With light finally at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to give serious consideration to the long-term implications for the many reseller and integration business that make up the AV / IT sector. AV News assesses some of the leading opportunities and recommends a Top 10 of those worthy of further thought.
At the very and of last year, Exertis trailed a host of new channel opportunities stemming from the cloud. “Strong digital and value-add capabilities are vital for businesses to thrive. The Channel has a critical role in the continuing acceleration of digital transformation” heralded a press release by the distributor in December 2020.
By way of evidence, Exertis referred to Gartner, which spoke of a CIO reaction around ‘respond, recover, renew’. The market researchers identified “potential for enterprise spending to pick up again as postponed projects restart”, “Business models and IT will need to be adjusted to the new reality”, and “digital transformation, automation and Edge solutions will continue to be huge opportunities”.
Of course. there’s an element of “they would say that, wouldn’t they”, but it is undeniable that Covid is likely to continue to disrupt, and that the channel continues to benefit from supporting 2020’s societal and business changes into 2021.
Back in December, Jonathan Wagstaff, business intelligence manager for the Exertis Group, put forward his views on the trends that will shape the channel in 2021 and beyond. Digital transformation and automation continue to be huge opportunities, Wagstaff says: “These will be the key drivers alongside the growth of Edge solutions that will support the expected IoT systems, vehicles and devices dependent upon them. Unlike centralised cloud provision, Edge needs the channel to push out rather than pull back in, so to speak.”
“Now, more than ever, channel businesses without strong digital and value-add capabilities will be at a disadvantage,” Wagstaff continues. “Like any industry we are at the mercy of macroeconomic trends, but a situation where vendors and customers struggle with complexity in the supply chain is going to be beneficial to those organisations who specialise in navigating such complexities.”
In terms of the focuses and capabilities of different sized companies, there’s still evidence of pent-up demand for devices for some verticals, he says. “However, there’s an expectation that enterprise spending will pick up again in 2021 as postponed projects start to restart. We also expect the acceleration of digital transformation to continue; here the channel has a critical role. The largest organisations will likely be further down the road of cloud migration. However, small and medium-sized businesses are still going to need the channel, particularly in countries where cloud adoption is lagging.”
Gartner’ report of CIO reaction around “respond, recover, renew” can be expanded as follows: ‘Respond’ was about keeping essential functions operating (issuing WFH equipment), ‘recover’ is about stabilisation – which is where many businesses are now. What will be very interesting to see, will be the renewal cycle where business models and IT will need to be adjusted to the new reality.” This includes a solidifying of working from home practices, he says, “along with business’s networking/device/cloud requirements, and an examination of digital capabilities with the huge and transformational shift online we’ve seen over the last year.
Clearly the rush to supply devices was going to be a largely 2020 phenomenon, but we still expect the channel to benefit from supporting these societal and business changes long into 2021.”
Research conducted by channel technology firms Giacom, Digital Wholesale Solutions (DWS) and Union Street across 200 small business leaders reveals as a consequence of the pandemic on the economy.
The research points out that UK businesses expect to increase their IT spend in 2021 as they look to improve operational efficiency and access more markets to give them a competitive advantage. But they admit can’t do this alone, and 37% say the most helpful thing a technology supplier can do for them is assist with making the right investments in technology. This presents a key opportunity for channel partners to become trusted advisors to customers, as they support them with remote working and digital transformation needs.
During the first lockdown, businesses rushed to put temporary fixes in place to get employees working from home. Now, awake to the fact that this change in the way everyone works is here to stay, many SMBs recognise a need to invest in remote working long term. Therefore, research respondents provided four clear and immediate priorities related to remote working requirements; all of which the channel can support by aligning with a proven partner.
Giacom argues that there are a number of priorities identified in the survey where resellers can plqy a role:
- Making collaboration work for the long term – Most small businesses have now deployed either Zoom, for more consumer use, or Teams, for business use. They need help to understand what will work for the long term; which is excellent to use and secure; all while creating a platform to do more.
- Fixing home broadband – More than 40% of businesses are reporting problems with staff working at home, caused by poor networks. Over 60% say they are ready to invest to give their teams business-grade, secure connectivity at home.
- Deploying a cloud or hosted telephone system – Many small businesses have run their businesses in lockdown by diverting their landline to their mobile. Fixing this for the long term couldn’t be more straightforward, affordable and beneficial, helping to manage inbound calls on an all-in-one communication solution.
- Joining together collaboration and communications – They want to connect their systems so as not to silo customers and staff. Offering Voice Solutions allows partners to add a new revenue stream to their business, tapping into the multibillion-pound UK telephony market.
In addition, the research points out that 94% of business leaders recognise that further adaptations are required to support working from home. Once small businesses have sorted out their pressing remote working priorities, they need to figure out how to drive digital technology across their whole business, to improve the way they do everything for the long term. This means there is an incredible technology opportunity for the channel to help with:
- Storage in the cloud – Businesses now realise the liberation and flexibility they get when everything lives in the cloud and everything is connected to everything else.
- Fibre and 5G – Businesses need a super-fast network to make this work, at home, on the move and in hubs, and with 5G and fibre rolling out fast, they will invest to get the best.
- Security – Built into everything they use so they don’t need to worry about it.
- Mobile and Microsoft 365 – Putting all those apps into the palm of everyone’s hand.
- Automation – Going systematically through the business and automating workflows – from filling in forms to ordering and ecommerce to HR processes
Steve Law, Chief Technology Officer, Giacom said: “At DWS, Giacom and Union Street, we are encouraging channel partners to embrace this need for flexible working solutions, offering a comprehensive suite of products to address the needs of the home worker, from VoIP to collaboration apps, not to mention the underlying connectivity that supports it all.
“Although many resellers and integrators are already making the most of the convergence opportunity, those not yet selling both IT and comms solutions are missing out. By offering a portfolio of digital products and services that work together, the channel can capitalise on the remote working environment and help customers unlock hidden revenue with new technologies.”
Exertis Cloud has launched its Smarter SaaS service, the software asset management tool, in partnership with The Business Software Centre (TBSC). Smarter SaaS for Microsoft 365 is a cloud-based Software Asset Management solution that optimises M365 subscriptions. This service automatically recommends ways of managing IT costs while finding the optimal Microsoft 365 subscriptions for each user.
The Exertis branded dashboard solution will enable users to recognise and manage the key factors for optimisation. These factors may include lapsed users, non-allocated applications, changing adoption rates, facilitating staff training on M365 applications, licensing compliance, and ensuring users are on the right M365 subscription.
Phil Hames, Managing Director at TBSC says, “We are really excited about our partnership with Exertis Cloud. Everyone in the team has a can-do attitude and impresses us with their customer service. Our products and services will help drive new opportunities for Exertis Cloud and their customers.”
Rik Hubbard, Cloud Services Director, Exertis Cloud adds, “Exertis Cloud is excited to announce that we will be offering Smarter SaaS 365 to all partners who register for a cloud account and transition their existing business before the end of March – free of charge for the first 12 months of the relationship. Smarter SaaS 365 is a best-in-class business intelligence tool that enables cloud resellers to gain valuable insight into the way their customers are using the Microsoft licences. This enables resellers to proactively help customers to maximise their return on investment. We are delighted to be able to offer our partners a service that enables them to identify additional opportunities to enhance their customers’ use of Microsoft 365”.
Exertis Cloud launched in October 2020 and is one part of Exertis’ ambitious digital strategy, which focuses on customer experience, innovative marketing and data-focused digital services to drive trade, as well as the expansion of digital services across the organisation.
“70% are feeling overwhelmingly positive about the prospects for their businesses moving forwards.” Additionally, 67% are confident in their company’s growth prospects throughout 2021. This survey comes after a challenging previous 12-months for many UK businesses.” The combination of virtualised industry standard hardware with cloud sourced software enables resellers and integrators to deploy solutions rapidly and at realistic costs for customers pursuing digital transformation as their businesses follow the new normal.
The combination of virtualised industry standard hardware with cloud sourced software enables resellers and integrators to deploy solutions rapidly and at realistic costs.
Post Covid opportunities for resellers
In addition to commonplace applications, the cloud is playing a leading role in developing the market for a range of technologies and services. The range runs from the generic, including security for which there is an almost universal requirement, to the niche, such The combination of virtualised industry standard hardware with cloud sourced software enables resellers and integrators to deploy solutions rapidly and at realistic costs VR applications.
From the start of the pandemic, the way business is conducted has changed permanently, with many workforces wanting to continue to work remotely as lockdowns and restrictions ease over time. So, as companies relax and rules are eased, life is expected to return to a form of ‘new normal.’ But the issues around cybersecurity are here to stay, and the gas pedal must not be eased – especially with the increased risks associated with continued remote working. Research by the National Cyber Security Centre shows that there has been a rise in COVID-19 related cyber-attacks over the past year, with more than one in four UK hacks being related to the pandemic. This trend is not likely to ease up any time soon either. And, going forward, hackers could take advantage of excited travellers waiting to book their next holiday once the travel ban is lifted, deploying fake travel websites, for example.
Cybersecurity is not a one-stop-shop. A full trilogy of solutions is required to ensure maximum effect. This includes a layered combination of DNS networking, secure endpoint connections, and an educated and empowered human workforce. The need for DNS security cannot be ignored, especially with the rise of remote workforces, in order to monitor and manage internet access policies, as well as reduce malware. DNS is frequently targeted by bad actors, and so DNS-layer protection is now increasingly regarded as an essential security control – providing an added layer of protection between a user and the internet by blocking malicious websites and filtering out unwanted material.
Similarly, endpoint protection solutions prevent file-based malware, detect and block malicious internal and external activity, and respond to security alerts in real-time. Webroot Business Endpoint Protection, for example, harnesses the power of cloud computing and real-time machine learning to monitor and adapt individual endpoint defences to the unique threats that users face.
It is something of a cliché to say that collaborative technology advanced more in the first six months of 2020 than in the previous six years. The advance is far from over – there is still increasing demand for collaborative spaces of all sizes. Designing a complete workflow may incorporate an extensive portfolio of AV and UC vendors, catering for three sizes of meeting spaces, from huddle rooms, meeting rooms and board rooms.
These can be configured as Microsoft Teams Rooms, Zoom Rooms. Google Hangouts Suites and various other software partnerships.
Greg Bennett, head of Exertis Pro AV, said, “There is an increasing demand for companies to provide more collaborative spaces of all sizes for their employees and we want to make it as easy as possible for our resellers to provide a complete solution with a choice of market leading products. We’ve recently combined our UC team into our Pro AV division enabling a complete offering for our customers. We have the solutions, portfolio, resource, facilities and technical support ready to help our customers take advantage of the market opportunity.”
According to analysts Futuresource, there are 5.3 million meeting rooms in Western Europe. By 2023, 73 per cent of video-conferencing meetings will happen in huddle rooms according to Frost & Sullivan. there is still some way to go.
- New realities
Grand View Research quantified the global virtual reality market size at USD 15.81 billion in 2020 and the market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.0% from 2021 to 2028. Virtual Reality (VR) is a digitally created experience where a three-dimensional environment is simulated with the real-world. The technology offers an immersive experience to the viewers with the help of VR devices, such as headsets or glasses, gloves, and bodysuits. The technology has brought a transformation in the gaming and entertainment industries by allowing users to experience immersion in a highly virtual realm. In addition, the increasing usage of this technology in instructive training, such as for training mechanics, engineers, pilots, soldiers in defence, field workers, and technicians, in the oil & gas and manufacturing sectors is driving the market growth.
Besides providing training and fulfilling educational purposes, the technology is widely accepted across industries for various other purposes. For instance, in the automotive industry, it allows engineers to experiment with the design and structure of a vehicle at the concept stage before initiating expensive prototypes of the vehicle. The technology is also being used to provide treatments to patients with mental health challenges with the help of VR exposure therapy. Moreover, the tourism industry allows potential customers to go on a virtual tour of landmarks, famous locations, restaurants, and hotels with the use of VR technology. Thus, the rising adoption of VR across several industries for various applications is fuelling the growth of the market.
The Covid-19 outbreak affected various business’ functioning due to temporary shutdowns of several industries and lockdowns imposed across various regions. However, VR technology has experienced a surge in demand during the pandemic due to the necessity of companies to continue their business operations virtually. Companies have shifted to virtual platforms for attending meetups to formulate various policies and strategies for their ongoing business. It is also emerging as a very promising technology for virtual events as it assists in event planning. Event organizers deliver engaging and plentiful event experiences to individual attendees by hosting the event on a virtual platform and deploying it as a VR experience. Hence, the increasing adoption of virtual events is contributing to the market growth.
VR technology has witnessed substantial opportunities in the entertainment and sports industry. Gaming, location-based entertainment, theatres, and music are expected to witness the benefits of VR technology. For instance, an amusement park in Germany called Europa-Park has deployed VR rollercoasters, Eurostat Coastality, attracting riders to explore the world based on the film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. In 2018, China opened the VR Star Theme Park that hosts more than forty VR-focused rides. The growing attraction toward VR-based entertainment is expected to drive market growth.
- Marketing and promotion
Accessing markets for new technologies and applications is an increasingly collaborative endeavour with support from distributors and manufacturers for their channels. For example, resellers can take advantage of ready-made marketing campaigns, following successful trials. Tools available through distribution range from tried-and-tested email formats, e-shots and full web sites or microsites. Rob Fitzsimons, Exertis, head of UK marketing, said, “This is a low cost, highly efficient way for our resellers to generate leads for their business. We have received great support from our vendors, enabling us to prepare a number of compelling messages, offers and promotions that our resellers can choose to take advantage of to generate their own marketing campaigns. Our aim is to provide a constant flow of high-quality content which can be simply deployed by our customers and targeted at their end users.”
Each managed campaign consists of an e-shot and a landing page which can be fully personalised with the reseller branding. Resellers obtain a full preview of the campaign and can opt for which campaign they wish to run and receive click through and open rate reporting. Exertis already has over 100 resellers using the system and has successfully run a number of campaigns featuring an array of leading vendors, with click through rates in excess of 5%, almost twice the industry average₁.
Themis Hemley, director at reseller BOSS, said, “The recent “make the shift’ campaigns have enabled us to proactively communicate this initiative to our customers and prospects converting it into a tangible sales opportunity. Whilst a proportion of our customers were aware of the move towards Windows 10, and the consequences, the campaign has had the effect of both creating a sense of urgency and positioning BOSS as the specialist, local business able to offer both advice and solutions. This has created a significant uplift in sales. To date we’ve generated in excess of £75,000 incremental sales as a direct result of the campaigns. We’ve already supplied over 120 new PCs and laptops across multiple brands, as well as related sales on software and services too. We’re really very keen to continue marketing this, and other campaigns, to our customer base and we’re delighted with the quality of the marketing content and the results”
Vertical market opportunities
- Omnichannel retail
The pandemic brought about a rapid and fundamental change in the retail sector. Those who were well established in ecommerce did relatively well, like ASOS, while those who were not, like Primark, suffered. Omnichannel retail is a business model in which all existing channels become completely integrated to offer customers a seamless shopping experience. Typically, the omnichannel approach sees instore promotions, like digital signage, linked to the retailer’s web site and digital marketing.
Canny retailers responded to the onset of the pandemic by developing a philosophy of “New Retail” — referring to the “seamless integration between online and offline worlds” that enable frictionless shopping experiences. “Learning how to digitize, adapt and integrate online-offline behaviours to overcome physical world limitations are all lessons embodied by New Retail,” wrote Andrew Lipsman for Insider Intelligence.
With some physical stores closed down or operating at reduced capacity, merchants had to make some quick business decisions to meet their customers’ needs. But it goes beyond making physical stores’ products available on an online store as well. It’s about meeting consumers, many of whom have experienced unprecedented disruption to their daily lives and routines, in new online channels. Today, consumers are discovering brands in brand new ways and seeking new conveniences to guide their shopping decisions. The key is integration of online and offline channels — and all related operations — to deliver a cohesive and comprehensive experience across touchpoints.
A true omnichannel approach must deliver a consistent brand experience everywhere you sell to meet your customers where they are and build relationships that transcend channels. It should also include an emphasis on optimizing your business through channel diversification and comprehensive integration of your data and systems. In October 2020, eMarketer increased their outlook for 2020 ecommerce retail sales from 20% growth to 30%.
The acceleration due to COVID-19 “has forced everyone to operate at a much higher level of digital maturity,” said Sharon Gee, General Manager, Omnichannel at BigCommerce. “To succeed today, retailers need to put a stake in the ground and define a unified channel strategy from a digital and physical perspective.” Will everything return ti normal as the pandemic subsides? Andrew Kandel, head of sales for North America at Waze. “There will be a return to normalcy, but there will be an evolved customer that sees the world differently.”
- Digital health and wellness
Digital health is the application of technologies in the healthcare industry. It uses disruptive technology to improve and advance health and wellbeing solutions. It brings about efficient, personalized, and precise healthcare solutions. The World Health Organization has proposed a Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025. This strategy will help promote healthy lives for everyone everywhere. The organization defines digital health in its own terms. It is the practice of developing and using digital technologies to improve health.
The health industry will become much more consumer-centric and customer-centric. Big tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, are investing in digital healthcare. Industries like retail, tourism, and lifestyle will converge with the healthcare delivery service. There will be a surge in health-related data collected from different devices. Data analytics and algorithms will help health providers to diagnose and treat diseases. Boundaries between physical health, mental health, aged care, and disability sectors will decline. Finally, health initiatives will be integrated into a wider range of devices following on from scanners deployed as a consequence o the pandemic.
- Experiential entertainment
A recent report in Forbes magazine considered the future of entertainment in a post-Covid world. It concluded that “in the long run, societal trends and demographics – not to mention a real human need for physical interaction and shared humanity – support overall accelerating growth in the world of live experiential entertainment. Unless the world and we humans fundamentally change from this point forward, and without minimizing the very real pain and suffering that now envelop much of the globe, this is a momentary blip in live entertainment’s trajectory.”
“Once we collectively do recover (both physically and emotionally), Disney’s new partnership with Secret Cinema – where Disney movies will be staged whimsically as several hour evening immersive experiences that reimagine what cinema can be – points the way.”
Last year, AV News looked at a new form of entertainment in which video, virtual reality and like action involving actors and members of the audience were combined to create an experience where no distinction was drawn between the cast and the audience, real and virtual elements. One o he most spectacular examples of new immersive entertainment is the Madison Square Garden Company’s new MSG Sphere, the first of which is under construction in Las Vegas right now and will open this year. These three new $1.66 billion Spheres are planned to reinvent the live event and venue experience. The Spheres are spherical 15,000-20,000 seat venues covered from top to bottom (both interior and exterior) in ultra-high resolution LED lights to marry music with lights and sound to create previously impossible shared experiences.
- Remote learning
In much the same way that the world of work has transformed, whenever possible, to a hybrid model, education – particularly higher education, has followed suit during the pandemic. Will it revert when the pandemic is over?
The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. Research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information, and take less time, meaning the changes coronavirus have caused might be here to stay. While countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. In Denmark, children up to the age of 11 are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing on 12 March, but in South Korea students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online. With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market.
Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025. Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.