TSANet introducing new solution support framework in bid to increase channel involvement

TSANet has successfully facilitated IT vendor interoperability for almost a quarter-century. Getting channel partners to join has been a challenge, however. The new initiative is designed to encourage their vendor members to bring their channel partners in.

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

The Technical Support Alliance Network (TSANet), a non-profit organization that has been around since the 1990s, is focused on facilitating co-operation between vendors to address customer technical issues in a vendor-neutral environment. Two years ago, TSANet opened up membership to channel partners, on the logical premise that the channel actually performs most of these inter-vendor integrations, and so could benefit from the organization’s services. Solution providers have been reluctant to join however, and the organization now believes that while they have a future in the organization, it will likely be if and when vendor members require their partners do so in order to support multi-vendor initiatives.

The TSANet has long been well supported by the IT vendor community. Between 450 and 500 vendors are members, including the major players, each of whom pays between $500 and $5000 annually for membership. In August 2015, membership was opened up to channel partners, since partners are often the players who are actually involved in trying to resolve multi-vendor interoperability issues.

“A year ago, we were in the single digits with channel members, and we had hoped to have 30 by the end of the year,” said Paul Esch, TSANet’s Director, Strategy and Business Development, although they did have some high-profile successes such as distributor Westcon-Comstor signing up. “We knew that was a lofty goal, and we wound up growing in single digits. That forced us to do some reflection on our strategy.”

Esch said that TSANet now has a two-pronged approach to getting new channel members.

“First, we talk directly to them at events like CompTIA ChannelCon,” he said. “Based on two years of experience at ChannelCon, we tend to view it more as a way for us to learn and understand what the channel needs, rather than a place for us to sell to the channel.”

Esch said that the second approach offers more promise in actually enlisting partners as members.

“That’s to work with existing vendor members to get them get their channel to work through TSANet for multi-vendor work,” he said. “That helps us to overcome a challenge on sharing the value of TSANet in the way we have positioned it to the channel. Most of channel felt that its scope was narrow, and that consequently, they didn’t need an association. In the past, vendor feedback on this has been that they have programs with us now, so they didn’t see a huge advantage of bringing their channel through TSANet just to work with them.”

Esch said that TSANet has developed what they think will be the answer with what they are terming the Integrated Solution Support Framework.

“We knew we were missing something, so we started brainstorming with this solution support concept,” he said. “Both vendors and the channel said we could add value in a solution support model. Instead of a channel member joining to collaborate with whoever, we give them something more structured around the solutions they are positioning, implementing and supporting. It thus becomes kind of a Private TSANet.”

The Integrated Solution Support Framework is being piloted this year and next year, to launch the first solution support packages. It has two components.

“The legal framework side for the most part is in place, with the need just an appendix for particular solutions,” Esch said. “We are working on the second part, which is operational things. We have a microsite that gives vendors the ability to store files and collaborate with each other. Threaded conversations is a piece of functionality we plan to add, as well as more hooks into their systems. We are fleshing those out through the pilots.”

The target solutions for this are the big multi-vendor initiatives like FlexPod, and things like what Cisco is doing around Smart Cities.

“The vendors already define these supported solutions and make sure they are fully supported and compatable,” Esch said. “Where we fit in is providing the structure for them to collaborate on post-sale technical issues, at a higher level than vendors do in their own custom groups. It will make things more efficient and more repeatable.”

Esch said TSANet doing this makes more sense than having, say, NetApp, do this for FlexPod by setting up their own Extranet or using something like Slack to connect.

“If one vendor does this, they are effectively saying that it makes them the centre of the world, and everyone must collaborate with them,” he said. “We provide a vendor neutral place to do this. We also add legal documents and functionality to do more things with solution support.”

Esch recognized that there are still challenges to them with this model.

“Bringing distributors in is important, and we did get Westcon and a couple in Europe, but the challenge is the distis are mainly selling through,” he said. “They are very focused on the sales piece and in services where they think they can make money. Finding the right distributors with the right services group is a big challenge. We have also been trying to work with Accenture, who do a lot of services, but they are very specialized.

Esch said the key to success here for TSANet will be getting vendor member buy-in to try and bring their channel partners along to the Solution Support Framework.

“We have very locked-down relationships with those vendors already, and we hope to see momentum here as we get these first pilots under our belt,” he said. “That’s our approach – working directly with vendors and trying to get them to bring in solution providers. We want them to go to their partners and tell them that if they want to be an authorized solution provider for these solutions, they need to work through TSANet. It’s incumbent on the vendors to do that. The vendors need to pull the channel in. But there is value for the channel if they do. Right now, the channel still works in a fragmented environment on multi-vendor solutions, and tend to work with each of the three vendors in a different way. With TSANet, they would be able to go with one place and collaborate with any of the vendors in a consistent way.”