CHICAGO – CompTIA’s Canadian community is hard at work this year dealing with issues deemed of top priority, such as renewing a rapidly aging IT workforce, addressing the new skills needed to meet today’s customer expectations, and helping the channel to become better aware of opportunities in a changing IT marketplace. Four of the Canadian leaders talked with ChannelBuzz about these topics as the ChannelCon 15 gathering here wrapped up on Wednesday.
The dynamics of CompTIA’s Canadian community have always had elements of uniqueness, even as it approaches its sixteenth year of existence.
“CompTIA has 11 communities, many of which are business vertical-focused or specific to issues like women in IT and future leaders, but we also have three geo communities, of which Canada is the oldest,” said Jim Hamilton, CompTIA’s Vice President, Member Communities.
Gordon Pelosse, VP, Global Support Delivery at HP Canada, and one the founding members of CompTIA in Canada, said the dynamics of how the Canadian group operates is fairly unique.
“What’s unique in Canada is that you get the representatives of all the different communities together in the same meetings in Canada, so they have to be pretty hybrid,” he said. “If you broke the group down into each separate community there would be ten people in each group and it would be of little value. Because a lot of the HQs in Canada are in one place, the Greater Toronto Area, we tend to know each other well and it’s fairly easy to get together.”
Pelosse said that the smaller Canadian group has the advantage of being more agile than the larger international group, so they are often able to better come up with ideas pilot and test things.
“The PDI [Printing and Document Imaging]+ certification was created and born by several of us in Canada, and then brought to the U.S.,” he said. “We can take ideas here and incubate them, and that’s a unique value add.”
Kevin Hiebert, a print solutions specialist who is the current Chair of CompTIA’s Canadian IT Business Community, said that this process also works in reverse to benefit the Canadian operations.
“We are able to draw the best practices from the U.S.-focused communities, and bring them to our members here,” he said.
Currently, workforce development is the Canadian group’s top priority.
“There are a million open jobs in IT, and that skills gap is expanding because of the aging demographic, as many of us approach retirement,” Pelosse said. “Addressing this is our number one initiative, particularly working at the K-9 level to get kids to understand the value of IT and think it’s cool.”
Hiebert stressed that the old perception that IT was hard to learn has really become somewhat obsolete.
“The hardness is perception more than reality today, because the technology has changed so much,” he said. “It is also matching the evolution in millennial generation thinking, where collaboration is more of a way to do things.”
“Today, companies are looking for students who can communicate, that’s what’s most important,” Pelosse said. “They have to be able to talk to our customers.”
That dovetails into the second big theme the Canadian group is addressing today, the consequences of business transformation, as more power has gone to line of business groups, where the money is, and away from the more technical CIO.
“Business transformation means the new pathways for IT to the market,” Hamilton said. “The old way of shipping the equipment out the door isn’t how it’s done any more.”
“Today, the people implementing solutions need to know networking components, but they don’t need in-depth knowledge,” Pelosse said. “The people who interact with customers today are now more likely to be generalists than highly skilled engineers. The risks of things not working doing things this way are extremely small because so much today is all pre-packaged.”
“There are certainly specialists along the way, but they often aren’t even needed on site,” Hiebert said. “There have been major changes in field service since 10-15 years ago, where the technical skill set of individuals was important, not communications, and that has now flipped completely.
“We have subject matter experts in the background, and can get them, but they are more likely to be in the cloud,” Pelosse said. “Our on-site people tend to be generalists and facilitators, who take customers’ questions and come back with an answer.”
It tends to be more SMB-focused solution providers who are lagging in recognizing these changes.
“We can definitely see that large enterprises like HP really understand customers’ expectations today,” said Majd Madina, Director, Member Communities at CompTIA. “SMB-focused companies that are smaller businesses sometimes have challenges understanding customer expectations, and one of our major initiatives this year was to bridge that gap.”
Madina illustrated how CompTIA executed this process.
“We had a great meeting where a CIO talked about what he expected, and panel of a distributors, SIs and MSPs shared ideas, and we got everyone to brainstorm,” he said. “We got a list of outcomes around market research needed to further understand customer expectations. Today the end customers are becoming more tech-savvy, so more business emphasis is needed, not just talking about the products.”
That can be especially true where MSPs are concerned, Hamilton pointed out.
“Traditionally, a lot of MSPs were talking with the CIO, where it was very much techies talking to techies, certainly at the SMB level,” he said. “As more power has gone to the lines of business, that’s a major challenge for the MSP.”
Hiebert noted that CompTIA has a continual challenge is raising awareness among the channel to be aware of the opportunity that’s being driven for them for CompTIA.
“We have many untapped potential members,” he said. “The CompTIA population is somewhat Toronto heavy, but the population and the IT business in Canada are also Toronto heavy. We also move all across the country with events. There are pockets that we don’t speak to as much as we could, like telecom and industrial automation people.”
“The Internet of Things will make a huge change, and we need to better plug in to businesses who handle the physical aspect of this, like sensors,” Pelosse said.