From VARTECH 2019: In Today’s Channel, ISV = MVP

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing at the RSPA

Channel technology has advanced significantly, but we still don’t have a crystal ball that accurately predicts our industry’s future. Until that happens, I’m going to adhere to the principle “Follow the Distributors.” Distys are the best positioned – because of their scope and their intimate partnerships with hardware manufacturers, software developers, payment processors, resellers, and other service providers – to understand what’s around the corner in the retail IT channel.

My top takeaway from VARTECH 2019, BlueStar’s annual partner conference held Sept. 16-17 at Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas in Nassau, was that it’s an ISV world, and we’re all just living in it. Most of my conversations at VARTECH eventually turned to ISVs as the catalysts for applications that give our channel the opportunity to expand (from an optimist’s perspective) or remain relevant (say the pessimists). Some of the statistics BlueStar shared in their presentations support my anecdotal evidence:

  • ISV attendance at VARTECH 2019 was double last year’s event with nearly 50 software developer companies participating.
  • Those ISVs were featured on the show floor in “Solutions City” which showcased applications in healthcare, government, warehousing, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality. I wandered away from the RSPA booth twice to visit ISVs in Solutions City, and both times nearly every booth was teeming with resellers and manufacturers.
  • Zebra sponsored a pre-show ISV Welcome Reception that was packed for over two hours.
  • This year BlueStar created a speed-dating meeting format called Quick Connect where attendees could schedule a five-minute appointment with an ISV via the VARTECH app. Shortly after the show opened, two thirds of the 500+ meeting times had already been booked.
  • And I don’t know if I’m at liberty to share the exact number of ISVs in BlueStar’s developer program, so I’ll just say they have a ton – trust me.

Don’t read into this that manufacturers or resellers aren’t important; without them this whole channel thing falls apart. But executives from those companies expressed to me that traditional vendors are now crafting their new products to best take advantage of ISV applications and resellers feel they’re at the mercy of the developers they partner with. That’s why many sophisticated VARs are creating their own intellectual property through software modification or through full-fledged custom software development.

The traditional approach in the POS channel was a local dealer determining which vendor(s) to partner with, then taking that solution to their community. Today – and likely even more frequently tomorrow – we are seeing startups develop niche software, seek vendor and distributor partners, then take that solution directly to the end user merchant. This is the new-look reseller – though they don’t call themselves that. When these software entrepreneurs want to expand their sales into new areas, many of them will develop their own VAR channel.

Other thoughts, quotes, and observations from VARTECH 2019:

  • The technology breakout topics at VARTECH also indicate where our channel is headed in 2020 and beyond. This year’s breakouts included mPOS, IoT, 5G, security, mobility, RFID in retail, blockchain, digital signage, customer experience, cybersecurity, and virtual restaurants.
  • ISVs were the headline at VARTECH, but reseller recurring revenue was also a hot topic. VARs used to ask, “Should I offer more recurring revenue products and services?” Today their question is, “What do I add next?
  • BlueStar CEO Steve Cuntz said on the main stage, “Blockchain is going to change the world in terms of integrity. You can’t change the data — you can’t mess with it. It’s like an integrity insurance policy. This will significantly impact healthcare and corporate records.”
  • Cuntz also said, “We are investing in AI (artificial intelligence) and taking a hard look about what we can do as an industry with AI. We’re going to keep working with AI until we get it right.”
  • With VARTECH in the Bahamas, BlueStar coordinated a fundraiser to help the island recover from Hurricane Dorian which damaged much of the area north of Nassau. “VARTECHers 4 Bahama Relief” set a goal of $25,000 which BlueStar committed to match dollar-for-dollar after the close of the event.
  • UPDATE: BlueStar VP of Marketing Mark Fraker announced at VARTECH’s closing party that just over $31,000 was pledged by attendees for the relief fund. With BlueStar’s match, that brings the total amount raised through “VARTECHers 4 Bahamas Relief” to in excess of $62,000.

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact