In his keynote address Monday morning at RSPA RetailNOW 2009, futurist Glen Hiemstra provided an in-depth look at the U.S. economy. Specifically, Hiemstra gave attendees a variety of data points which provide indications as to when the economy will recover (“real recovery should occur by the fourth quarter of 2009”) and what factors will play a part in that recovery. He went on to explain that from 2000 to 2008, we were living in a “make believe economy” that we couldn’t sustain forever. Now, the economy is correcting itself. So, what should today’s VARs (and businesses in general) be doing today to be poised for success during the recovery?

One of Hiemstra’s most important points was, “Don’t wait for things to get back to normal. Maybe this is the new normal.” Rather than wait for things to return to what they were a couple years ago, VARs should be looking at new ways to differentiate and at new products and services to provide to customers.

As part of his discussion, Hiemstra also shared a few technology trends he believes will shape the future. The first, cloud computing, will take mission-critical business applications from on-site to the virtual world, allowing people to access information in real time from anywhere.

The second trend is what Hiemstra referred to as “sensor world.” In this reality, sensors everywhere will be connected to the aforementioned cloud to provide immediate and custom feedback to customers. Hiemstra said, “Think RFID [radio frequency identification] on steroids.”

Finally, Hiemstra talked about the impending shift of the Internet from static content to a steady stream of information. Indeed, looking at most people’s web surfing habits, today’s most valuable information is only valuable if it’s the most current.

For more information on Hiemstra and his book, “Turning the Future Into Revenue: What Business and Individuals Need to Know to Shape Their Futures,” visit www.futurist.com.

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Thinking Outside the Box

As part of Monday’s educational sessions at RetailNOW 2009, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion entitled “Thinking Outside The Retail Box: Extending Retail Technology Beyond Retail.” Glen Hiemstra, futurist and author, moderated the panel, and asked me what opportunities I’m hearing about from the many VARs and vendors I speak to on a daily basis.

Hiemstra’s question is the one most often asked of me and the question I most often ask the VARs and vendor’s I speak with. My answer? Nine times out of ten, when I ask where the money is, the response I get is healthcare and government.

For POS applications in those verticals, I’ve heard about VARs selling POS systems for hospital and government facility cafeterias, POS systems for pharmacies, and touch screens for hospitals.

The problem with these verticals is that they’re notoriously difficult to get into. Not only is it a challenge to find such work, but once you do, you need to understand the paperwork and specifications specific to those markets. It’s daunting, and oftentimes is enough to create enough of a barrier to prevent new VARs from getting into these markets.

And still, were I a VAR again, I’d target these markets. The reason being, now, more than ever, there are more tools and support available to help get into those markets.

For instance, I recommended to those in attendance that they check out CAP Software’s booth #257. During a recent discussion on Business Solutions LinkedIn group page, Will Atkinson, president of CAP Software, mentioned recent enhancements to CAP’s retail software that allow the software to be used in pharmacy applications. Atkinson has a wealth of information on this opportunity and VARs looking for new opportunities might want to follow up with him and other vendors offering similar solutions.

Additionally, there are a couple things going on at value-added distributor (VAD) Ingram Micro that might help VARs break into these verticals. The first centers on analytics. At Ingram’s recent partner conference in Phoenix, Keith Bradley, executive VP and President of Ingram Micro North America, announced that the VAD has a lot of data that can help VARs. Specifically, since Ingram drop ships quite often to end users, it has accumulated information on approximately 3 million customers over the last 6 years. Today, with the help of BI tools, Ingram can tell which customers have which products potentially reaching end of life.

The second bit of news to come out of Ingram that can help VARs get into healthcare and government centers on the Economic Stimulus package. Ingram saw this as a potential opportunity to the VAR channel, so the VAD created a team to study the package and learn the size of the opportunity. What Ingram discovered is quite compelling. Indeed, Ingram reports that there is between $60 – $80 billion in stimulus money out there that needs to be spent by 2010.

To take advantage of this opportunity, Ingram created a program/service which gives VARs help with assessments, grant tracking, grant writing, and sales expertise.

Combine Ingram’s analytics with the Economic Stimulus package, and you know where the opportunities are, what customers need, and that they have funding to cover the expense.

While healthcare and government sales might not be as easy as traditional retail or hospitality sales, the markets are a huge opportunity for VARs. The economy has made all sales more difficult. Indeed, the easy sales of a couple years ago are long gone. Today, there are few to no easy sales. You can choose to ride out the economy even though things might never return to the glory days, or you can choose to change and do the more difficult thing of targeting new verticals and customers.

Business Solutions Via Futurist.com