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Merry Christmas, and a Happy Near Year!

December 13, 2018


We wish all our Customers across the globe a well-deserved break over the Christmas and New Year Holidays.

channelcentral has had a fantastic year working with all our customers – we truly appreciate your business. We’ve exciting plans for 2019 and will be working hard to advance our capabilities in order to accelerate yours.

Just a reminder that our offices in the UK, US and Colombia will be closed from 25th December 2018, re-opening 2nd January 2019. Our Support Help Desk is open throughout this period and any urgent requests will be managed as usual.

Enjoy the holidays, we look forward to working with you in 2019!

Tim Moyle, CEO

 

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Forrester Global Channels

December 7, 2018

channelcentral is thrilled to be included in Forrester’s Channel Software Tech Stack for 2019. The channel technology stack is a group of technologies that brands leverage to manage and improve their indirect sales processes and partner programs.

We’re delighted Forrester positions channelcentral in the Finance category. It is important to us that the Applications and Data Services we provide make a positive financial impact for our customers. We sit alongside some impressive names including Oracle, SAP and PROs. In addition we feel that we make a significant contribution to Channel Enablement and Data categories in the sector.

Jay McBain: Principal Analyst, Global Channels at Forrester is extremely active in promoting the Channel’s role in helping Manufacturers reach Consumers.

On Jay’s cool infographic there’s lots of information about the 106 Software Companies featured. https://go.forrester.com/blogs/channel-software-tech-stack-2019-infographic/

How does channelcentral compare?

  • We’re one of 14 companies categorized as Finance.
  • At 33 employees we’re below the average of <100 people. There are some very large organizations on the list.
  • We’re one of the 23% of companies NOT headquartered in the US. Nearly a third are in California! So Silicon Valley is alive and kicking.
  • At 11 years old we’re below the average company age of 19 years. However, that number is inflated by three companies that are >100 years old, including one from the nineteenth century.
  • With all original owners in tact we have not been part of any M&A (Mergers and Acquisition) activity.

channelcentral fully respects all of the companies that made Forrester’s list. Some we compete with, others we complement. It’s quite astounding that so many people work to support Channel Business around the Globe. We also value the work of Jay McBain and the team at Forrester.

Forrester comments:

“The channel is growing significantly, and brands need advanced (and integrated) purpose-built tools based on the latest technologies such as cloud, mobility, social, predictive analytics, and big data.”

channelcentral feels well positioned to meet and exceed this requirement – our key strength is our expertise and ability to take complex data sets and provide user friendly tools that provide fast, accurate and relevant product and service quotations for Manufacturers, Resellers and Distributors in the IT Channel. channelcentral services enable companies in the IT Channel to become more efficient, profitable and easier to do business with.

Note: for disclosure channelcentral does not subscribe to Forrester’s services (at time of writing).

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Buying Servers Online UK eCommerce Survey – Reviews

November 21, 2018

In our third Blog featuring ‘Buying Servers Online UK eCommerce Survey’, we’re looking at the coverage and quality of sites that offer Reviews. In a B2C context Reviews offer enormous value to a buyer. Buyers are very interested in Reviews and will often base their ultimate buying decision on them. Buyers are also increasingly aware of Fake Reviews and this can lead to disappointment when products fail to live up to online claims.

When channelcentral reviewed Reseller/Retailer Sites many of them didn’t show Reviews at all, and overall the number of Reviews was quite low. This reflects the B2B nature of Servers, and it was evident that some sites had Reviews as part of the store experience because the breadth of products they offered crossed over into B2C products.

Reviews in Numbers

Only four of our 21 Resellers showed Reviews at all and three out of a possible 25 products were reviewed. With a relatively low number of Reviews on the Servers one thing was very clear: empty review pages gives the user no confidence that the site is ‘fed and watered’.

Which Review Providers?

Clearly when looking at Amazon, their Reviews were native to Amazon. Other Retailers also used a Review function that appeared native to their store. We also saw specialist Review Companies such as Reevoo and Testseek. The benefit of using an independent review service is that data hasn’t necessarily been provided by users of that site, but users of an aggregated service.

Other Observations
A couple of other interesting behaviours:

  • Unusually, one Reseller has used its own staff to review products, and while in a B2C context that would be contentious, in this context it felt reassuring that the Reseller was prepared to share product pros and cons etc.
  • One Reseller showed a popularity rank within Servers which was interesting, but may lead to confusion. A user may be buying the 50th ranked Server because it’s a better fit than the 1st.

Best Practice

If the user experience is not improved by the use of Reviews the advice has to be to suppress them, unless data is present. Reviewing products that you sell is possibly a little tenuous? Server popularity may be confusing, off-putting even (yay I’m buying the 43rd most popular Server!). If one of the data aggregation Review companies has great product coverage in the B2B space: that’s worth investing in. Otherwise leave Reviews to B2C.

There is certainly a gaping opportunity for online sellers in the industry to improve their Reviews features to enhance the purchasing and decision making process for buyers. How to get more buyers to provide useful reviews on products? One suggestion might be to offer incentives for fully completed reviews, perhaps free delivery on the next order.

A well informed buyer is far more likely to be a confident, assured and satisfied buyer. And a satisfied buyer is likely to re-purchase.

 

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Buying Servers Online: UK eCommerce Survey – Software

November 8, 2018

In a recent Blog we featured a survey carried out by channelcentral on Buying Servers Online and promised future Blogs to deliver high level information from the results of the survey.

Here’s a link to that Blog: https://channelcentral.blog/2018/11/05/buying-servers-online-uk-ecommerce-survey/

To set the context most Servers ship with either NO Operating System or possibly a version of Linux such as ClearOS (https://www.clearos.com/). In most cases the Buyer needs to procure an Operating System or Software from Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE and possibly VMware or Citrix to boot the server up. This can come from the Software Vendor although increasingly Reseller Option Kits (ROKs) are available from the Manufacturer of the Server.

Having established the likelihood of requiring an Operating System how easy was it to add an Operating System to a Server System Unit? Not very easily is the answer.

System Units offering Operating Systems as an attach:

We surveyed 126 SKU instances (21 Resellers x 6 SKUs) of which 102 were found. Of the 102:

  • 8 had very strong coverage.
  • 44 had some coverage.
  • 50 had no software offered.

Where/when we saw Operating Systems offered, it was generally Microsoft and then most often ROK Licenses.

Techniques to Display Operating Systems:
There was no standard way to display Operating Systems here are some examples:

  • In the Accessories listing which is where you’d expect it to be.
  • Although Accessories often means cables and small options.
  • In Bundles where the Operating System is included in the System Unit part as a ‘special’.
  • This was incredibly confusing as you’d search a site for a SKU Part Number and get c.5 results all with different Operating Systems and Prices.
  • We also saw stock anomalies where the standard SKU was in stock, the Bundles not in stock.
  • A few Resellers using ‘syndicated content’ via a Microsoft widget that appeared on sites with a small banner advert. It had two tabs: OS and CALs.
  • In theory a good thing but it broke the navigation of the site and was inconsistent with the branding.
  • Resellers placed the link in different places, so it was easy to miss.

Recommendation/Demand Shaping:

This was non-existent. As certain Operating System versions target different parts of the Market and certain Servers do likewise it would seem obvious to hold some form of ‘order of preference’ against the Servers. Alas no. There was little evidence of recommendations or better still “solution” user journeys.

Other Software:

Apart from some of the Management Software ‘utilities”: nothing.

Summary:

To move to “Frictionless” eCommerce there’s some basics that need to be addressed by applications or data to increase Buyer confidence. On the evidence we saw nobody would buy a server via most of the Resellers we surveyed using their Web Store.

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Buying Servers Online: UK eCommerce Survey

November 5, 2018


Nearly 20 years after the .com crash, the cause of which was due (in part) to the hype around eCommerce, you would think it would be relatively easy to buy a Server online from a Reseller or Retailer. Well channelcentral knows the answer as we’ve surveyed 21 online Resellers/Retailers in the UK during October 2018 – a market that is well established with eCommerce.

The Server Market is now consolidated so that there are only three or four vendors of scale who sell via the Channel. We picked the two biggest: HPE and Dell/EMC. Three SKUs each from their stock/promo supply chain ranging from single CPU tower to dual CPU rack. We have expected that Lenovo, Fujitsu would be similar and we weren’t sure whether Cisco sold Servers ex-stock.

In the Survey we looked at a number of basics:

  • Was the System Unit available?
  • Did the Store offer Hardware Options? Software? Services?
  • Were Product Reviews available? Leasing/Finance? Promotions?
  • Did anyone offer CPQ (Configure Price Quote)? channelcentral’s favourite subject.
  • What else was interesting? Any best practices? Any worst practices?

The results were incredibly insightful and so we’ll be releasing the information in the following ways:

  1. Look out for our Blog articles as we feed conclusions into it.
  2. We’ll issue the entire Survey as a White Paper.
  3. For people with tiny attention spans we’ll do an Infographic.
  4. Any Reseller who was in the Survey can get a version of the White Paper with their performance benchmarked against the other 20.

Importantly, channelcentral wasn’t asked to conduct a survey, it’s not sponsored by anyone and our software resides in Distribution. Where we have a potential conflict of interest we happily point it out. In other words we’re 100% impartial.

If your job is selling Server, Software, Services & Accessories/Options, be prepared.

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The (changing) CPQ Landscape

October 30, 2018

Theoretically every company that offers CPQ Applications is in competition with each-other right? Well not necessarily. It’s an emerging market and as such there are lots of niche players: channelcentral is one of them. Our niche is around being expert in Technology products, offering a fully managed service (including portfolio maintenance) and presenting our CPQ Applications and Data in eCommerce environments (less so ERP or CRM platforms) as multi-tenant (for Channel of Franchise deployments). Sales pitch over!

Other niche players may be doing specific vertical markets or graphical configuration experiences or be aligned to specific platforms. Some may be doing commission or reward schemes which have sufficient levels of complexity to warrant a CPQ experience. Still CPQ but very distant from what we currently do.

CPQ has been getting a lot of coverage recently with Forrester and Gartner particularly active. Another reason for the coverage has been the number of large (massive) dollar acquisitions. The larger players have either been acquired by, or have aligned with, large ERP/CRM companies:

  • Steelbrick, now part of Salesforce.
  • Callidus Cloud, now part of SAP.
  • Big Machines, now part of Oracle.
  • Chameleon, part of Pros but aligned with Microsoft (see note below).

Pros CPQ showcased in Microsoft Dynamics Vertical Market Website:
https://enterprise.microsoft.com/en-us/solution/industries/discrete-manufacturing/pros-smart-cpq-solution/

Each of those huge software organizations is striving to improve it’s CPQ capability to compete with the others and differentiate their own products/services. There was plenty of speculation with Apttus and Microsoft but that deal did not come to fruition. Adobe has just acquired Magento that doesn’t own a CPQ vendor, but instead relies on 3rd party extensions (as Salesforce (sort of) used to).

That’s not to say that if you are looking for a solution for, say, Salesforce, you’d only look at Steelbrick but I’m sure over time these applications will become increasingly embedded. Equally some of the CPQ Vendors who are part of large software ERP/CRM vendors may want to retain their platform independence.

Expect more change in this exciting space.

 

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Data! Who Knew?

October 25, 2018

Well Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media did. Way back in the Noughties he came out with this ‘often-quoted’ gem:

“We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software.”

Tim also spoke about the Internet as an Operating System: back in 2010! He has over 2 million Twitter followers; he knows what he’s talking about.

In our experience data has different meanings depending on context: source data for driving CPQ engines, dashboard data for reporting success and ROI, APIs for exchanging data to enrich the user experience etc. That’s where we’ve been but look to the future and new things are possible.

Meanwhile, Data is getting a bad name – specifically:

  • Data Tracking: search for an item on Google and then see banner adverts appear all over the internet, like you’re being stalked.
  • Big Data: people who bought this (mobile phone) eventually bought (cat food) or here’s a perfect job for you based on snippets of macro data.

A lot of conversations we have with customers and prospects focus on ‘user experiences’ and the inevitable ‘feature fests’. More recently though new customers are talking about data services displacing application services. Some organizations don’t want to add another third party application into what can often be a complicated ERP or CRM system. However, they are very interested in the data to drive their own native applications (SAP, NetSuite, Magento, Salesforce).

That’s why we developed our boost! Services: Web Services that deliver data to improve business outcomes.

See how much of Tim O’Reilly’s “Internet Operating System” came true:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/03/state-of-internet-operating-system.html

Learn more about boost! Web Services:
https://channelcentral.net/boost.asp
https://racksimply.com/