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View from the channel

Kevin McNally, UK Sales Director, Asolvi

Q: How’s business; better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future?
A: We’re confident about the future. 2020 was a challenge, as we all know how much of a shock to the system COVID-19 and the various lockdowns have been and we recognise the impact that this has had on parts of the channel. We’ve not been immune to that impact ourselves of course, but we ended the year on target, and even picked up a fair amount of new business as people looked for new ways to adapt. 2021 has started very strongly, with an encouraging number of new start businesses springing up across Europe and quite a few larger businesses, who have bespoke ERP systems, looking at more industry-focused ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions. This year will undoubtedly have its ups and downs, but overall, the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be getting closer by the week.

Q: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?
A: In the UK, growth is undoubtedly being driven by the need for businesses to do more with less. New start companies are recognising the benefits of getting time-saving systems and process in place from the outset, while larger businesses are focusing on increasing efficiency and maintaining and also on hopefully growing profitability. Germany and the DACH region in general are becoming more comfortable with SaaS/cloud offerings and our Nordic clients have, by and large, managed very well. Getting access to timely and accurate business data is increasingly important and the automation of previously manual or semi-manual tasks is now no longer just the preserve of the medium and larger customers, but a must-have for everyone. As businesses look to broaden their market offerings and reduce their reliance on ‘click’ revenue, they are looking at flexible, scalable SaaS solutions which can support the management of a wide variety of equipment and services.

Q: How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?
A: We must evolve as our markets evolve. Ideally, we also need to lead. There are very few dealers out there who can be confident that a 100% reliance on print represents a viable long-term business plan. We have been fortunate enough to acquire some really good businesses and products recently. Those that have growth potential are being enhanced and internationalised to support the 35+ countries in which we currently have clients, but those products are also being enhanced to ensure they are as capable of supporting a managed IT or AV/digital signage offering as they have traditionally been in the MPS and copy/print sector. This means more developers and a better customer success offering, infrastructure investments, such as the pending move of Vantage Online to Microsoft Azure and a relentless focus on ‘following the customer’.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?
A: Wow! Two of the biggest must be the commoditisation of print and the move to home working with the ‘Will they? – Won’t they?’ worry of an Amazon or ‘as a service’ direct offering chipping away at their business. There is also the need to retrain or recruit staff with the skills and experience to successfully move a business into areas where traditionally they may not be strong. In addition the wider challenge of maintaining margins in a stagnant or even shrinking market where people are still prepared to do new business at a loss. The current pandemic has no doubt accelerated trends which were already in progress, but coping with that accelerated change will require bravery, calculated risk and no small amount of leadership skill.

Q: If you could change one aspect of your job what would it be and why?
A: Currently, it would be getting out of a home office and back out seeing existing and potential customers. Whilst I can see a balance of working from home or from the office continuing, I miss the human interactions and ideas that only come from sitting across a table or bumping into someone in the kitchen. With the job itself, I don’t think I would change much at all, although a tele-porter to save me sitting in traffic on the M25 would be handy of course.