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People and Portals: The Channel Challenge. Peter Oosthuizen, Partner Service Manager, Spitfire Network Services

It’s a debate that has been raging on for decades. Indeed, economists throughout history have been proven wrong in predicting that technological breakthroughs would lead to catastrophic consequences for the labour market – in other words, technology trumping human endeavour and people’s livelihoods. Much research has gone into this commonly held fear, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) the latest touted threat to all manner of jobs. However, it would seem that so long as the rate of automation of jobs by technology is balanced by the creation of new complex tasks for workers, there should be no major impact on the employment market.

But concerns that new digital technologies, AI and even robotics will wreak havoc on the ‘technology’ workforce continue to grab the headlines. History continues to prove the nay-sayers wrong however – there is no clear reason why the effect of new technologies will be different now than in days gone by. They did not create any significant reductions in employment. With this in mind then, it is interesting to reflect on the relative pros and cons that stem from how people react (or want to react) with technology, as opposed to dealing with a human being. Let’s consider how the IT self-service portal model can and should co-exist with the experience of an account manager led approach.

The Portal perspective

The premise of self-service is hardly new – the concept has been around for ages. In the beginning there were a few familiar options such as vending machines, ATM kiosks and even self-service petrol stations. These days, the continuing drive for convenience has delivered the self-service IT portal.

Basically, a self-service IT Portal is a website that empowers the user. Whether it be a consumer or a business partner, for example, the user has the ability to find answers quickly. Most people are at ease when it comes to searching for information these days, so most have the requisite skills to use self-service portals. A clear advantage of using such a portal is the ability to find information via a quick search versus taking the time to have a conversation with say, an IT account manager. Do you want to get some basic pricing information, or do you want to discuss the nitty-gritty of a specific, and unique set of IT challenges? This is really what it boils down to. The ‘finding some basic pricing info’ is a level one IT problem and there is research out there pointing to level one IT problems taking up over a third of an IT professional’s time.

So yes, self-service portals can save IT professionals both time and money. So should we sack all IT account managers then? No, absolutely not, and especially when a customer has a more complex request that requires insight and experience, which is especially prevalent now as businesses deal with the IT requirements placed on us from the pandemic.

The People perspective

In a price sensitive market (the IT industry is one of many), people make all the difference. The human side of things is invaluable. What do you do when you don’t have a level one problem? What if you don’t just want pricing information? When somebody wants to make sure that they’re getting the right product for their business, when they have more challenging requirements, then nothing can replace a knowledgeable account manager. Nothing can supplant the trust that has been built up in somebody who has the correct qualifications, knowledge and isn’t driven by algorithms or machine logic. For example, everyone here at Spitfire has a CCNA qualification. Trust is a key factor here. If a partner, say, is faced with a complex situation for one of their customers, there is likely to be a myriad of different angles to consider – a circuitous network perhaps, one with many challenging elements. This requires real thought planning, robust ideas and workable answers. Businesses still value the input from an individual, from the results that come from having a good working relationship (with a human being rather than a portal).

COVID complexity

The pandemic has certainly thrown up a good use-case for good account management skills in the IT channel. With so many people now working from home (and with this possibly becoming the new normal), there have been all sorts of IT challenges uncovered. For example, the fact that so many businesses have so many staff working from diverse locations provides a massive headache from your basic telecommunications / network perspective. It’s fair to say that such technical challenges lend themselves far more to a human touch than a portal.

Your network is all of a sudden more complex to design. How will all of these sites talk to each other? Where will the applications sit? How are you going to ensure that all of the data transfers between the sites securely? A business that might have boasted 100 users on a single site, is now transformed into a 100-site business overnight. Who do you want to speak to now, the portal or your account manager?

Ultimately, it’s good old horses for courses. If your customer tells you that they’re moving office, and that they need some basic kit in a couple of week’s time, at the cheapest possible price – they can jump on a portal and order it within 20 minutes. If another customer has a multi-site, multi-headache network build, then they will contact their trusted advisor. In this great age of technology, there is ample room for both approaches.

For me, and the team at Spitfire our mantra is value-add or knowledge transfer which helps give our partners the all-important edge. At every step, we work with our customers to understand their business needs, defining the most effective options, whether it be connectivity, MPLS networks, or phone systems.

Spitfire Network Services

 

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2020