Is Ingram Micro going more hands-off with VTN?

John Fago

Fago: "We're turning the reins over."

More than ten years after the launch of its VentureTech Network reseller community, distributor Ingram Micro is ready to let its baby grow up a bit more.

At the community’s recent Fall 2010 Invitational in San Francisco, Ingram Micro discussed with its plans to let the community’s solution provider-fronted VTN Council guide the direction of the community more than ever.

“We’re turning the reins over,” said John Fago, senior director of channel marketing for North America at Ingram Micro and the distributor’s VTN chief. “We’ve held the wheel for ten years, and it’s time for the Council to take more of the leadership role. We want to continue to have them own and lead the way.”

So what’s Ingram’s role in the future of the community? The distributor will remain very active in the community, but it’s going to be increasingly up to members to shape the community, its goals and programs.

The distributor does intend to stay an important part of the picture. Fago made it abundantly clear that Ingram Micro is not walking away from the community it sees as one of its major growth engines.

“We don’t intend to go anywhere, we need to make sure what we’ve done is successful, but in terms of how we engage, we’re looking at the community as more of an open platform in the future,” Fago said.

After a busy 2010 that saw the rollout of a variety of new tools including its business intelligence dashboard, expanded technical training and its Mastermind communities, Fago said the distributor is focusing on the basics heading into 2011.

Those basics include more community building and more types of collaboration. The distributor is looking to “take collaboration to the next level” within the community by supporting a WebEx Connect bridge for members to have on-demand video chat from member to member, as well as offering more ongoing Webinars and other sessions. The distributor also intends to ramp up the interconnection between its communities, for example hosting its 2011 Spring VTN Invitational in Chicago immediately before its GovEd Alliance event at the same venue.

The community will also launch various focused special interest groups within the community, looking to foster connections among members on hot-button subjects in the channel, including cloud computing and digital signage. Those sub-groups will be technology-focused, and complement rather than replace the existing geographical divisions of the network.

On the vendor side, Fago said VTN has “amped up the importance of having executive buy-in.” And sure enough, San Francisco saw keynotes from the likes of industry heavy-hitters like HP Personal Systems Group Americas chief Stephen DeWitt and new Cisco Americas channel chief Jim Sherriff. Sure, a lot of that had to do with the event taking place in San Francisco, less than an hour away from both Cisco and HP headquarters in Silicon Valley. But Fago said he expects it not to be a one-time thing.

“My expectation is to see a guy like Stephen DeWitt in front of this group again,” Fago said. “Vendors are really starting to see the value of the community and realize that it’s like the gym – you can’t just pay your dues and expect results, you have to actually do the workout.”

And while the big names from some vendors are new faces at the conference, there was one very familiar face. The Invitational in San Francisco was the eighth time that IBM’s Harris Warsaw, vice president of general business for the Americas at IBM, has presented to VTN members, earning him a Lifetime Achievement Award from the community.

Rita Baiana, senior manager of the VentureTech Network at Ingram Micro Canada, said the distributor continues to see “increasing the level of collaboration and accountability” amongst the community’s vendor sponsors as a priority.

“Ultimately, the vendors are a key stakeholder in this as well,” she said. “Their presence here was outstanding, the highest level of executive participation ever.”

Lastly, Fago said the company’s goals for 2011 includes having a “loud and proud” contingent of VTN members at various channel and tech industry events, championing the community outside its own membership. “We want to build the brand externally as well as at the membership level,” he said.