During its annual Inspire Conference, the distributor not only touted more cloud and IT/AV opportunities for growth, but how the company itself can provide valuable partner services. SYNNEX president and CEO Kevin Murai kicked off the conference by offering an overview of the company's 2016 priorities and outlining focuses for 2017.

By Arlen Schweiger

For most of Commercial Integrator’s nearly six years of existence, a dominant theme has been the convergence of IT and AV/automation worlds. We’re way past the stages of anticipating, accepting and adjusting to this convergence; you could say now that we’re in the acceleration stage.

For those who are either in need of some more hand-holding or are ready to step on the accelerator, the distribution company SYNNEX wants the industry to know that one of its key roles is IT support — every step of the way.

That was a big message the Fremont, Calif.-based company shared with attendees to its annual Inspire Conference, held Sept. 28-30 in Greenville, S.C., also home to SYNNEX sales and marketing headquarters. The event drew roughly 2,000 attendees to the TD Convention Center, as well as more than 100 exhibiting vendor partners including high-profile names like Microsoft, Google, HP, Lenovo, Dell, Sony, LG and more.

The second full day even delivered some sports and entertainment star power from NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, who provided inspiration in his morning “Dream Big!” keynote, and multi-platinum-selling rock band Styx, whose concert capped the event.

“We’ve had a path of evolution over past few decades, starting off as a distribution company making sure products get to where they need to be at time they need to be there, but that was 30 years ago,” said SYNNEX president and CEO Kevin Murai during the general session to kick off the conference’s first full day.

“As we continue to move along that evolution we look much much different. We really want to be a strategic partner, to continue to move along that path — think of us as a systems integrator that has ability to append and fill in any gaps you have, from designing solutions all the way through to configuration to last-mile deployment and installation. Where you need help, we want to be your partner in helping you get there.

“Growth is out there for all of us, it just takes imagination, and desire and drive to create right kind of business to go and attack that,” Murai added, “so let’s take that journey together.”

Indicative of that growth, Murai noted that earlier in the week SYNNEX had reported its fiscal 3Q results that showed 9.8 percent year-over-year revenue increase (to $3.3 billion), including a healthy 9 percent surge in its Technology Solutions business compared with last year.

Murai outlined SYNNEX’s 2016 priorities that have helped achieve success and 2017 priorities to push it further for the distributor and its integrator/reseller partners.

In 2016 the company focused on growing cloud business (aided by its CloudSolv and ConvergeSolv services); enterprise mobility (its amount of wireless activations doubled); vertical solutions (with concentrations like K-12 education, verticals revenues were up 12 percent); and SMB (“the biggest single end-market segment that we collectively service,” Murai said).

For 2017, priorities include accelerating the cloud business, continued vertical market focus, mobility and IoT solutions, SMB and services. Combined, those areas present integrators myriad opportunities for constant communications with end users, leading to upsell and recurring revenue of a loyal customer base.

“When you look at IoT, really the opportunities are endless. Companies are investing much more in cloud computing, Big Data, and what goes with that communication of course is how you secure that data flow,” said Murai, noting that the IoT market is forecast to be $1.7 trillion in 2020 with more than 22 billion connected things.

“Ultimately we’re getting to an entire ‘office in a box’ — a real estate office in a box, a dentist office in a box — where you have a complete end-to-end solution in the cloud. This has predictable stickiness, you’re making contact with your customers every single month.”

Additionally, SYNNEX made a couple of announcements during the conference that underscored its emphasis on IoT and verticals — namely that it had added wireless solutions provider CalAmp to its IoT roster (the company has particular expertise in the connected vehicle category); and that it launched a strategy for channel growth regulated industries, specifically transportation, healthcare, utilities and construction sectors.

To elaborate on its concentrations heading into 2017, also during the general session SYNNEX had Peter Larocque, president of North American distribution, moderate an executive panel that included Eddie Franklin, VP of public sector and verticals; Rob Moyer, VP of software and cloud services; Tim Acker; VP of mobility; and Reyna Thompson, VP of convergence.

Each offered plenty of takeaways for the audience, such as:

  • Franklin noted that the aforementioned regulated industries all have significant regulations to meet, which can be addressed through IT; “companies in the second tier are all under extreme amount of pressure to automate and deliver the same kind of results as the big companies are”; and even though “we beat it to death because it’s a big business,” education remains a vital vertical because it is constantly evolving.
  • Moyer stressed that SYNNEX follows the trend lines and “we tend to make our bets in front of the curve,” and integrators can do well by picking a niche and owning it.
  • Acker mentioned how the recent talk was about consumerization of IT and ways BYOD was going to take over the world, but “IT is back, and there’s a strong story about how to better enable the workforce and this channel is uniquely designed to address that”; mobility data remains a key part.
  • Thompson emphasized end users’ concerns about “securing solutions at every layer” of their business and upgrading connectivity to support mobile devices; for 2017 opportunities like cybersecurity, wireless LAN and collaboration solutions such as Skype for Business will continue to grow and “we have key pillars under one umbrella.”

To showcase its vendor partners and key areas of focus, SYNNEX offered “Leaders of the Roundtable” breakout sessions and an exhibitor area called the “Hall of Inspiration” that was set up differently than in the past.

The Hall of Inspiration featured single-vendor-only exhibits from some of the major companies, but also themed pavilions — Visual Solutions, Cloud, Regulated Industries, Public Safety & Smart City, Education, SMB and System Builder — that presented a range of products by multiple exhibitors as well as “Solution Sessions” including breakout panel/Q&As throughout the afternoons on more granular topics.

In these areas, integrators could dig deeper into the areas previously addressed by the SYNNEX executives and see first-hand potential end-to-end solutions in action.

For instance, the Education pavilion gave attendees ideas on everything from what a modern school lobby might include (visitor badge printing, wayfinding signage) to technology like video conferencing for remote visitation and teacher development, to state-of-the-art services like 3D printing and virtual field trips.

Visual Solutions showed digital signage, kiosks, various display formats, broadcast studios, and burgeoning opportunities such as in content creation and management, and point of sale solutions. The Public Safety & Smart City offered ideas on syncing surveillance, connected vehicles and command centers, for instance, while Regulated Industries highlighted how areas such as transportation are ripe for analytics.

“Only about 30 percent of vehicles out there for commercial use are equipped with tracking, so there’s a lot of opportunity there,” Kirk Nesbit, SYNNEX’s VP design and support services, noted during a tour.

“There’s a lot you can do, like asset tracking, you know where a vehicle is, you can learn about the driving habits, and improve dispatch capabilities to know if drivers are out near where a service call comes in.”

Add in things like refrigeration sensors for cargo, onboard Wi-Fi capabilities for testing, and geo-fencing to ensure drivers stay within designated routes and integrators can create robust fleet management.

In the public safety and education markets in particular, SYNNEX noted that it recently brought on resources to aid in assessing the needs and solution designs of integrators and their customers; the distributor has added to its staff six educators as well as the retired Greenville police chief and 30-year law enforcement veteran, Mike Gambrell, to be utilized in key consultant roles.

“Teachers can do one of two things; they can help in the selling motion because they’re selling to district administrators and they know how teachers work in a classroom, and they can do training post-sales deployment of teaching organizations how to use the technology,” suggests Moyer. “One of biggest reasons our business is doing so well is we augment services for our partners.”

Moyer mentioned how the distributor had created as part of its organizational structure specific groups for Microsoft, Google and hybrid cloud business, and that such names still carry clout with customers.

“As you see these transformations happening, brand matters,” says Moyer, noting there’s been “healthy demand” for Microsoft’s Surface Hub, for instance, and exciting education and other use cases from Google.

“Competitors may be selling complex solutions, but [customers will] at least listen to the Google pitch, the Microsoft pitch, that’s where they’re disrupting. It doesn’t mean a lot of vendors are going away, just that convergence is happening because of the cloud, and coming in with a solution that just works, simplifying and streamlining.”

Sandi Stambaugh, SYNNEX VP of product management, says the distributor is seeing a mix of approaches by integrators to entrench themselves further in the IT space, and that the company is also assisting in events such as NSCA’s Pivot to Profit Conference, scheduled for October in Dallas.

“Everything’s coming at the integrators right now, and they’re trying to navigate ‘where do I start,’ without drowning themselves and without over-investing while trying to figure out which pieces are a good fit with their business,” she says.

“So it’s a ‘pivot’ — not a full turn learning this whole new space, but just pivoting slightly, understanding topics around cloud, storage, security, signage. Those are the conversations that are happening with our integrators right now … how are we adding those end points [AV equipment] onto the network, and are they going to poke holes in the network and make it more susceptible to breaches?”

“Some of our traditional partners are also very interested in helping integrators learn, so they’re more relevant in those conversations with IT directors.”

TJ Trojan, SYNNEX SVP of product management, adds that at the end of the day now, the situation is becoming a win-win for both integrator and end user. As AV integrators become more IT savvy, they also create more of a one-stop solution shop for customers.

“Education is a good example here. It used to be in education four-to-five different integrators providing different solutions, so you’d have back office, you’d have storage, you’d have AV, you’d have the IT guys, and now it’s really a single connected solution,” Trojan says.

“So our AV integrators literally selling tens of thousands of devices, Chromebooks, charging carts, and they’re bringing in wired and wireless infrastructure. End users, they’re embracing it, they’d rather have ‘one throat to choke’ — if a network goes down or there’s a breach, they don’t know what caused it and they’re not going to want to go to five different integrators to check it out.”

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