In this profile we look at IT products and services distributor WestconGroup Southern Africa, and hear from its CEO Paul Conradie about how the company is adapting to changes in the industry.
WestconGroup Southern Africa is a value-added distributor of IT products and services, with areas of expertise including datacentre and networking technologies, security, consumer products and cloud services and solutions. As a member of the global WestconGroup listed in the US, and with partnership based on international relationships, the local company benefits significantly from support and knowledge-sharing from a parent company with international influence.
WestconGroup Southern Africa’s CEO Paul Conradie makes it clear how important Westcon’s role as a distributor is to end user customers: “We are the link between the supplier (vendor) and the reseller (our partners). Without this link they do not get access to the products they need to provide the services and solutions required by the end-user. As an example, you wouldn’t be able to buy your mouse or game console from a retailer if it wasn’t for us. Furthermore, enterprise customers secure high-end business systems and solutions from our partners, technologies they wouldn’t have access to if it wasn’t for distributors such as ourselves.”
Change and adaptation
Westcon’s business model is to develop relationships with vendors of category-leading products, products it provides to reseller partners who in turn sell to end-users. This seemingly simple model belies the constantly changing and complex world of IT and the reality of what it takes to be a successful distributor, both of which require the ability to adapt. Reasons behind Westcon’s success can be seen in its ambition and drive to go forward, and the company has been very busy during the past year. Conradie says that “IT is a constantly evolving industry. To stand still is to stagnate and die”.
He goes on to detail some of the company’s recent developments: “Locally Westcon merged with Comztek in 2013, bringing the expertise and solutions of both into a company that is able to better serve customers across the continent. In 2015 we moved into our purpose-built offices as a merged entity, offices that provide additional facilities for training, a better help and support desk environment for customers, warehousing facilities that are world-class and that can support the growing capacity demanded by our customers, a staging area for pre-built and tailored designs as well as a state-of-the-art experience centre for our clients”.
Westcon have also been keeping up to date with the technologies needed to run a successful business in a competitive technology industry. With the emergence of cloud based solutions and the buzzword of the moment, the Internet of Things (IoT), Westcon has had to update some of its operations: “We have had to reinvent some of our traditional business practices in order to stay ahead of the technology curve so that we can enable our customers to continue innovating”.
As the IT industry changes some companies fear for their hold in the market, but Westcon has a different attitude. For a large and growing company change is opportunity, and Westcon will be seeking to capitalise on new trends in the industry. Conradie says that “new technologies, new ways of conducting business and engaging, such as mobility and even social media are driving new patterns in not only how we engage personally, but in a business context too. This is presenting new opportunities and new streams of business. Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things are two new megatrends that are really driving this as they work as the catalyst and basis of innovation”.
Conradie points out that companies that fail to understand and make use of these trends might find themselves falling by the wayside and adds that while there is always hype in IT, there are some megatrends that have crested the hype cycle and are now becoming common practice. Cloud computing and the IoT have taken their hold on the industry, and Westcon has embraced them. The company’s software practice has changed accordingly with the recent launch of a cloud solutions business, while Comstor, a distribution company under the WestconGroup wing, has had to add vendors to better serve the data centre and networking requirements of customers looking to embrace digitalisation.
However, it’s not all plain sailing for Westcon. Due to the fact they rely on overseas vendors fluctuating exchange rates continue to be an issue, particularly with commodity products. On this issue Conradie returns to the same theme – turning problems into opportunities: “While this is a challenge it is also an opportunity as it forces all of us to start thinking differently and working smarter.”
The problem of recruiting top talent is also a hot topic at the moment, and for Westcon this is no exception. Africa, like much of the developed and developing world, is suffering from a “brain drain” as well as problems with graduate employment and a troubling skills gap. With more and more people going to university it becomes harder to distinguish talent, and according to Conradie there is a “dearth of technical and management skills in IT”.
Like many companies Westcon is attempting to tackle this problem through the development of training schemes. For example, it recently sponsored a learnership programme through partners Torque IT. When asked about some of the secrets behind Westcon’s success Conradie discusses the strength of his team. “I think it is also important to highlight the importance of the people of Westcon – we have an exceptionally strong local management team as well as a host of specialists that support them” – in order to maintain this advantage, intelligent recruitment drives and the narrowing of Africa’s skills gap are going to be essential.
Westcon’s idea for a successful distribution company is that it’s not enough to simply be an excellent middleman between suppliers and resellers.
“The future of distribution in the IT channel,” Conradie explains, “is in the value you can offer”. This means offering something to your customers that others can’t match. “Our goal as WestconGroup has always been to break the mould on traditional distribution, which is widely viewed as a box dropping customs clearing house, by adding value-added services layers to each of our offerings.”
An important aspect to the way Westcon do things differently comes in the technical support it offers its partners. Conradie identifies the biggest success of the past year as “the establishment of our services business and training academy”. Westcon don’t just pass products on to their customers, the company is there for them throughout the design to the deployment and subsequent support process and have the infrastructure to step in and help when necessary. “Our customers are starting to turn to us, not only as a provider of products, but also as an extension of their teams and a provider of key enabling services”, Conradie says.
The future for Westcon
The future for Westcon looks bright, as it continues to redefine how distribution companies operate and ride new trends with intelligent ways of adapting. Other companies could benefit from Westcon and Conradie’s attitude to an ever-changing, fickle and complex industry. The likelihood of Westcon’s continuing success can be felt through some of the awards it has recently received. Based on the highest corresponding year-over-year growth percentage, WestconGroup Southern Africa were again awarded the Microsoft Services Licensing Agreements (SPLA) distributor of the year for the Middle East and Africa region. This is in addition to a 2014 Motorola Solutions distributor of the year award, as well as an SAPOA best industrial development award for their new offices and warehouse building at Waterfall Industrial Park in Johannesburg. With so much already in place and the right attitude to change and growth WestconGroup Southern Africa look to continue to change the face of distribution for some time to come.