By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA
The theme of BlueStar’s VARTECH 2023 Conference in San Antonio, TX, was as subtle as a bucking rodeo bull crashing through the front window of a fancy restaurant: VARs and ISVs need to expand their offerings through new partnerships – now.
Seemingly every aspect of the distributor’s annual show exhorted the 1,500+ solution providers (from 47 countries) to adapt for the future through expanded partnerships. As the crowd settled in for the opening general session, a PowerPoint slide on the giant screen stated, “Each partner adds another gear to your engine.”
Soon after, BlueStar VP of Marketing Dean Reverman told the largest crowd in VARTECH history, “Resellers are transitioning into solution providers like never before. Your superpower is forging alliances with new partners. Now is the time for the channel to investigate new technologies.”
The four technologies Reverman and BlueStar chose to mention on the main stage were:
- Retail Media Networks (aka programmatic advertising) is expected to be a $50B industry in 2023. “You don’t need to know the content,” Reverman said. “You need to know the ecosystem.”
- Edge Computing, which includes machine vision, AR, and VR, is expected to be a $274B industry by 2025.
- AI was the most frequently mentioned technology at the conference. Reverman said edge AI alone is on track to be a $67B industry in 2025.
- Robotics were featured on the VARTECH show floor for the first time. The foodservice industry is expected to have 90,000 robots deployed by 2025. “There’s an opportunity for this channel to mold robotic solutions for your customers,” Reverman said.
On day two, several dozen ISVs took the main stage to help the audience find additional new software partners. I took special note of the ISVs with a retail, hospitality, and grocery focus, and here’s some of what they showcased:
- Drive repeat buyers using AI
- RMM platform for POS
- Online pickup automation platform
- SaaS accounting software solutions & POS
- Elevating experiences with RFID & AI
- Cloud inventory
- No-code payments integration
- Enable customers to pay with any digital wallet
- AI-enabled retail operations
- Transform devices into EMV payment solutions
- Turnkey unattended retail technology that drives sales
- Managed secure edge networking & solutions
- Cloud-based restaurant & retail operating solution
Did I mention this was a distributor conference – the guys who are known for having giant warehouses and moving tons of hardware? BlueStar still does that and will continue to do so, but they made it clear to every VARTECHer they better rev up for a high-tech future through new partnerships – or they’re going to be left behind.
Point of Sale: What Your Customers Really Think and Want
One of the day one highlights was the breakout session “Point of Sale: What Your Customers Really Think and Want” featuring panelists Deanna Joseph of Epson, Tyler Botts of Elo, Mike Hanson of Star Micronics, and Tyler Wells of MicroTouch, all RSPA members. Some of their top insights included:
- “The consumer expects everything to be connected. Consumer demand is changing and business demands need to keep up. The experience retailers provide needs to be sustainable, personalized, and efficient.” Hanson
- “Customers are demanding voice AI – Alexa has trained us to need that. I think we’ll see more of that in hospitality. In retail, the technology we’ll see more of is RFID. Consumers want to be able to fill up their cart and walk out of the store.” Joseph
- “We can laugh at the times when self-checkout didn’t work, but those will go away in one or two years and self-service will become the most efficient option.” Wells
- “In restaurants, mobility and pay-at-the-table are right around the corner. I know we’ve heard that for years but payment processors are diving in to make this a reality.” Botts
- “The consumer expects everything to be connected.” Hanson
- “Retailers who pivot to new technology too quickly can move backwards if they don’t make sure they have the right technology for their specific customers. It’s imperative ISVs and VARs understand this.” Wells
- “It’s exciting to see everything integrated, and the consumer having so many options. They can make the purchase; if it’s out of stock they can locate it nearby; they can give delivery options; they can give product alternatives.” Joseph
- “IoT is going to help us get truly connected. That’s a huge opportunity for ISVs.” Hanson
- “Software has done a great job of making technology accessible to people who don’t use technology a lot. Software is helping SMBs appeal to different generations.” Botts
- “Technology has allowed some small retailers to print their own price label and put it over the original UPC code so shoppers can’t find the price on Amazon.” Hanson
- “Automation is scary but it allows small retailers to compete with the larger retailers.” Botts
- “I don’t know if people want a robot delivering them shoes to try on, but robots in the back kitchen – that’s where the market is going.” Wells
- “It’s not a leap – it’s a path. It’s going from one stepping stone to another. This is an evolutionary thing, not a revolutionary thing.” Hanson
AI and Machine Vision Solutions: Transforming Industries
Rob Risany and Justin Christiansen of RSPA member Intel led this breakout which featured retail and QSR as two of the industries AI is transforming. Retail applications include loss prevention, customer/operational insights, and computer vision assisted checkout. AI and machine vision are helping prevent theft and reduce shrink through video surveillance, behavior analysis, facial detection, scan error detection, product/basket changes, and item count/item identification.
For QSR, applications mentioned were waste management, operational efficiency, working safety, and improving the guest experience. AI and machine vision are being applied to supply sensing, order accuracy monitoring, food waste monitoring, food freshness monitoring, garbage monitoring, rodent detection (ew!), wait time, line abandonment, self-ordering kiosks, robotic cooking, robotic serving, and conversational AI for order taking.
“AI is not an end in itself,” Risnay told the audience. “AI is an enabling capability to deliver an outcome. Ask yourself how you can help your clients get better data and use advanced techniques to identify conditions and take action.”
The Evolving Workplace: Is Work-From-Anywhere Working?
- I had the honor to moderate this day two panel featuring executives from three RSPA member companies: Brett Bennett, President and Co-founder of VAR POSitive Technology and ISV OpSuite (and also Chair of the RSPA Board), Kelley Wood, Sr. Global Customer Marketing Manager – Supply Chain at Honeywell, and Harry Mitchell Jr., President of VAR Armagh POS Solutions. Because I was moderating I couldn’t scribble complete quotes, but I captured these four key points:
- Taking an experienced team from an in-office setting to remote work is far less difficult than adding one new remote employee. When everyone worked in-office 40 hours a week, onboarding a new employee could be accomplished more informally. “Hang out with Stacy all week so you can see what they do.” Onboarding in a remote or hybrid environment needs to be thoroughly planned and rigorously executed.
- Whatever work environment you desire – remote, in-office, or hybrid – ensure all your efforts align with that plan. Don’t ask employees to work from home and require them to use their own technology. Provide them with every tool they need to make work-from-anywhere a success.
- Understand not every employee is able to work from home. Some don’t have a spare room, they have a spouse already working from home, or they have young children who constantly interrupt them.
- Each panelist stressed the importance of personal, consistent communication with all team members. One-on-one meetings and stand-up group huddles were embraced by each executive. KPIs (key performance indicators) are important accountability tools to augment your conversations with employees.
More VARTECH 2023 Highlights – Including a New Partnership
The talk by sales performance coach Dan Kosch titled “Strategies for Selling & Presenting Your Value” was spot-on for the VARs and ISVs who attended. Kosch instructed the audience to “sell and present your value or become a commodity.” He said, “Vendors sell on price. Vendors who are considered strategic resources by their customers sell on value.”
- At Canada’s regional breakout session, BlueStar Canada President Michel Sirois welcomed Canadian economist Francis Gosselin. “Whether we have a recession or not isn’t important to our strategies,” Gosselin said. “We’re going to have a period of stagnation for sure. That presents opportunity for you to work with each other.” Gosselin was optimistic about the long-term Canadian economy. “If we make the proper investments today, we will see massive productivity gains,” he said. “I think there’s going to be quite a boom once we get past this.”
- One of my favorite VARTECH moments was an unscripted interaction that occurred at the RSPA booth on the show floor. One of our VAR members was telling me a story of how he met one of our ISV members at Inspire 2023 in Maui, leading to a beneficial partnership for both. As he shared that with me, another RSPA VAR member approached our booth, overheard our conversation, and asked his fellow VAR for more details. After talking through their individual situations, they determined they could help each other and exchanged contact information. This is an example of why VAR and ISV executives need to break away from their business from time to time and engage with their colleagues. (This is also probably a good time for me to mention that registration is now open for Inspire 2024, Jan. 28-31 at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar in Puerto Rico.)