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Tech Data UK boss navigating through shortages, skills and inflation issues

An insight into what topics are on the mind of David Watts will echo across others in channel leadership positions

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If you are a senior executive operating in the channel, the issues bleeping on the radar will include trying to ease the skills shortages that have plagued the industry for years.

There are steps that can be taken to ease the situation, including training up more staff and bringing in apprentices to keep the flow of fresh talent going. But for the UK boss at Tech Data, it also filters into efforts the distributor is making to improve the diversity of its business.

Dave Watts, managing director for UK and Ireland at Tech Data, lists dealing with the skills shortage as one of the firm’s major macro challenges this year.

“Acquiring the right level of talent and retaining it is very difficult when you are working in next-generation areas, particularly cloud, IoT [internet of things] and security,” he said.

“We’re attacking that [skills challenge] by looking at apprenticeships and [taking on] young people who are not necessarily graduates and putting them through hard levels of training and development. We are also looking at [including] more women in that area and [doing] everything we can to retain them,” he added.

Other macro factors on the radar, but perhaps more outside of the channel’s control, include inflation and hardware shortages. Watts is also keeping an eye on both of those.

“Inflation is on everyone’s mind, and we went to the end of last year with that being a big discussion point. We work in an industry of startups and new resellers and lots of young people coming in to run businesses who are used to working in a close to zero, very low interest rate environment. So how does the channel and [our business] adapt to that? It’s a question for the country as well,” he said.

Watts added that he had hoped he would not be talking about shortages in 2022, but it continues to be an issue the channel must grapple with.

“The impact of that is different in different places. Last year, during the shortages, we grew our PC business, we grew our whitebox business and we grew our infrastructure business, so it’s not chronic, it’s not killing the market, but it means there is a massive backlog of products,” he said.

That backlog could cause delays on enterprise products where components, or alternatives, are not available.

In terms of the micro issues at Tech Data, the merger with Synnex continues to go well and the distributor is in a position to follow its strategy of investing in emerging tech areas that offer higher margins.

“We’re [investing in] solution aggregation, orchestration tooling, and the expertise to support our customers in reducing their costs and transforming their businesses into those next-generation areas,” said Watts. “We want to help our partners grow and be more profitable and strip cost out from them and improve the satisfaction they have for that from customers.”

Despite the shortages and fears of inflation, Tech Data, along with the majority of the UK channel, had a good year in 2021. That momentum should continue because strategies that delivered that growth are still in place.

“We had a good year and I think the IT channel had a good year,” said Watts. “I think the channel will grow again, but it just may not be in the way we’d planned. I think that will be shortages based, but the strategy is consistent.”

Areas of interest and growth this year will include hybrid working, with customers looking for help with infrastructure and collaboration tools, and cloud and security will also generate customer spending.

“We need to help them in a way that’s practical for them. If I look at education investments over the past few years, in terms of supporting [the move] to next-generation technologies, we have things like Practice Builder, where we support people moving into the cloud, and we have a Channel Academy, where we help people get the right certifications. That’s very much solution oriented, outcome oriented. For our partners, this is something different. It’s about how we help them as businesspeople running a business, to support them through a big change,” he said.

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