Tech Data may walk softly in terms of public perception – the Florida-based company isn’t exactly a household name – but it carries a big stick in the IT industry. It’s one of the biggest distributors and resellers out there, partnering with the majority of the biggest names in technology and boasting net sales of more than $26 billion in its last full financial year.
Yet even major players like Tech Data have to bend to the new realities of the technology industry. We caught up with Michelle Curtis, director of IoT solutions at Tech Data, at a Microsoft IoT event in Boston on Monday.
Curtis said that Tech Data’s been building out its IoT capabilities for the past two and a half years, and noted that moving into the operational technology space has been a major change for the company.
“We really had to shift in the way that we approach the market, from a traditional distribution sense where we’re taking vendor product or selling it to a reseller and they’re selling it to an end-user, to really more of aligning with our partners and helping them service their customers,” she said.
It’s a more holistic approach for Tech Data, and it’s necessitated a massive broadening of the company’s vendor pool in order to address the much more diverse needs of the IoT marketplace. Of particular importance was getting industrial systems integration companies on board, according to Curtis.
“We understand that we need a great deal of partners to deliver a full solution, and we’ve been building out that ecosystem in the past two years,” she said.
To that end, Tech Data acquired the business solutions group of Avnet, Inc, another technology reseller and major player in the distribution space, in February. The idea is to position the newly enlarged company as an end-to-end solutions provider.
Manufacturing, food and beverage processing and other types of industrial IoT were Tech Data’s first main vertical area of focus – instrumenting existing SCADA networks, and so on – but Curtis said that transportation, logistics, retail and hospitality are all fertile ground for the company’s efforts.
“We have opportunities now where we’ll go into two floors within a building, for example, and they’re converting that into a hotel,” she said. “So it’s about not only energy management at the physical tenant level, but also personalization that you get, and the loyalty and customer experience.”
Tech Data’s seeing rapid growth in the retail sector in particular, Curtis said, in part because it’s often less complicated to deploy the kinds of technologies that retail clients are interested in – information kiosks and location-based marketing and signage don’t generally require as much technical know-how as complex industrial IoT implementations.
One of the biggest challenges of changing gears in this way, said Curtis, is the shift in mindset – it’s a different sales cycle (shorter than traditional IT sales), and shifting personnel to cover the company’s new focus.
“We’ve really made investments in hiring teams that have … vertical expertise and understanding what customer challenges are there,” she said.
Right now, Tech Data’s hoping to target healthcare IoT – a task that the aforementioned acquisition of Avnet should help with, as that company has had success in that market, according to Curtis.