Over the past few days I had the pleasure of attending CompTIA’s annual member meeting in Chicago. While the event itself was fantastic and featured some great content, I do have some mixed feelings towards the industry in general that just got reaffirmed and I wanted to share them with you in hopes that it helps put some perspective at what is going on out there beyond the marketing fluff. Good times but lots of food for thought, thanks to all that came out and everyone that said hi!
1. There are significantly fewer delusions of grandeur among the vendors.
Last decade was filled with “the next big thing” and “the game changer” and “thought leader of the emerging change in our industry” and to a great degree the level of complexity and reality has really washed away some of the incredible hype that has been around the IT circle as it went from VAR to MSP to Cloud and beyond. The shameless pimping and self promotion was still rampant (and seemingly welcomed as one presenter showed up more than an hour late to the presentation that was seemingly nothing more than an infomercial for their app. Gotta love it baby, ABP. Always. Be. Pimpin.)….
In my humble opinion, this is a good thing. It takes vendors away from our rehearsed marketing pitches and self infatuation and forces us to answer real questions about the reality of working in IT in 2013 – it’s not about what you want to sell, it’s about what you want to help add seamlessly to the existing technology portfolio… And if you only play well with your own toys that’s pretty much the end of it…… The complexity of the solution portfolio and increased sophistication of the client base makes it harder to push incomplete products and services without a track record and that changes the conversation to focus on delivery and the ecosystem, not on the traditional features and cost.
2. Same questions, same answers, same inaction.
Some people in our industry need to buy a calendar. It is not 1993. It is not 2003. It is 2013. The game has changed. The industry has changed. The business practices and business models have changed. If you are still struggling with the same problems you’ve had back then it’s seriously time to seek employment. I know that sounds harsh but the days of easy money and borderline criminal negligence in technology now carry serious penalties.
Otherwise, it is interesting to watch the same concerns solution providers have voiced in the past make an impact beyond the MSP world. Suddenly the same problems regarding margins, scalability, financing, legal, change of business model and vendor dominance are making their way into the communities dealing with Cloud, Mobile and Unified Communications. The technical ineptitude mixed with lack of business acumen or experience is harder to excuse when the solutions are so dependent on the other technologies and vendors that are changing their product selection and technology on a much rapid scale.
For example, I had a longer conversation (than I wanted to have) with a solution provided who was so concerned about the bandwidth and needing a resource to determine how much bandwidth the client needed.
Arbitrary, right? I explained that this is not something that CompTIA can effectively deliver because multiple vendors use multiple standards and multiple compression protocols and scale their application experience based on bandwidth, latency, etc. Skype alone has over 20 different bit rates. This guy wanted a standardized list – I suggested Googling – to which he again remained hopeful that someone will just do his job for him and completely lost sight of the fact that any technical implementation hinges on client usage, budget, experience needs and fault tolerance. Companies that need real time financial data feeds have a different connection to the Internet compared to the call center or a Starbucks.
How some of our industry peers remain in business with such poor work ethic is simply shocking. Which leads me to point #3..
3. Technology business beyond buzzwords is quite serious.
Shockingly, there are still companies struggling with pricing, transition to the cloud, product expertise and the ability to translate technical innovation into true business value. Yesterday I said the following:
I was encouraged, by multiple friends, to share this with the audience because “people need to hear it” but if there is anything I have learned writing Vladville for nearly a decade is that people do not like facing the harsh reality. They are happier with polished bullshit by a CEO that is only around right before his big event and tries to pretend he cares about this quarters sales figures far more than his clients long term objectives. So I sat there and fumed until I couldn’t take any more.
Honestly, the reality is that the industry is changing much faster than it has ever before. This unfortunately only leaves the playing field open to the participants who are willing to keep an open mind and adjust as the market changes. If the one and only objective is the sales figures and revenues beyond strategic long term value then I see no reason to ever have anyone look beyond Microsoft, Google or Apple as business partners. On the other hand, there are vendor partners who understand the solution provider business and have a long term strategy that lines up – but I’m sure Steve Ballmer will answer the phone or an email when you have a problem so by all means go ahead and save $2 on Office365, I’m sure it won’t have issues. Or maybe Sergey will hop on Google Glass and take care of your billing issues.
4. Can’t someone else do the hard work?
What I kept on hearing and seeing was great research, thoughtful panel discussions, great presentations and overall a lot of valuable content.
However, the interaction with the audience left me with the impression that “we need more.. More research, more training, more industry direction” and to be honest it just all comes down to whining about why someone else isn’t doing enough to help you with your own business challenges. This is as true of CompTIA as it was for Microsoft communities, the value doesn’t come from the body that paid for the muffins and the cheese danishes – it comes from the interactions you have with the community. The amount of resources was overwhelming and if anyone was left seeking more than I really have to say I am envious of their ability to consume so much data so quickly and shame me in the ability to implement it so much faster than we can. Of course, the reality is that these guys are just whining that the information they are getting is not chewed enough for them and that they don’t want to put the effort into taking this information to transform their business. Sorry folks, nobody is going to do your job for you for free – unless they expect to replace you.
5. Don’t confuse nonprofit with charity.
While CompTIA may be moving at a very slow pace compared to the member expectations (or the snail crawl compared to the industry in general), they are remarkably quick to add a Trustmark and an education / certification revenue stream. Oh the shock and horror of a business that wants to make money!
Folks, honestly, if you have a problem with the above you need to realign your expectations and deal with the reality that these are simply communities. It is all about what we can learn from one another and what we can become enlightened on if we keep a open mind. The meeting isn’t about what CompTIA is going to say, it is about what you’re willing to ask of the guy or a girl next to you.
The expectation of CompTIA to set industry standards or affect large scale change is simply ridiculous. The communities and executive councils are not filled with CxO roles of Fortune 500 companies nor do those companies have any vested interest in anything but competition. It’s a completely different DNA and different mission. CompTIA has always been about the education and helping IT companies capitalize on the trends. They do not set them.
As solution providers we need to stop looking to the Wizard of Oz for all the answers, we need to stop chasing the big bright logos because those companies want nothing more of us than a credit card number. In some instances, they’d prefer not to have us involved even to that extent! (Took Microsoft 3 years to figure out how to let partners bill for BPOS)
Most importantly, solution providers need to look to other solution providers be it peers, competitors or vendors who are playing on the same level with the same values. Stop chasing the venture capital backed maniacs that are trying to go public and look for the ones that happen to have things that you find important on their top 10 list. How many times do you have to be hit over the head by the people who only care about your money before you realize that your business is about more than competing with the lowest common denominator?
Seriously, friends partners and competitors alike, like it or not we have to come up with these answers and stop waiting for someone to deliver it to us because by that time the answers will not matter. The good news is that for the most part most of us have figured out major parts of the puzzle and we just have to show interest in putting that puzzle together.
If there is anything you picked up from this weeks CompTIA AMM, I hope it was that we still have the advantage and that all it takes is sitting down in the same room and working together.