I know I have been guilty of this in the past: dividing the technology universe into three oversimplified buckets of vendors, channel partners and end-user customers.
I never identify an end-user organization—the ultimate stop on the technology bus—as just a customer because in my mind, the channel of VARs, integrators, VADs and solution providers are "customers" to the vendor.
So there you have my three vast, and broad, buckets. Unfortunately, what I usually fail to recognize is that vendor partners are also businesses themselves—and therefore users of technology that need solutions from the channel just as the financial, health care, manufacturing, or whatever, vertical does.
This point came to the forefront of my mind last week when I visited the New York offices of Computer Generated Solutions and met with Senior Vice President of Technology Solutions and Training Michael Wilding.
You see, Wilding told me he also carves his companys business into three buckets: application development, customer support and technology solutions. In my view, CGS is a great example of a channel company taking the high road and specializing in high-value, high-margin sophisticated services.
The application development business at CGS centers around its own ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution—"Blue Cherry"—aimed at the apparel industry. Its customer support business offers outsourcing help desk functions and call center management, primarily in North America, which is a big plus. And last, but certainly not least, its technology solutions business specializes in IT consulting and integration services as well as staff augmentation.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this third area is the work CGS does for the vendor community in building portals for their channel-enabling programs, as it has done for IBM, Avaya and Red Hat. This is a pure case where CGS has become a true business partner with its vendors, and now some of its vendors are the companys best customers as well.
Wilding showed me the channel portal his company built for IBMs partners, with the mission to provide value to the VARs themselves. Its an area for IBMs business partners where they can go for sales, marketing and technical information built around each IBM software product category. The site is highly customizable and can provide the right information based on your interest: be it sales and marketing-focused or of a more technical nature.
CGS even manages the portal for IBM. It places an emphasis on "e-support" to answer questions in real time, although, when all else fails, there is a support telephone number that CGS mans.
Some of the more interesting pieces of the portal are its "How Do I" features. These offer channel partners detailed information on how to download and integrate any particular software. This can be done on-site at a customers business, which is a huge help to VARs in the field.
"We bring learning, content and support in a portal to these vendors," Wilding said.
This concept has huge growth potential to companies even outside of technology, and that fact is not lost on CGS.
"There are a number of big companies that can make better use of their channel," said Doug Stephen, vice president of CGS. "One of our biggest growth areas is in the enterprise leveraging our expertise and developing portals."
And guess what? You dont need a warehouse full of obsolescent PCs and servers to offer such value to your customers. To me, what CGS is doing is the epitome of the solution provider business model.
Elliot Markowitz is editor at large of Channel Insider. He is also editorial director of Ziff Davis eSeminars. He can be reached at email@example.com.