Why innovation will play an even bigger role for channel businesses in 2022

Written by Peter Olive, CEO, Vortex 6

In 2021, IT channel businesses are “cautiously optimistic” about what the future holds, according to the latest research from CompTIA, which has released its ‘State of the Channel 2021‘ report, surveying over 800 global IT channel professionals during the second quarter.


The channel is rapidly changing


Respondents to the survey believe that the channel is still very relevant but there was divided opinion around its health, with 46% saying that it is holding steady, while 44% said it is rapidly changing.  After the last 18 months this is not surprising as digital transformation initiatives have accelerated and changed the way we operate. Consultancy McKinsey calculated that digital transformation programmes accelerated by the equivalent of seven years in just a few months. This has fuelled new business models and, for many, a new hybrid way of working.  Additionally, this digitalisation is forcing businesses of all shapes and sizes to act faster, work smarter and embrace change.


Now, as leaders look ahead, it’s clear the channel must collaborate and innovate more so that it can offer end-users a competitive edge and the tools that empower organisations to improve their business. But it is more than that; businesses must adapt and evolve. Part of this journey involves embracing new technologies, but as we’ve seen in our industry time and time again, the trickiest part is often creating a company culture that welcomes change and allows innovation to thrive. That said, innovation is so much more than technology – it is about people – and never has stimulating employees to approach problems creatively and giving them time to do this been more important.  So, getting our people to challenge old paradigms is vital. For example, having a meeting with just a high-level agenda that describes the outcome you are looking to achieve is a great tactic to ignite the creativity that Zoom-life has stifled over the past 18 months. As a leader in a business, I realise that there is a balance between being a motivator and driver and also at times letting others lead the way and encouraging them to come up with ideas independently. It is difficult to balance and sometimes hard to achieve, particularly when they may feel overwhelmed by their day-to-day tasks. Allowing employees the space and time to be innovative will be of long-term benefit to your organisation.


The recent challenges have underlined the importance of innovation


The challenges we have all had to deal with over the past 18 months have underlined the importance of innovation and – no matter whether conceptually ‘innovation’ seems a lofty but ephemeral goal – it is likely to become a fundamental cornerstone of our lives as we move forward. And as digitalisation continues to accelerate, market trends will continue to shift, and new business models will emerge. Again, according to McKinsey, prioritising innovation today is the ultimate key to unlocking growth. And it’s no wonder, almost 90 percent of executives believe that the crisis we have endured will fundamentally change the way we do business in the next five years, and it stands to reason that companies that embrace creativity and innovation are the ones most likely to succeed.

This will require channel organisations to embrace a different mindset to adapt to customers’ evolving needs. We need to translate solutions into something that addresses the problem customers are trying to solve. Vendors and partners alike need to listen to their customers and develop customer-focused innovation.  Delivering value-creating innovation is the eternal quest and challenge for the industry.  But innovation does not exist in a vacuum — innovation begins and evolves with the customer. The channel needs to be continually understanding where customers and markets are heading, and the possibilities of technology, and then creatively solving both existing and future requirements.


Turning innovation into tangible business outcomes


It might seem logical to look outside of your business for that innovative spark, but a study referenced by Forbes concluded that the most successful innovations in the last few decades were actually invented by existing employees. However, those employees need the scope and freedom to see their ideas through. Many respondents said turning innovative ideas into tangible business outcomes is one of the biggest roadblocks faced by their organisation, often because of lack of time as they get bogged down in the ‘business as usual’ initiatives.  Additionally, organisations that have less-established innovation programmes tend to view innovation as a route to improve existing processes and services, while companies with more mature innovation programmes generally look to innovation to help create long term value, new business models, improve culture and employee retention, and gain a competitive advantage. Organisations with a more strategic focus on adjacent and transformational innovation plans are significantly more likely to implement projects than those that take on projects only as a need arises. Ultimately, driving innovation is predominantly a challenge of changing corporate culture so that innovation is at the centre, rather than a by-product of existing business challenges.


Back to the channel and how it can innovate, our focus here at Vortex 6 is centred around how we can help partners optimise their relationships with vendors. We play an integral role in enabling channel partners to maximise on their relationships with vendors so that they can move from being reactive to proactive and improve their competitiveness. This is important because, by helping them to focus on their core competencies and their customer experiences, we can free up that all-important time to enable employees to innovate by better understanding what their customers need, and this in turn will help them grow their channel business.


Nearly all innovation comes from an idea generated by listening to a customer’s problem and solving it.


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