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Michael Vizard  
Setting Priorities: Channel Can Help
By Michael Vizard


Opinion: Business executives and IT managers have different IT priorities, so it is up to solution providers to bridge these differences.


It's always interesting to track the difference in opinion between senior IT executives and business executives in terms of what their priorities are when it comes to IT projects.

That difference in opinion becomes pretty evident when you look at a recent survey of 1,440 Baseline readers. It's pretty clear that new applications that drive the business are top of mind for Baseline readers.

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Specifically, VOIP (voice over IP), CRM (customer relationship management), collaboration, supply chain management, application performance management, business analytics and compliance tracking all made the top 10 list of most important projects by spending for 2006.

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But when you compare this to a survey of CIOs that was done in roughly the same time period by CIO Insight, a slightly different picture emerges, in that there is more emphasis on infrastructure and integration. To get the results of the CIO Insight survey, you need to register here.

But the breakdown of the two surveys generally falls along these lines:

Baseline

1. Voice over IP
2. Outsourcing
3. Data networking
4. Customer Relationship Management
5. Collaboration
6. Supply Chain Management
7. Desktop upgrades
8. Application Performance Management
9. Business Analytics
10. Compliance tracking

CIO Insight

1. Disaster recovery
2. Web services
3. Business Intelligence
4. Data integration
5. Voice-over-IP
6. Content management
7. Corporate portals
8. IT governance/asset management
9. Messaging
10. E-commerce

By comparing the two lists, you not only get a pretty good overview of what's driving IT spending for the coming year, you get to see how the priorities tend to shift when business executives are included in a survey, as opposed to just surveying the leaders of the IT community.

For solution providers, understanding the differences between those two communities is critical to their success, because IT people tend to be conservative when it comes to risk and much more focused on existing infrastructure. Business executives, on the other hand, tend to be much more focused on applications and general business issues.

Channel Insider Special Report: IT Spending in the Channel

Unfortunately for solution providers, business executives don't tend to come to work thinking about how new applications can solve their business problems. Meanwhile, most IT executives come to work thinking about how they can minimize risk, and nothing is more risky to their careers than rolling out new applications.

As a result, the answer they tend to give to any new requirement imposed on them by the business is that they can simply extend what they have today to accomplish the new mission. But as we all know, that ultimately tends to lead to half measures where applications have been bent beyond recognition to accomplish some task they were never really designed to deal with.

Frequently, this leads to frustration with the IT department, which may account for why outsourcing is No. 2 on the Baseline list but appears nowhere on the CIO Insight list.

What all this means for the solution provider is that more often than not it is the only one in the conversation advocating fundamental IT changes, because the business executive only knows what the problem is while the IT executive is advocating a stay-the-course position that more often than not doesn't really solve the business problem.

For vendors trying to sell anything new, that means that the solution provider is actually the single most important advocate in the conversation, because without the provider, business and IT executives will continue to simply talk past each other.

And if that's the case, maybe it's high time that vendors acknowledge the strategic role solution providers play in generating demand, and more importantly, start working hand in glove with solution providers to help generate that demand, as opposed to letting the channel continue to be an afterthought when it comes to marketing to end users.

If we can close that gulf, then the potential to turn the channel into both a marketing and sales engine might finally be realized for the benefit of solution providers and end customers alike.

     
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