These days, you can’t go fifteen minutes in the channel without hearing someone talk about the need to solve for business outcomes. Just knowing about technology isn’t enough anymore. Partners have to be able to connect technology back to an overarching business strategy if they want to provide the kind of value that businesses want to pay to keep around.
But in many cases, it’s difficult for traditional resellers to understand exactly how to have that conversation with their clients. The IT buyer has changed, and partners understand they’re now pitching to lines of business (LOB). But really grasping the nature of the ‘business outcomes’ discussion goes beyond learning the stated goals of the LOB. Partners must be able to shift their approach from tactical to strategic, from a focus on short-term needs to a comprehensive, long-term outlook.
For channel firms looking for something to provide a framework for that strategic discussion—and ensure a place for themselves within their clients’ businesses for years to come—enterprise architecture planning (EAP) may be a very good place to start.
“With technology changing so fast, especially with cloud in the recent past and with what’s about to happen with IoT in the near future, there’s a real need to proactively think about architecture and to plan where the pieces are going to go, how it all works together and how you’ll transition from legacy architecture to a more modern and flexible model,” says Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at IT industry association CompTIA. “This is a way for channel firms to position themselves within their clients’ business, to move the discussion from the tactical space into business strategy.”
EAP has traditionally been found only within government agencies or massive corporations where the complexity of the IT infrastructure requires strategic planning. Most small to midsize businesses (and the channel firms that work with them) assume that EAP isn’t something they need to invest in. But in the digital economy, crafting a strategy around IT is just as critical as creating a traditional business plan.
The channel has come a long way through the digital transformation and shifting from product sales to solution offerings, says Robinson, but there are still disconnects between the strategic business discussion and the tactical approach many partners cling to. EAP can be a tool to bring partners into that larger conversation, provide upsell opportunities and ensure there’s enough flexibility in the business plan to guarantee their spot at the table even as future tech needs change. Because the goal of EAP is to start with the desired business outcomes and work backward into the tech framework needed to support those goals, partners naturally find opportunities to cement their place within their customers’ businesses.
“The architectural discussion gives a framework for all of this to happen in. If you’re having that discussion and setting high-level strategy and objectives, and mapping it out over a long period of time, then everything can come back to that plan,” says Robinson. “It can’t be set in stone; it must have flexibility. But it can be that framework that guides business decisions and discussions.”
Traditional EAP isn’t a simple, straightforward task by any means. The formal methodologies can be incredibly complex and intimidating, and completely beyond the resources of most SMBs. But the underlying concepts are the same ones channel firms should be using to guide their clients through the digital transformation, and onerous, complex approaches aren’t necessary to reap the broader benefits that strategic EAP brings.
“Firms don’t have to go all the way to formal methodologies, but they can start thinking of concepts like tying business objectives to technology and structuring tech deliverables so that they’re well understood by all parts of the business,” says Robinson. “Some of those pieces in these methodologies will be helpful in these discussions, even if you aren’t formally following that framework.”
While architecture planning may seem daunting, partners that invest in the offering can expect some real rewards. There’s a good reason an entire “cottage industry” of consultants have built their business on crafting services-oriented architectures or ERP installations. Like any high-margin solution, architecture planning can become a “rinse and repeat” service offering that, with a few tweaks, can be applied to multiple clients. Common themes, says Robinson, quickly begin to emerge between architectures, especially among partners that have developed a vertical expertise.“If partners can find a good framework that works for them and their clients, it should be able to translate pretty well from one client to another and give them common ground for walking and talking about the services they offer. It gives an opportunity to show the client company where they see the world moving to and how they can get them there.”