Will constant change make things any different, wonders Ralph Donohue (pictured), managing director, Paradigm Distribution.
Change is inevitable, change is constant, a change will do you good. Many people through the ages have felt the need to pontificate about change, and some even sing about it. Change is inconvenient, whether or not its change for the better. Change is both the making and the breaking of us. And boy are we seeing some change.
The way in which organisations purchase IT reflects one of the key changes in recent times. The onus of putting together diverse pieces of the solution jigsaw has shifted from end-user to supplier. Partnership is the magic word in reseller circles as users increasingly seek a one stop shop for an end to end solution.
The components can include back end database, wireless infrastructure, mobile software, mobile computers, secure data comms, GPRS airtime, device management services and 24/7 support. The preferred resellers are increasingly those that can draw all these strings together to deliver a seamless, turnkey solution.
Talking of change, by the time you read this, well all be more used to referring to Motorola instead of Symbol. Nevertheless, Im confident that the companys progressive work with its reseller partners will continue to improve the way in which data mobilisation is sold and delivered to end users. Symbol had already invested a significant sum of money in reseller development and theres little doubt that the new owner will see a decent return in due course.
Of course that powerhouse of the auto ID world isnt the only vendor being creative in addressing its business targets. Im also excited about the work were doing with Zebra to boost further the burgeoning market for mobile label and receipt printers. Zebras new entry level MZ series is going to open even more doors.
Not everything in the garden is rosy. Those of us struggling to sell premium rugged terminals into field force applications against the onslaught of cheap shinys, the latter subsidised by airtime vendors, have been crying out for features that match them, notably GPS. New products are on the horizon, but opportunities have been and continue to be lost. On the subject of PDAs and smart phones, a word to the wise: a customer who prefers a more rugged unit, but feels obliged to take up the offer of free shiny units on the back of an airtime deal, can often negotiate a cash alternative with the airtime supplier, thus making a rugged unit more accessible. But as long as there isnt a suitably equipped rugged device in our portfolio, this becomes somewhat academic.
Rant over, and returning to the change issue, the number of active resellers in our space continues its gradual decline. Bucking the general trend for the UK in 2006, we increased our turnover by what I can only describe as a spectacular percentage, and at the cost of only 0.3 per cent of our gross margin. Moreover, the turnover per customer increased by an even greater amount, ergo fewer customers. Now its always possible that were atypical, indeed I know that we are in many respects. But in this I suspect its a true reflection of whats happening generally in the reseller community.
Consolidation at the distribution tier is also likely to continue. I know that distributors in our space enjoyed (perhaps not the right word for some) differing conditions from one another during 2006. Our major competitors have pan-European interests, of course, which are going to deliver a dissimilar experience to that of our mainly UK-centric operation. Im proud that we managed to win a greater share of the UK market and I wont be surprised to see further shake ups.
The ongoing migration of people from point to point within the mobile data world is another dynamic that shapes the changes taking place. That our industry is incestuous is a well established fact; were all quite used to saying: Hello, my friend. And whom do you represent this year? Still, better the devil you know, eh?
One thing that may never change is the enormity of the USAs influence over the global mobile data market, no matter how hard European and Eastern manufacturers try to make a greater impression. These corporations rooted on the other side of the pond are populated with extraordinarily talented and driven people. Good people to do business with too, in my experience. However, just occasionally something happens that illustrates how different our mindsets can be, and I cant resist passing on to you a tale that may or may not be apocryphal.
A cherry picked selection of favoured resellers from all over Europe is gathered in Barcelona, France (sic), to have bestowed upon them the considerable sales, marketing and general business expertise of a crack team of American management consultants, deployed by a generous vendor. The new media specialist takes the floor. It is essential that you are all truly internet savvy, he tells his rapt audience. Do you guys get dot com over here? Sniggering aside, one could point out that the WorldWideWeb (the clues are in the name) is, for once, the creation of one of ours a knight of the realm no less. To which, I suspect, the transatlantic response would probably be whatever. Vive la diffrence!