CompTIA ChannelCon Reveals What Latest Tech Trends Will Mean for Workflow, Solution Providers

by Raegen Pietrucha | 8/16/13
3-D printing. The cloud. Wearable computing. A distributed workforce. Millennials. All these topics and more were discussed at CompTIA’s annual ChannelCon event, held this year at the Peabody Orlando in Orlando, Fla., July 29-31. And all these and more will be reshaping workflows – and the ways in which providers will have to think about, create and eventually deliver related solutions.

But if there was one unifying word on the lips of every attendee, no matter which business arena that he or she came from out of the plethora ChannelCon attracts, it was “mobility.” And a critical, game-changing fact about the related “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon taking over offices around the globe was shared during the Managed Print Services Community meeting: “The No. 1 users (of mobile devices such as tablets) in offices are actually at the C level and president level,” said West McDonald, owner of FocusMPS.

Why is this important? Because these are the decision-makers of the organization. “These people at the top are starting to drive that change, followed by (a) second group, which is IT – again significant because they call the shots,” McDonald said. “If they’re getting comfortable with these (devices) and using them in the office, then that’s going to trickle down.”

But decision-makers are no longer in the dark about solutions, left to consider only what information a vendor or reseller might provide about them, and this complicates matters even further. “In the old times, people didn’t feel comfortable challenging those of us in the IT industry on a customer experience or product or services experience because they didn’t feel qualified to talk about IT,” said Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad and former CTO of Best Buy, during his keynote. “That’s changing now … (and) it’s making the public more picky.”

Indeed, a sort of water line has been broken, said Doug Johnson (senior vice president of managed print services for Supplies Network) during the Managed Print Services Community meeting, so providers are now witnessing a willingness in their customers to change behaviors – whether it’s convenient for the former group or not. Advances in mobile devices’ portability, legal compliance, visual quality and automation are now satisfactory to end users – so much so that glass has in many ways become the replacement technology for paper.

This, naturally, impacts traditional – specifically, paper-based – workflows as well as the people serving that business area. “The reality is that PDAs and tablets are in the workflow today,” Johnson said. “It’s really a question of whether we’re going to acknowledge that and figure out ways to deal with it.”

So what can solution providers do?

“Managed print’s an opportunity, but connectivity is what I would drive for us all to deliver first,” said Toni Clayton-Hine, vice president of Global Marketing & Value Proposition for Xerox Corporation, during the Channel Chief Power Panel. Discussions of other opportunities, such as per-seat pricing and strategies that embrace and monetize the leveraging of mobile devices into workflow, naturally abounded as well.

Besides profitability, any talk of mobility among the solution provider crowd eventually turns to the subject of security, and those attending ChannelCon were engaging in plenty of discussions on that. “We see that BYOD is getting all the attention, but the devices are really just the tip of the iceberg,” said Seth Robinson, director of Technology Analysis at CompTIA, during the Research Round-Up breakfast. “The devices are a platform for bringing in applications and services that people also want to use, and they have their own security gaps or other enterprise faults to them. So getting your arms around mobility is a really sticky challenge.”

Mike Semel, president of Semel Consulting, recommended this security practice during the Managed Print Services Community meeting: “Don’t think of compliance in terms of what you need to do to be compliant. Think of compliance from the view that you got that letter that says, ‘We’re investigating you.’ … Have (you) built the chain of evidence to protect (your)self to prove what happened … was correct? Your worst day is not having a data breach; your worst day is that you didn’t have a data breach, but you didn’t have documentation strong enough to prove that you did the right things (as a provider).”

But perhaps the best advice of all – better still because it can be applied to so many different challenging areas solution providers face when it comes to addressing shifts in workflows and related technology trends – was offered up by Stephens. “Every problem you will ever face in business has already been solved,” he said. “The key is, do not look in your industry or among your competitors (for the answer). The key is to steal those ideas from somewhere else.”

So it would seem that the future success of solution providers requires them to not only absorb the education that industry events like ChannelCon provides, but to tap into the ingenuity witnessed within the world at large and figure out ways to apply it within their own contexts. It will be interesting to see what innovations vendors and providers are able to come up with between now and next year’s event to solve some of these problems around mobility and security troubling the channel today.

Raegen Pietrucha is director of communications in UNLV's Division of Research and Economic Development. She writes, edits, and consults on both professional and creative bases.