New CompTIA study finds cautious optimism in Canadian channel

COVID’s turmoil has both positive and negative impacts, with the negatives including some retreat from focusing on emerging technologies.

CompTIA has released its annual “International State of the Channel” report, with data being compiled separately for the U.S., U.K., Canada, Benelux, and ANZ (Australia and New Zealand), as well as aggregrated together. 800 partners globally took part. The Canadian numbers were roughly similar to the others, although there were some outlier points, such as a weakness in cybersecurity. The aggregate numbers reflected a general cautious optimism as the channel refocuses on growth opportunities in 2021 following the COVID-caused tumult of 2020.

CompTIA has done this study for several years, and normally a key purpose is to identity changing trends from one year to the next – but that’s admittedly difficult this year.

“While the study covers a lot of territory, it’s very difficult to compare it to previous years,” said Carolyn April, senior director for industry analysis at CompTIA. “It’s almost like starting from scratch.”

The report found that 90% of Canadian channel executives believe the channel continues to maintain its relevance, but they are split when asked about the channel’s health: 43% of Canadians say it is holding steady in its current form, 47% say it’s rapidly changing. These are basically the same as the aggregate numbers of 44% and 46% respectively.

“There is still a lot of optimism,” April said. “The channel believes they they are still relevant, but they are very aware of the fact that while still relevant, the business models and way they deal with vendors are rapidly changing, and that will require way the change their own business. That’s a good outlook considering the impact of pandemic on SMBs. Very few companies threw in the towel.”

April said that the recent changes to the channel had made running a channel business more complex.

“They are concerned about running an SMB business in the era and scale of big technology,” she said. “There is a general concern about Amazons and Googles of the world, which have completely flipped how customer procurement happens. The channel has to adapt to them no longer being the transactions partner, so they increasingly do consulting implementation, and act as more of a consultant as opposed to reselling.”

This also includes increasing movement to acting as an integrator around as-a-service offerings.

“The move to as-a-service is a given,” April said. “You will see channel partners who cannot meet that adaptation, but many are. There are a lot of pieces that get overlooked by end customers, like security. Tying things as a service together with other things is an increasing role for the channel, and there is an increased opportunity for channel firms to help customers determine what SaaS services they require, by winnowing lists down and making recommendations.”

The disruptive nature of 2020 had an impact on adoption of emerging technologies – and not generally a positive one. 38% of Canadian companies  paused their emerging tech efforts temporarily or indefinitely, or pulled the plug on them entirely. On the other side, 35% of companies stayed the course on what they were doing with emerging tech, whether it was actively selling, using it internally or experimenting, 20% ramped up their efforts, specifically in Canada in the Internet of Things, robotics, 5G wireless networks and artificial intelligence.

Channel firms’ vendor satisfaction is fairly high, with 72% of Canadian respondents saying they’ve been either satisfied or very satisfied with their vendors in the last two years.

“The power dynamic has changed rapidly in the cloud world,” April said. “In the old days, resellers aligned with a choice of a few technology partners, and went to market with them as their brand. That has changed rapidly. Customers now do their own procurement, but have no idea what the back end equipment is, unless you sell them stuff on their desk. The result is that you don’t get the ‘I only buy Microsoft’ view today. There are also so many more vendors – so partners can demand quite a bit from the vendors they work with, looking for things like business and marketing training more than  deal registration and stuff like quantity discounts that aren’t as important to partners today. Customers will walk away from partners who don’t give them the most seamless experience, and the same goes for partners walking away from vendors.”

One area illuminated by the report that should be of concern to Canadian partners is cybersecurity. A majority of Canadian partners said they are ahead of the game (8%) or on target with their plans (49%). But a significant number of firms (43%) say they are just beginning to formulate a cybersecurity strategy and portfolio, are behind schedule or are not involved in cybersecurity at all.

“The 8% who said that they were ahead of the game here compared with 23% in the U.S.,” April said. “Those are slightly shocking numbers.”

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