Technical Support Alliance Network (TSANet) looking to recruit solution providers

The TSANet has facilitated inter-vendor collaboration for post-sales technical support for over 20 years. A year ago, its ranks were opened to the channel, and TSANet was at ChannelCon last week, to make its case why the channel should join.

Paul Esch TSANet

Paul Esch, TSANet’s Director, Strategy and Business Development

The Technical Support Alliance Network (TSANet) has been in existence since the 1990s, with a mandate of facilitating co-operation between vendors to address technical issues encountered by their joint customers. A year ago, the organization opened its ranks to channel partners. Response to date has been slow, however, and the TSANet is looking to pick that pace up.

“The TSANet was started 23 years ago by a group of vendor member companies,” said Paul Esch, TSANet’s Director, Strategy and Business Development. “It was established as a not-for-profit, peer-to-peer industry association to allow the vendors to collaborate on post-sales technical support issues. They were looking for a more efficient way to form partnerships and collaborate on these issues, instead of expensive ad hoc relationships. The TSANet lets collaboration become more regularized.”

Esch said that a typical scenario would that a customer contacts their vendor – say IBM – when they are having a problem. During troubleshooting, IBM determines there’s a Cisco product causing issues, and needs Cisco to help isolate and resolve these issues.

“Before the TSANet, there would be a lot of finger pointing,” Esch said. “Vendor products are usually installed in multi-vendor environments where they don’t control everything. They needed a way to collaborate for post-sales technical support.”

The TSANet has had strong support from the IT vendor community. Esch indicated that between 450 and 500 vendors are members, including the major players. By late 2014, however, the TSANet began to focus on the issue of involving channel partners, since partners are often the players who are actually involved in trying to resolve these problems.

“This discussion was around the fact that most of the multi-vendor support issues today are actually found in the channel,” Esch said. “They are putting together a lot of the solutions. In the past, for many vendors, the multi-vendor environment was an exception, but for the channel, it’s a regular occurrence.”

Esch said that there had been a requirement for vendors that you have to create hardware or software to be a TSANet member. While many solution providers would meet that requirement, it was waived for their category so any solution provider could join. Last August, membership was opened up to the channel, giving them the ability to useTSANet’s legal and operational framework to standardize the process of working with vendors.

Partners haven’t exactly been rushing to sign up. A year into their eligibility period, TSANet has between six and twelve channel partner members.

“It’s still early days though, and our target is to have 30 by the end of this year, Esch said.

“We are a better fit for some than others,” Esch added. “A natural fit is one who adds value as opposed to those who simply sell boxes. This is for partners who want to be the single point of contact and provide solutions.”

Esch indicated that it’s important for TSANet to be able to enlist larger VARs.

“We do have some larger ones like DataLink, who have been involved in helping us build this out for the channel,” he said.

TSANet is taking multiple steps to scale up partner enrollment. They have been attending channel events, including CompTIA’s ChannelCon last week, where they were an exhibitor. They are also working on trying to bring major distributors in, and have been after Ingram Micro and Arrow in particular.

“We have been working with vendor members to try and bring the distributors in,” Esch said. “We are now starting to find the right people to talk to.”

Membership is not free. There are three stages of membership – a Limited one for $500 a year, a Basic one for $2,500, and a Premium for $5,000.

“It’s a flat fee based on the type of collaboration you need,” Esch said.

“For that you get the ability to collaborate with vendors that you don’t have full relationships with now,” he said. “This gives partners the ability to deal with solutions that might otherwise be outside their grasp.” Members receive tools for collaboration with other members including the Member Web and system integration with Case Exchange. Everything operates under the standard legal framework vendors agreed to through TSANet.

“We are also looking to design a common interface for all this, so that if a VAR works with seven different vendors, they don’t have seven different logins and ways of working like they do now. That will create more efficiencies. This is something that isn’t there yet, but which we are looking to for the future.”

Esch also noted that TSANet, as a neutral association, can also play an ombudsman-like role in resolving channel–vendor issues.

“We do that today with the vendors,” he said.