This year, The ASCII Group is celebrating its 30th anniversary of serving the IT channel. Group founder, chairman, and CEO Alan Weinberger points out how much things can change in 30 years — especially for the channel.
The group, a community of independent managed services providers (MSPs), VARs, and other solutions providers, began when people were just beginning to use PCs. “It was a simple time and people probably though they were buying a typewriter,” he comments. But with the “Internet revolution,” the core of the industry has changed from products to services — mostly via local solutions providers. Weinberger says this has led to two trends prevalent in the channel: the total solutions provider and the recurring revenue, as-a-Service business model.
Weinberger explains with the changes over the past three decades, resellers have evolved from selling IT to selling solutions — and then selling total solutions that address all of a customer’s IT needs. With the emergence of the role of the total solutions provider, The ASCII Group responded with assistance and education for its members — often struggling to find bandwidth for areas such as product research, public relations and vendor management — offering programs that provide cost-cutting strategies and business-building programs, as well as marketing support, networking opportunities, and peer interaction. “The ASCII forum is the world’s largest independent forum for VARs, with hundreds of posts every day,” Weinberger says. The forum is confidential, and “everyone is trading information about what works and what doesn’t work in the field.”
The channel’s business model, too, has evolved. The focus on service and the need to find stability through recurring revenue has resulted in the as-a-Service model. Weinberger cautions, however, that providing solutions on a subscription basis and only managing them remotely could be detrimental to your business. “If you don’t see your customer face to face and spend a year just doing everything remotely, the customer forgets who they’re dealing with,” he says. “Then some better face can come along — and out of sight, out of mind.” He adds some solutions providers are dealing in vertical markets, like healthcare, that require particular expertise and solutions that have to be developed. “It just can’t be done offsite,” he says. “So, for business and technical reasons, everything can’t be done remotely.”
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