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Distribution – the new queen of reinvention

The IT world is all too aware of the increasing speed of reinvention, says Jonathan Wagstaff, Exertis Group, business intelligence manager

We are just a short time into the new year and extraordinary political stories are already appearing in the press – scoops which a decade ago would have been considered highly unusual, but which are now the norm.

The UK Prime Minister’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, posted an unorthodox notice to his blog inviting applicants to join a new crack unit, or Red Team, within the highest level of government, with his first request being résumés for data scientists, followed further down the list by “super-talented weirdos”.

It would seem the stock of those of us toiling in the data industry has never been higher – although I have mixed feelings about being classified in the latter bucket!

Cummings’ post should come as no surprise given the much-discussed use of data science by his team during the UK Brexit referendum, and his praise of data-driven governance elsewhere in his blog. It has also been reported that Cummings instructed government aides to spend time over the holidays reading Andrew Grove’s High output management, the legendary Intel exec and pioneer of Silicon Valley’s guide for middle managers which highlights the need for measurable processes within large enterprises.

Cummings repeatedly writes of the importance of talent (and sometimes lack thereof in politics) in his blog, quoting fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd: “People, ideas, machines – in that order.”

Without diving too deeply into his esoteric self-publishing, Cummings’ vision for government is data-driven, using methods learned and perfected in successful high-performance boardrooms and command centres, and the cutting-edge scientific activities of digital, born in the cloud players, ultimately led by very talented people.

The need for constant reinvention

The fast-evolving nature of the ICT industry has created a pressing need for constant self-reinvention, such as Grove’s repositioning of Intel from memory chips to microprocessors in the 1980s, or the recent growth of digital services, both B2B and consumer-focused, with these touted as a key theme at January’s CES 2020.

The consumer landscape has been irrevocably changed by digital transformation, forcing the incumbent old guard of the high street to invest in omni-channel offerings, with notable casualties in the past few years and more expected this year.

As a lynchpin of technology supply chains, ICT distribution has seen similar levels of disruption in past decades. A report commissioned by the Global Technology Distribution Council (GTDC) charts the evolution of distribution, from the pick/pack/ship focus of the 1980s (still a core offering for many), to the growth of solutions and value-added distribution in the 1990s, to the digital era of cloud/anything as a service (XaaS) and machine learning/artificial intelligence from 2018 and beyond. This latter trend is frequently summed up crudely by the maxim: Get big, get specialist, or get out.

Sought-after distribution capabilities

For those distributors which have weathered the storms of consolidation and margin erosion, operational excellence – usually supported by world-class software, platforms and data analytics – alongside solution selling, has become key to success.

Many investors are recognising the digitally led operational capabilities of distributors, with Warren Buffett reportedly bidding against Apollo Global Management in the recent deal for the world’s second-largest distributor, Tech Data.

It is no surprise that a successful modern distributor will be known for its capabilities; on a day-to-day basis we at Exertis/DCC Technology will manage portfolios of products across a massive breadth of categories, technologies and geographies, providing scores of services, both upstream and downstream, in large volumes and as parts of complex long-term projects.

Each of these sets of offerings is structured around a pillar of core specialisms powered by people who are experts in their unique field and local markets: contrary to belief, it is possible to be both big and specialist. Within our Pro AV pillar, for example, the various teams can help resellers build solutions that require expertise across different technologies – audiovisual, unified communications and networking – as well as providing a range of services to support the design, deployment and maintenance. With our supply chain services, these solutions can be deployed anywhere to support international roll-outs.

Valued offerings

In the aforementioned GTDC report, a survey of members across distribution, manufacturers, venture capitalists and systems integrators looked at the most valued offerings of distribution, with “partner enablement” being ranked at number one.

So long as there is complexity in bringing ICT products to market, distribution will have a place in enabling the channel and will reinvent itself to meet its challenges at a pace not seen outside of pop music.

Governments looking for models of data-driven, people-powered, operational excellence could do worse than to inspect under the bonnet of a major multi-specialist ICT distributor.

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