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Collaboration will be the key to driving innovation

Resellers looking for growth across the rest of this year would be wise to concentrate on collaboration, says Gavin Jones, channel sales director, BT Wholesale

We are living in the midst of a digital revolution in which emerging technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and volumetric video regularly come up in business conversations – and not just when discussing the future.

It is often the nimble startups that are best positioned to enter these uncharted territories, but larger, more established players have the capacity to support these newcomers’ innovation and offer expertise where required. As such, genuine partnerships, where organisations of all sizes collaborate, inspires success for all.

It is incredible to think that it has been over a year since the UK went into its first lockdown. In that time, trust, speed and the ability to adapt have proved more important than ever and the demands of coping with the pandemic have had an impact on the dynamic of many commercial relationships.  

The phrase “strategic partnership” has long been at risk of becoming just another example of corporate jargon. But changes brought about by the pandemic may mean its true definition will become clear during 2021.

Traditionally, price has always been a key driver when it comes to procurement – but the coronavirus has altered that. Today, traits such as financial credibility, sustainability, speed and flexibility are becoming increasingly attractive for both channel partners and vendors instead.

On the flipside, rather than looking for a purely transactional arrangement, suppliers now want to ensure the relationship is reciprocated, and that it adds value to their business in more than just monetary terms.

Ultimately, as many channel partners will have found for themselves over the past 12 months, when faced with a changing environment, businesses know it is invaluable to be able to ask their suppliers to support a pause of contract, scale up or down as required, or quickly deliver a new service. Frankly, the usual service-level agreements and protections simply don’t fit what is needed in the current unusual circumstances.

Collaboration, based on a common understanding, is therefore key, as the recent 5G Edge-XR project demonstrates.

Stuff of make-believe

Led by BT Applied Research, 5G Edge-XR is a diverse consortium of six specialist companies engaged in what, until recently, would have been the stuff of make-believe.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate how 5G networks, coupled with cloud graphics processing units, can allow people to view immersive sporting events from any angle and across a broad range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets and TVs.

Take volumetric video for example, a new technology similar to a holographic representation, but with the ability to live stream real events with uncharted processing power and barely any latency time. In the future, this could mean possibly enabling broadcasters to create a 3D sporting event on a viewer’s coffee table or the floor of their living room.

Bringing together a host of creatives, technologists and systems designers, the project demonstrates how digital transformation enables fundamental change to the way a business or industry operates. Not all industries are transforming in such big ways, but what is becoming increasingly evident, due to the pace of technology and ease of access to such advanced technologies, is that it will affect almost everything we do moving forward.

If a channel partner isn’t working with companies that provide innovation, they could be missing a trick.

It is likely, of course, that none of the 5G Edge-XR would be possible without all these specialist companies working in collaboration and pooling their shared expertise toward the common goal of bringing these innovative emergent technologies to the viewing public.

Mutual benefits

There is a place for bigger, more financially stable companies to provide a platform to small and medium startups and channel partners. Indeed, in return for their expertise, these larger companies get to work with, and learn from, more nimble, cutting-edge companies.

By engaging on a senior level and communicating on different topics – especially those in which one party has more knowledge than the other – everyone will benefit from the relationship. A genuine partnership, which maximises the expertise of both startup and larger organisation, will enable each to identify just where the innovation lies – and capitalise on the opportunity for mutual benefit.

The 5G Edge-XR project is proof that genuine partnerships can be done and done well. For example, the 5G infrastructure provided by BT, coupled with the specialised technical and creative knowledge of its collaborators, has dramatically increased the speed at which innovation takes place.

Ultimately, the future is now. Every business is thinking about digital transformation on some level and how they can use and exploit new technologies to optimise their operations and maintain market relevance. As such, channel partners and vendors alike must harness the power of every partnership they make and capitalise on this.

In the “new normal”, it is important for channel organisations to realise that what matters now is attitudes towards each other and their commitment to finding the innovation in their relationship.

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