploying services, meaning it will be next to impossible for an IT department—or a trusted advisor, by way of extension—to dictate terms. Nick Jones, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, says that more than 90 percent of “knowledge workers who own a personal smartphone or tablet use third-party apps for work-related tasks.” The ramifications of this trend are complex. Best to get to know line of business buyers and embrace the unconventional ways of the people who work for them.
     
  2. National MSPs Will Challenge to Local ICT Service Providers
    The announcement in December that AWS will begin offering managed services to customers is a bombshell. One colleague likened it to the entry of direct-sales manufacturers including Dell and Gateway to the PC market in the 1990s. Initially these firms were dismissed if not disparaged. But over time their impact was transformative. A lot of people today are saying that the entry of AWS into managed services will have only a modest impact on the broader channel as a whole. AWS will only go for enterprise customers, they say. Respectfully, I say that’s nonsense. This step by AWS will have significant ramifications for all channel companies going forward. Think pricing models, support strategies, applications aggregation and more. The impacts might not be apparent in 2017, but the seeds of change will be planted throughout the year. Smaller partners must react accordingly. How? By developing niche specializations, deeper customer intimacy and even vertical market expertise.
     
  3. Alternative or Specialized Channels Will Get a New Look
    For years professional accounting firms have influenced the apps and technologies end customers use. Same with insurance brokers, human resource consultants and even digital marketing agencies. As these organizations increase their influence with customers, their preferred way of doing business, which includes recommending technology and contracting options, grows in importance. If you thought you were the only one making product recommendations, in other words, think again. You’re now in competition with companies that you may have only a scant notion what they do—or whose ear they have—within your accounts. Vendors, including the ones that rely on you, are starting to take notice. As a result, they are adapting partner programs designed for resellers to accommodate new types of “influencers.” The net-net is that the money that was once set aside for companies like yours is now being divided among partner types. For you to continue to collect the rewards, support and recognition that you deserve, you’re going to have to get used to living in a more diverse ecosystem. To stand out, you’re going to have to demonstrate your value and fight for your recognition. You’re also going to have to broaden your skillset. Get more comfortable selling to heads of marketing, sales, HR, finance and more. And think more deeply about developing your own value add, including your own intellectual property. Play offense to defend your turf.
     
  4. The Gap Between Security and Cybercrime Will Widen
    Baby monitors. Insulin pumps. And the U.S. Presidential election. What do they have in common? They all fell prey to hacking in 2016. And yet a new study suggests “more than 80 percent of CEOs are very confident in their firm’s cybersecurity strategies.” Make no mistake: there is growing evidence that the gap between cybercrime and cyber-security is widening. Despite all the technological advances, research and best practices embraced in 2016, the industry should prepare itself for an even more challenging 2017. The big moment will occur not when another tier one retailer gets compromised or even a tech company like Yahoo; we’ve already lived through breaches like these. Instead it will be when a national bank or electronic clearing house like PayPal, which has millions of user profiles linked to personal bank accounts, gets hacked. Let’s face it: cyber threats are growing. And the hackers and tools are getting more sinister. Today we fear generic phishing schemes targeted at the lowest common denominator. What happens when sophisticated schemes target individual customers? These attacks are on their way. And they will leverage artificial intelligence, voice recognition, IoT devices and more. A perfect storm is brewing and the forecast is gloomy. Get ready.
     
  5. A New Industry Identity Will Take Root: Digital Services Providers (DSPs)
    It’s been a while since I met a new company that called itself a “VAR.” Ditto with “solution provider,” “trusted technology advisor” and more. And yet I meet new tech services companies every month. Some call themselves “cloud services brokers” or “MSPs” or “ICT consultants.” Suffice to say there is little consensus industry-wide, even among practitioners, as to what channel partners should call themselves. At several industry gatherings in 2016, the debate over this raged. Me? I’ve always thought going to market without a well-recognized distinction or definition was a liability. Accountants don’t have to explain what they do. Nor do Realtors, plumbers or physicians. But managed services providers? That’s fuzzy. My attorney is managed services providers of sorts. You get my point. The monikers “MSP,” “VAR,” “agent,” etc., served their purpose. But they no longer convey the most important thing these organizations do. A VAR’s greatest value today isn’t access to physical products but providing services instead. Digital services. Same for solution providers, consultants, MSPs, telecom agents and more. At the end of the day, they all sell digital services of one variety or another. 2017 is the perfect time for “Digital Services Providers” or DSPs to rise.