Whose side are you on?

Regional systems integrators would prefer a less hands-on approach from vendors

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Whose side are you on? (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  March 21, 2013

The region's systems integrators are keen to build closer relationships with customers, but not always so keen on the strategies and tactics of the vendor partners.

Speaking this month to a number of the leading systems integrators in the region, a picture gradually emerged of a channel setup that is perhaps not all sweetness and light. To varying degrees, almost all of the systems integrators I spoke to, and have spoken to in the past, expressed some dissatisfaction with vendors.

Don’t get me wrong, they are not ‘anti’ vendor as such. They all understand and emphasize the value of certification programs to prove their abilities to customers. They mostly value work done by vendors to educate the end customers on new technologies, and initiatives to develop markets and new solutions. But overall I got a sense that often the SIs would rather the vendors just left them to get on with it.

Naturally, all of the SIs want to establish a close relationship with customers. They would like to be trusted advisors, and to create long term plans with customers. A systems integrator can provide impartial advice as well as any consultant, and will have enough ‘skin in the game’ to encourage ongoing support for the customer. Of course, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Being the partner of choice for a customer can mean many years of lucrative contracts, as opposed to chasing deals on a project by project basis.

Each SI is looking after their own business, and each one has its own skill sets and competencies, often based around particular vendors, but the impression I got was that many SIs feel that they are under pressure to sell just one vendor’s solutions, regardless of customer requirements, and to abandon any ideas of vendor-neutrality or adherence to best of breed ideals.

In part, the end users were a factor in this. Many companies seem to either be swayed by relentless vendor marketing, or sticking to brand loyalty when making IT buying decisions. In a different discussion, with someone fairly new to the region, they had already noted that the strong marketing presence of most of the major vendors in the region would probably make independent decisions and opinions harder to come by. Systems integrators come up against the hard sell when they want to suggest alternatives — although surely they benefit when it’s their vendor partners that are shouting the loudest.

Another issue for systems integrators, and again, seen as an attack on best of breed principles and an affront to their professional impartial expertise, is the vendors ongoing efforts to try and do it all. The one-stop-shop approach is increasingly an issue, as the market contracts to fewer and fewer vendors. SIs are particularly reluctant to ‘sell the stack’ when new solutions have come from acquisitions, and so they find themselves pressured to sell solutions from a vendor that prior to acquisition might have had no presence in the market and little ability to deliver support to the region.

Other issues centred on whether vendors are driven just by quarterly figures and are just after the sale, and fail to deliver once the deal is done. Post-sales support is lacking or expensive, meaning that the SI has to increase their capabilities to deliver support. Obscure licensing and pricing policies are creating situations where the customer either gets a bad deal and a lot of overcapacity and unused features, or a nasty shock when it comes to upgrade and renewals.

Best of breed and vendor neutrality are good principles, and if these principles are being undermined, then maybe the injection of impartial advice into the business would be a good thing, but are the SIs really neutral?

What do you think? Should vendors be more hands-off on marketing and more hands-on for support. Can end user customers not make up their own minds? Do systems integrators have a legitimate complaint? And which one can really serve the best interests of the end customer?

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