By Matt Pillar, chief editor
I just returned from the Ingram Micro ONE event in Washington, DC and here’s what I liked most about it. If I’ve heard one vendor or distributor exec implore a crowd of their VAR and MSP customers to do something innovative, something non-traditional, with their clients, I’ve heard a million.
Ingram Country Chief Kirk Robinson said it from the mainstage on Monday morning. He encouraged the partners in attendance to step outside of their comfort zones. I feared his presentation might wind up an all-too-familiar refrain of vagaries and platitudes until he invited Jason Doherty and Gustavo Pares Arco to the stage. Doherty is Director of Sales at R2 Unified Technologies, Pares Arco is partner at Nearshore Delivery Solutions, both Ingram partners.
Doherty detailed to a packed mainstage audience a unique and painstaking wireless infrastructure project his company executed for the Reebok CrossFit Games. The project was an illustration in innovation—more specifically how R2 overcame a host of environmental challenges, from dirt and mud to moisture and heat—in both open-air and enclosed and segmented venues to enable full wireless network coverage for fans, organizers, and media at the 5-day event. During his opening remarks, Robinson hammered on the point that winners in today’s IT channel are those willing to get uncomfortable on the behalf of their clients. For Doherty and R2, taking the white-collar work of building corporate wireless communications infrastructures into the gritty field of CrossFit competition provided a fitting example of stepping outside its comfort zone. It won a fully-satisfied, high-profile clients as a result.
Robinson really drove the “comfort zone” commentary home when he called on Pares Arco to join him on stage. If the R2 example illustrated the physical aspects of stepping out of your comfort zone by taking your wheelhouse into a new environment, Nearshore’s story of chatbot-driven application development on behalf of its client HSBC Mexico exemplified the technical aspects of discomfort. Pares Arco lauded Ingram’s cloud services support of an application it developed to streamline and automate digital customer service for the financial services giant. While Pares Arco’s Nearshore isn’t a VAR or MSP—it’s a tech firm focused on helping global outsourcing firms set up nearshore operations in Mexico—developing customer-facing applications isn’t something you’ll find on its line card. But when the firm and its client collectively identified a customer service chasm that cloud and chatbot technology could address, Nearshore stepped out of its comfort zone, leveraged its resources and filled the gap. This is the second story I’ve heard in the past few weeks about an IT company smashing out of its own mold – see my column about dyed-in-the-wool monster reseller WWT’s foray into customer-facing app development for Schnuck’s Markets in the forthcoming November issue of Channel Executive magazine.
On Tuesday I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Bob Bell, who founded Integrated Data Technologies way back in 1991, a long time before the as-a-service model disrupted the project-based IT solutions his firm built its reputation on. We talked about a host of MSP management challenges and I plan on bringing you a ton of the veteran insight he shared. One particularly poignant part of our conversation dealt with the financial challenge that he and thousands of other legacy IT service providers faced—and continue to face—during the transition from project-based AR to annuity revenue. Bell didn’t pull punches when he told me it was tough, uncomfortable, in Robinson’s words, but he was prepared. He says he took it slow, drove the transition gradually in an effort to preserve income through the legacy model while annuities built up over months and years. Like many successfully navigating the transition, IDT offers hybrid solutions, either in the cloud and recurring or on-premise ownership or a combination of the two. But as the writing became legible on the wall, Bell and his two co-founders also made sure they were investing in several other—some completely unrelated—income streams to help the 20-employee-strong company make payroll during the transition. Real estate was among those investments. Speaking of unrelated diversification, the serial entrepreneur and rural Georgia native is imminently launching a lifestyle barbecue brand (check it out at www.reddirtrichbbq.com). If you don’t have any real estate or retail brands teed up to fill your coffers, take a look at your distribution partners for creative financing solutions. Robinson assures me that $45 billion Ingram can help with that, too.
Later in the conference I sat down with a young and energetic POS VAR owner named Sherif Mohamed, who just recently launched DigitalShopper.com. Here’s another guy I’ll be spending more time on in coming newsletters and issues of Channel Executive. Like many do, Mohamed started his entrepreneurial journey into the retail technology realm as a merchant services provider (LitePay Merchant Services) through First Data and gradually expanded into POS payment solution sales with the launch of CardMachineOutlet.com. While it may have been comfortable for his SMB retail clients to procure brick-and-mortar POS and payment solutions the traditional way while separately languishing in a sea of online competition, it certainly wasn’t for Mohamed. To ease their foray into the digital marketplace model, Mohamed launched one of his own and made its wares available on all the leading marketplaces including Amazon, Walmart, eBay and NewEgg. It’s a prime example of getting uncomfortable and bringing the water to the horse. While I certainly wouldn’t advise POS VARs to go ahead and develop online marketplaces, Mohamed’s actions underscore the reality of the POS channel’s greatest, and often ignored, opportunities: an SMB retail market that’s hungry for the seamless e-commerce integration that will win them a piece of the growing online retail sales pie.
For me, the mark of a successful conference is meeting with channel partners that are doing cool, uncomfortable things. That’s what I liked most about Ingram ONE.