I would work without VARs if I could: Farrow CIO

CIOs Christine Day of Questrade and Arlene MacDonald from Farrow. Photo by Alex Coop.

When asked how channel partners seeking business with the largest independently owned customs brokerage in Canada could get her attention, Arlene McDonald’s answer was blunt.

“If I could work without VARs I would be okay with that,” the chief information officer for Farrow told a room full of channel chiefs and IT sales leaders. “I’d rather work with the manufacturer. I think a VAR has to come to the table with expertise, not just implementation skills. You have to have expertise in an area, or you just feel like a middleman.”

McDonald was joined by Questrade CIO Christine Day recently during a C4 CIO Insider event in Toronto to discuss their expectations from technology partners and alliances.

For Day, helping lead a relatively small and “scrappy” online brokerage such as Questrade compete against the country’s financial juggernauts means she has to live on the bleeding edge.

Channel partners who keep pace with the industry’s rapid innovations are attractive for the company, explained Day. But Questrade hasn’t been afraid to invest in those capabilities internally, she added, reinforcing the need for partners to pitch them proposals with serious “value-add”.

“We need to be willing to make bold moves and take calculated risks to compete with our big financial rivals,” said Day.

There’s also something unique about becoming a critical partner for a smaller technology firm such as MemSQL, as opposed to being a smaller partner for an SAP, she indicated.

“We don’t want to be an unimportant, itty bitty client for an SAP, for example. We would much rather be a super important client to an MemSQL,” she explained, referring to the small analytics firm.

The notion that VARs are losing their innovative chops hasn’t gone unnoticed, according to Luc Villeneuve, Red Hat Canada’s former country leader and current president of Benchmark, a Toronto-based solutions provider.

“The value of VARs has diminished,” he told Channel Daily News in a previous interview, emphasizing the growing importance of a strong software portfolio. “DevOps, automation, security, having the ability to containerize applications and migrate old apps to the cloud are important today. Combine that with IoT in the middle of it all, and it becomes very complicated. All vendors have their own sauce that they apply to their own brand.”

But sales teams are increasingly well-trained to identify sales pitches that engage in flights of fancy.

“I’ve trained our sales teams to not get blown away by a strong sales pitch,” said McDonald, adding how repeated cold calls are also a huge turn-off.

While the idea of drowning in a sea of logos on a partner page belonging to a tech giant isn’t appealing, the two CIOs said they would be more than willing to engage in discussions about projects and opportunities if those companies are willing to put in the time.

Getting into the trenches and helping customers fix issues in the middle of the night goes a long way, too, suggested McDonald.
“Many suppliers who would go through resellers – as soon as the product is sold, they kind of just move on,” she said.

Both Day and McDonald encouraged people in attendance to lean on the growing startup communities in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, Ontario’s burgeoning startup ecosystem that features organizations like Communitech.

“They’re always looking for partner opportunities. Those spaces aren’t just dedicated to startups. Startups are also not just a pair of people in the backroom coding. There’s a wealth of knowledge and experience in those ecosystems,” concluded McDonald.

Tags: