For years, I’ve worked with IT solution providers, VARs, and enterprise customers in supply chain planning, and I’ve noticed a shift in how value is created in the channel. It’s done through a deepening of the relationship between VAR and customer—a strategic commitment from the former to the latter that’s both a response to and roadmap for new models of solution delivery. And it’s happening in other channels, too.
Much of this shift has been caused by the move to “as-a-service,” cloud-based technology solutions. Whether it’s software or infrastructure, customers’ ability to subscribe to technology—hosted somewhere in the cloud—has changed what they need from their reseller partners. VARs, therefore, have begun to offer more than technology. Think about design services, integration, and training.
And now, many have also begun to stake their success to that of their customers’ through a more strategic relationship. They identify the solution, host it (or find a hosting partner), and handle implementation. And then they take a deliberate role in the solution’s outcome. If, for example, a VAR serving supply chain customers says a certain SaaS solution typically yields a 20 percent reduction in inventory levels, that VAR now commits to doing what’s necessary to achieve the 20 percent reduction in an agreed-upon timeframe. They have more skin in the game, and they deliver strategy services to help achieve their customers’ goals.
In my time collaborating with both VARs and their customers, I’ve found the following five strategy services deliver the best results.
In the past, change management connoted training. You sold or bought a large system and training was naturally part of the solution. But training on a new solution is not enough. Bringing in new technology requires new skills, indeed, but it also requires change among people and processes. And if people, processes, and technology don’t align, adoption will suffer.
I remember a time when change management was among the first things cut from a technology project. Now it’s usually the first thing companies increase because without it, they risk wasting money on a solution employees won’t use. VARs can offer change management themselves or through a consultant partner. Change management is a specialty, so it’s important to include professionals with certifications, like a Certified Change Management Professional™ (CCMP) or a Prosci Change Practitioner. And change management requires involving the right people on the customer side to help increase buy-in, influence the widest base of users, and ultimately drive implementation from day one. Without true change management, a new solution will struggle to deliver results.
In my field, we talk about “crawl, walk, and run” when it comes to technology projects. In a nutshell, this reflects a strategic approach that assumes you never sell the customer one solution and be done with it. Plus, it’s risky to jump directly to the most advanced solution possible (“run”).
Lifecycle management is nearly as critical as change management because it helps the customer identify what’s viable now—especially in light of existing people, processes, and technology—and what’s achievable in the future. I often encounter companies that want the most advanced capabilities available on the market. Admittedly, some can probably run before they crawl or walk, but that ignores technology’s learning curve and everything associated with change management. Lifecycle management is a strategy offering that entails identifying a solution for tackling today’s business challenges while building a foundation for more advanced capabilities that you deliver down the line as part of an ongoing business relationship.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the strategic value of a Plan B. Yes, technology solutions have long included redundancy and disaster recovery features, but that’s for operational resilience. In other words, if a server goes down, a company knows it can keep operating because another server takes over running its enterprise systems.
These days, companies need a strategy for capability resilience. It’s one thing to ensure technology solutions keep running; it’s another if employees can’t enter the office for months, or business models get upended because stores and restaurants must close, or supply chains break down. In addition to designing redundancy and disaster recovery into technology solutions, VARs should begin offering overall resilience planning. One of the most effective new ways of creating a resilience strategy is through digital twins, which are virtual representations of a company’s business that allow the company to identify dependencies and scenario plan for possible disruptions. As technology experts, VARs that offer digital twin modeling can go a long way to supporting customers when times get uncertain.
Companies today are under pressure to show they’re committed to running sustainable businesses. Not only do customers demand it, but regulators are beginning to require they demonstrate sustainable practices. Cloud providers, for example, have taken steps to run more energy-efficient data centers. Fashion brands have launched initiatives to produce sustainably sourced clothing.
So chances are good that VARs’ customers now have sustainability officers on board who ensure companies meet their stated sustainability goals, including in the operation of IT systems. We’re not there yet, but I see a day when a project team includes system designers, software developers, and even sustainability engineers tasked with scoping the carbon impact of a new solution (maybe even scenario planning with digital twins) and fitting it within an energy budget that meets the customer’s sustainability requirements.
Finally, we know technology continues to push the boundaries of what companies can achieve. And the same VARs that implement cloud-based enterprise systems have an opportunity to reach beyond the IT department, with use cases for digital transformation in other areas of business. Augmented reality, for example, holds incredible promise in fields that have long been nondigital. Imagine a refinery worker performing maintenance on a pipeline. Wearing augmented reality goggles—maybe even with a built-in camera—the worker can visualize information to help them do the job, or even share what they’re seeing with experts far away.
As technologists, it’s important for VARs to play the futurist and share with customers what they’re seeing down the road. Moreover, it’s important to build use cases across industries that demonstrate the strategic value of coming solutions. Drones to support public safety? How about applying the same technology to agriculture? VARs can explain how.
At the end of the day, we can agree that technology is no longer just about software and hardware. That ship sailed a while ago. VARs that sell technology solutions need to wrap their offerings in strategy—change and lifecycle management, resilience planning, sustainability, and technology roadmapping—to help customers achieve business goals. Our customers’ success is our success.
Anderson Campana is the Digital Supply Chain Planning Practice Lead at Tata Consultancy Services, an IT services, consulting, and business solutions organization founded in 1958 with operations in 46 countries and 600,000 employees worldwide. Campana has more than 33 years of experience, working for companies like Accenture, PepsiCo, Cognizant, and Syngenta.