Tech innovations come fast and furious these days, as creative thinkers continually find ways to improve even relatively new technology. So it’s hard to define five innovations that will have a breakthrough 2017 in enterprise IT, since it seems they never stop coming. But when it comes to the channel, it gets a little easier to wrap your head around the “important innovations” since we’re mainly concerned with what we can put into practical application, not the latest mind-blowing thing being worked on only in R&D labs. For 2017, here are the innovations The VAR Guy sees having a breakthrough year in the channel.
The proliferation of big data has resulted in a dizzying number of software providers and data brokers as businesses everywhere clamor for actionable insights. These organizations want the competitive edge that big data provides, but without the headaches that come with unending software updates, integrations and contract negotiations. And as IoT becomes ever more mainstream, businesses will increasingly turn to service providers to wrestle all of that data chaos for them. 2017 will see the emergence of data-as-a-service (DaaS) providers as a mainstream channel offering as data-savvy partners incorporate solutions that mine multiple data sources, integrate analysis interfaces and provide customers with nicely-wrapped packages of metrics on a subscription basis. As the line of business (LOB) buyer takes over the purchase of IT processes like data analysis from the IT department, the channel will be able to cash in on its familiarity with data and established relationships with multiple vendors.
The concept of cognitive computing and machine learning has until very recently still seemed like science fiction. It was only six years ago that IBM Watson won first place on Jeopardy!, and since then, cognitive systems and machine learning algorithms have made their way into nearly every aspect of business process technology. Cognitive goes beyond “smart” technology. It allows systems to self-learn, improving performance and accuracy with time and use. These systems actually learn from their mistakes, which is kind of creepy, but allows for ever-increasing accuracy and speed. In 2017, organizations of all sizes and in a wide range of industries will be clamoring for automated systems that use machine learning to streamline business processes. Supply chains, for instance, will benefit from cognitive solutions as automated sales order processing, accounting and support systems gain traction. From the manufacturing shop floor to the back office, machine learning will provide real ways for partners to offer competitive value propositions to their customers.
For years, vendors, analysts and industry experts have dangled the Internet of Things in front of the channel as the next big opportunity partners would have to be fools to miss. Resellers and service providers have watched as the industry has frothed at the mouth over the revenue potential stemming from IoT without really seeing a scalable, cost-effective way to make money from it. But 2016 tamed a lot of the chaos around IoT as seemingly every vendor and distributor launched an IoT platform or two designed to make the opportunity accessible to the channel. Partners now have numerous options for pay-as-you-go connectivity, servers, devices and support that bring the IoT within reach, and an endless number of programs designed to help develop vertical-specific solutions. The large number of IoT ecosystems launched in 2016 mean that the space has become more competitive, and vendors know how critically important the channel is if they want to create any sort of market dominance. In 2017, partners that want to establish an IoT services practice in their specific vertical will be able to go to vendors and distributors for help creating a cost-effective, scalable offering they can take to the bank.
It’s clear that most customers will do just about anything to avoid talking to a live customer support representative, and there has been a proliferation of automated technologies in recent years to help them help themselves. From live chat to ecommerce platforms, customers are using tech to self-educate through the majority of the buying process and much of the support process. In 2017, AI will take customer self-service to the next level through applying cognitive solutions to the discovery process, providing useful information to customers they may not have known they needed. The purchase of an item can trigger the delivery of a whitepaper on how to competitively position it, a form to register for a related webinar or an alert on an upcoming trade show. The mobile-first and mobile-only ecosystem will demand responsive designs of portals and automated systems, and customer self-service platforms will feed data on customer behavior and buying patterns to internal sales and support teams to improve business performance. Automating, customizing and managing dashboards and portals will be a big opportunity for the channel in 2017.
Digital transformation is breaking down the walls between traditionally siloed industries and functional groups, and 2017 will see an explosion of creative alliances, partnerships and integrations. Channel companies with different specializations will partner with one another to form end-to-end solutions, vendors will (reluctantly) move toward more open platforms as customers demand flexible solutions and partners will start to find ways to horizontally integrate the many individual LOB solutions their customers purchase. Resellers and service providers will collaborate with independent software vendors to create customized offerings for specific verticals, again stemming in large part from the widespread adoption of IoT technology. It’s a brave new channel, and savvy partners will think outside the box to find new roads to success next year.
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