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My channel take: Michael O’Hara, DataSolutions

How did O’Hara get to be running the security and digital workplace distributor and what does he think about the current state of the market?

The latest in our series of articles looking at how channel leaders got to where they are today catches up with Michael O’Hara, managing director of DataSolutions.

Operating in the security world and digital workspace has kept the business busy and O’Hara shares his view that there are opportunities for those already working in the channel as well as those considering a career in the industry. Here are his answers to our questions.

What does your role look like today, and how did you get started in the channel?

At DataSolutions, we operate a flat management structure where everyone in the company is treated with respect and we try to give every employee the opportunity to shine, take responsibility for their job and develop to the best of their capabilities. When our team is working at their optimum, our business will, too. My job is to try to ensure we achieve this.

Day to day, I work closely with all of our teams across the business, and regularly engage with our vendors. It’s been great in recent months being able to host events for partners and vendors, too. As a business that prides itself on the personal service we offer, getting back in person has been fantastic.

We have a great management team that works well together and helps drive the business forward. This seems to be working as our staff retention rates are very high and the business has been growing exponentially (30%-plus a year) for the last five years.

We established DataSolutions in 1991, which means we’ve been in business for over 30 years, which makes me very proud. 

What advice do you have for others who want to get started in this sector?

There are two key pieces of advice I give to anyone new starting in this sector:

  • People like to buy from other people who know what they are talking about, so become an expert in your role. If you are an expert, people will want to deal with you and that will make it easier to build relationships, do your job and hit your targets. 
  • Deliver a great service to your customers. Service is key to success, even more so than price. Everyone is so busy today that getting a quality service – at a competitive price – will win more business than being the cheapest and not offering a quality service.

Does your company do anything specific to help people get a career in the channel?

DataSolutions is a specialist distributor that focuses in two areas: cloud and digital workspace, and IT security. As we only focus on these two areas and represent only 14 different vendors, we have become specialists in these technologies. Specialists on the technologies, on the licensing, and on the marketing.

We offer any employee the opportunity to become a specialist too, which I believe will assist them throughout their careers. We offer extensive training and give people an opportunity to upskill themselves. I believe that is what people are looking for and we are happy to offer that as part of working for DataSolutions. 

How do you think the pandemic has changed the priorities for the channel?

When the pandemic first emerged and we went into lockdown for the first time, the channel stepped up and became heroes of sorts in that they helped businesses to continue to trade by very quickly setting them up to work remotely. This worked and we have all now got used to working remotely. Since then, the channel have been going back into their customer sites to “harden” these new environments, making them more robust, user-friendly and secure.

Vendors like Citrix, which offers access to data for remote users working from home, Check Point providing security and HPE Aruba providing the networking infrastructure, have all really shone during this period.

What opportunities does digital transformation present?

For the channel, there are two main opportunities. Firstly, as their corporate customers embark on their digital transformation journeys, they will need advice on the best technologies to use. They will need to purchase these technologies and then need assistance in implementing them.

Secondly, identifying and implementing digital transformation technologies is one thing, but this needs to be done in a secure manner that protects the customer’s infrastructure and business. This is another big opportunity for the channel to get involved in.

Where do you see the channel heading in the next few years?

For me, the biggest development over the next few years will be the move to become more sustainable. Both vendors and end corporates understand the need to act and reduce the scope 3 emissions in their supply chain, and channel partners form part of their supply chain. As a result, every channel business will be under pressure to become more sustainable and achieve at least carbon-neutral status.

The IT industry will continue to grow exponentially for the foreseeable future as more and more corporates digitise their businesses. Indeed, for many companies today, IT is their business. Look at Uber, Ryanair or Paddy Power – these businesses would not be able to operate without their IT infrastructure running smoothly, user-friendly and with the ability to scale as necessary. All this requires great technologies, great services and knowhow.

Also, IT security has now become a crucial business requirement and no business today can ignore investing in the same. All of this represents huge business opportunities for the channel.

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