Social, mobile and cloud. Each is a megatrend on its own. Together, they are a force multiplier for change. Businesses are seeking innovative ways to improve interactions with customers whose online social activities and access to data have made them more empowered and enlightened.
Take retailers. The need to be relevant and available whenever and wherever potential buyers decide to interact with their brands is a matter of survival. That means marketing to shoppers while in the store and out of it, with ads served up on Pinterest, Facebook, Google, review sites, mobile apps and their own sites.
“Today, consumers are communicating with others and getting data about products online before they go to the store,” says Jeff Yelton, vice president and general manager, Advanced Technologies, Ingram Micro. Many people decide what to buy and the price they’ll pay before they enter a store. They happily use their smartphones to comparison shop while in the aisles. “If the retailer is not contextually aware of consumers’ behavior and able to deliver data at any point of their interaction with the brand, it has a chance of losing customers,” he says.
A Big Bang for Everyone
Retailers aren’t the only ones dealing with the accelerating pace of change brought on by the confluence of social, mobile and cloud. It’s also a force in healthcare, consumer products, financials, manufacturing and many other sectors.
To help clients across those industries meet these challenges, channel partners first must reimagine their own business models. It is imperative to move beyond technology infrastructure expertise to help customers gather and analyze data, which will then drive insights that can inform real- or near-real-time customer interactions.
To remain their clients’ trusted advisors, solution providers now must be adept at bringing together and securely analyzing data from a wealth of internal and external sources, such as social media, geospatial information and public information.
From there, they must push to provide predictive, applied and operational analytics, and feed that analysis back to customers via dashboards, visualizations and other services that make it simple to immediately understand and capitalize on trends.
“True value now comes from being able to take data generated from all different places—a store, mobile, web, beacons, sensors, supply chain or manufacturers,” says Yelton. “And then bring it all together, perform analytics on it, and then present it back to the customer for actions they can take that gives tangible ROI to their businesses.”
Build a Bridge to Success
It’s a tall order for any solution provider to become expert in all these areas. Fortunately, that’s not necessary. Once solution providers determine where it makes sense to build up their in-house resources, they can fill in the gaps with strategic and trusted partner relationships from other solution providers and Ingram Micro.
What’s the risk of not developing new expertise where you can and taking advantage of partnerships when you can’t? “You lose control of the narrative with your customers,” cautions Yelton. That opens the door for another party to come in and take control of the vision for your customers’ future success—a partner that understands how to get your clients’ attention by explaining critical issues, such as how to use data analytics and information security to grow and protect their businesses.
Ultimately, unless you embrace the new world, your ability to continue doing for your clients what you have always done—providing point-of-sale and data capture devices, for instance—will be threatened. The solution provider that can offer the highest strategic value can easily home in on that business, too.
Supercharge Your Success
Yelton offers sage advice for solution providers eager to move up the value chain: Start with managed services. This is a multiyear journey, and for many solution providers, it’s smart to first take on the role of managed service provider for their customers. It provides the opportunity to get familiar with clients’ day-to-day operations and the data flow of their business processes. That knowledge is sure to help build an understanding of what a client’s needs really are and what data will be useful to leverage for analytics.
Solution providers should start with operational analytics, advises Yelton. In the retail sector, for instance, a good place to begin is by using sensor-equipped cameras to determine how people move through a store and where they spend the most time. Then as you gain experience, you can move into the more advanced realms of applied and predictive analytics.
Another way for solution providers to show their customers that they will be adept partners in this new world is to engage in discussion on data governance. “Who owns the data to be used for analysis, who has access to it, and who retains the rights to resulting derivative works is a huge issue that is just starting to hit the forefront for most partners, and most companies haven’t thought it through that far themselves yet,” says Yelton.
Partner with Ingram Micro
Ingram Micro is ready to help solution providers thrive, offering education, training, technical expertise and tools designed for all stages of the journey toward data-centric, network-centric business. “Whether you are a solution provider that operates on the edge of the network or in the network, Ingram Micro can help you expand your business up or down the solution value chain,” he says.
Ingram Micro’s Trust X Alliance (formerly the Ingram Micro Venture Tech Network) is a great forum for solution providers who want to bring partners into client engagements to offer services such as analytics and data visualization, without fear of customer land-grabs. All members of Trust X Alliance sign a rules-of-engagement contract that protects other members’ relationships with their own customers.
It’s no easy thing for solution providers to help customers in such a rapidly evolving digital business environment. But it is critical to get prepared now. “The level of everyone’s game has to step up a notch,” says Yelton.