With the ever growing uptake of smart and mobile computing devices, many IT and Telecom vendors have been quick to forecast major channel restructurings to take place. For example, for many vendors, Netbook PCs have opened entirely new avenues to consumers, increased the number of resellers in their rosters and even called for an entire reorganization of their affiliation programs.

Techaisle’s recently published survey of 2900 Small Businesses across four countries [US, UK, Brazil and Germany], however, shows that on average, less than 1 in 5 Small Business buyers are sourcing their telecom and IT equipment from the same supplier. The data has not changed significantly over the last few years, particularly if we consider the advent of IP-PBX switching and integration in data networks.

Price seems the determining factor – whilst about 1/3 of multi-sourcing SBs are not looking to consolidate purchasing practices, the research shows that the bulk majority is regularly looking at ways to unify sourcing.

The market is there but reaching it is proving to be difficult.

The same research shows that channel suppliers’ inability to price competitively individual products from both IT & Telecom worlds is the largest barrier for limiting convergence possibilities – and making SBs source each set of products from their most relevant price specialized channels. If we continue as is, we have a near perfect parallel world.

Sourcing Considerations

Business Buy Solutions… But also products! Get it right and a third of the market may be yours. That is the size of the buyers business which is being sought after at multi-degrees and multi-levels between shareholders, vendors and the very channel players supposed to converge.

It is not an issue about wanting to converge but the ever present need to grow that makes vendors seek to drive the IT-Telecom markets convergence and to do that, they must address this particular channel weakness – and this is not an easy task.  Invest, and others will benefit. Do nothing and nothing will happen.

Besides retail, each channel player [in their remit] is arguably looking at efficiencies, focus, expertise, and… price on a daily basis but one reseller focused on IP Telephony [and with many years of expertise in the solution] will undoubtedly struggle to reach sufficiently relevant economies of scale to price compete with a specialist counterpart in the IT world. And any investment to balance this equation will likely increase their cost structure to threaten the overall business. They will not be the first to change.

Retailers, on the other spectrum of the market, have been selling Smartphones, SIM handsets, PCs and Netbooks for many years now, but that is hardly convergence.

So it is up to the vendors to make it happen. I once read that the answer may lie in the development of program alliances - a scenario where vendor A and vendor B  define how their products fit into a solution for SBs and enable selected partners with the right approach, solutions and products [a program] to serve the market niche by niche and in a probable unified manner. Competitive dynamics may make it more like fantasy than a real proposition, but it is a nice vision of the future.

More probable drivers for channel convergence, however, are to be found in new integrated technologies or solutions [like cloud offerings billed to create a new breed of channel players] but for now there is just talk.

Paolo Puppoli