Mar 102012
with social media and cloud computing business shouldn't close on the web

“We do the pre-sales work then they come along and steal the customers. It’s wrong, just wrong” growled the sales manager of an IT integrator while talking about one of the leading cloud computing services.

The business model of systems integrators is to be a company’s, or home’s, trusted advisor on IT and make money from charging for their services and the profit in selling software and equipment.

In the last few years that model has become tough – the collapsing price of hardware has made the profits on selling systems leaner while the increased life of systems has meant the big lucrative upgrades have become scarcer.

At the same time services have become less lucrative as more participants have entered the market, many using offshored cheap labour to provide remote support. It hasn’t helped that computers have become vastly more reliable, particularly since Microsoft have largely solved Windows’ gaping security holes.

The icing on the cake has been the end of boxed software and corporate licenses. These were extremely profitable for the systems integrator – a big sale of Microsoft Office or Oracle licenses to a government department could see an IT salesperson pay for a holiday home or cover the kids’ school and college fees.

Cloud computing has largely been the driver of all of these factors’ decline and now it is really hurting those integrators and their salesfolk who were used to a very profitable existence.

While that’s good news for computer consumers – and even better news for hapless shareholder and taxpayers who’ve been largely dudded by big IT sales pitches to gullible directors and ministers – it does beg the question of how customers now get advice and support.

Largely cloud based services rely upon customer self service and many of the providers would struggle to include user support in their list of core competencies.

There’s a business model there for systems integrators, but it’s difficult to see how many those used to fat profits in the past can, or will, adapt to the new environment.

An interesting side effect of this change is how it affects companies like Microsoft where their channel partners – largely those big and small systems integrators – are one of the most important distribution networks for their products and probably their best defense against competitors like Google and Apple. That strength is being steadily eroded.

It’s tempting to think that change affects just “old” industries like retail, publishing or car manufacturing; in reality it affects all sectors and sometimes the most modern might be hurt more than the established players.

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