Channel Marker


November 28, 2007  5:24 PM

Write a business plan, do some soul searching

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

So, here’s the thing. Yesterday, I was reading a story in The Wall Street Journal about how plain old e-mail is becoming the next spam problem. And I had the realization: This story is SO all about me. For me, e-mail is a procrastination tool. I’ve been trained to justify jumping at every alert when I should be writing a story or, better yet given my employment status, developing a business plan. Being involved with the IT channel really promotes the rise of attention deficit disorder.

Note to self: Set certain hours to deal with my electronic inbox. This strategy actually has been used to good effect by my friend David Dadian, CEO of PowerSolution.com, who has set up an agent letting e-mailers know that he won’t focus on their messages until after hours because his focus needs to be on clients. If it’s a true emergency, the auto-responder contains information about how to escalate the problem. Score two for David: Not only does he restore some sanity to his work existence, but he lets his customers know that they are his most important priority during most of the day.

Earlier today, I caught up with a long-time VAR colleague. While we were chatting about e-commerce and business management issues, his four-month baby girl was crying in the background. Being a small-business owner, he often brings her to the office to share his day.

My friend, whom I’m not going to name because I didn’t ask his permission, has been doing the sort of soul-searching associated with a life event of the birth magnitude. He recently came to the conclusion that he needed to sit down and write a business plan for his company (even though we’re talking about a successful VAR who has been around for a number of years). Long story short: It’s been the hardest exercise he’s ever had to deal with as a manager, especially when he realized how unstructured his own day-to-day activities have been.

After I hung up the phone, I realized I was in the same boat. Earlier this week, my career counselor actually challenged me to write my own business plan. But I’ve been living so “of the moment,” I don’t even know where to start.

So, here’s my question: How many VARs actually have a business plan or credo by which they do business every day? I don’t even care if you’ve shown this plan to your banker or your board. But if you’re presented with 10 different emergencies, do you know which one should have priority attention simply because that’s what your company is attempting to accomplish? Is developing a plan easier if you’re marketing yourself as a managed services provider? For that matter, is a plan easier to write if you have hired a marketing executive? What advice would you give your peers out there in channel land? (Good or bad.)

E-mail me comments and thoughts to Heather Clancy and we’ll have an online dialogue. I swear it will be MY priority to share your responses.

Heather Clancy is a business journalist and communications consultant who has been following the high-tech channel for more than 18 years.

November 27, 2007  10:31 AM

Vista capable? Rrrrrrrriiiiiigggghhhhht…

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

You could see this one coming.

Two sets of plaintiffs are trying to make their lawsuit over Microsoft’s “Vista-capable” claims into a class action tiff.

Vista has hit more than it’s share of  bumps since general release early this year.

This just proves that with Microsoft’s claims, buyers better beware. Solution providers had long warned that even so-called “Vista capable” PCs might technically run Vista, but the experience would be anything but delightful. So much for underpromising.

Lesson? While dispensing “I told you so’s” to customers is never smart, this might be a time to remind them that you, not the vendor, should be their trusted advisor on new hardware-and software-purchases.  

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area reporter, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.   


November 25, 2007  9:45 PM

What’s Sinofsky up to?

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

 While many pundits have wondered about Ray Ozzie’s radio-silence, I’m more interested in what Steven Sinofsky’s been up to.

 Sinofsky is credited with driving Microsoft’s Office cash cow to market. Often and usually on time.  For years. That is no mean feat.

In 2006, after repeated delays to Vista, he was most pointedly moved over to the Windows group.

My interest was piqued anew by a recent flurry of posts about about the post-Vista life of the Windows client. Distinguished engineer Eric Traut was even caught on tape talking about a new slimmed down Windows core (“MinWin”, Windows Seven.)

A flurry of coverage touched on an ostensibly leaked “wish list” of features for MinWin or Windows 7 brings us back to Sinofsky.

He was quiet before his job change and he’s kept that up up. Sinofsky hasn’t updated his blog since taking the new job.

There has been one interesting Sinofskian post of late. A Microsoft program manager describes a session Sinofsky had–presumably for program managers.

Money Sinofsky quote: “I don’t know why Program Managers are called so, they don’t “Program” and they don’t “Manage”

This was construed as a joke, but who knows?

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area writer, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.  


November 20, 2007  11:33 PM

Virtualization wave ruffles Microsoft foundation

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Microsoft proponents would definitely not agree, but the virtualization genie will make operating systems a lot less relevant.

Microsoft is pricing its  upcoming Hyper-V (aka Viridian) virtualization technology aggressively. I know that’s a shock. But the $28 they’ll charge for Hyper-V server is basically the price-cutting move the company has perfected over the years-with Office (bundling four or five apps for the price of two); undercutting Netscape with free Internet Explorer. Ya-de-ya-de-ya.

Microsoft’s purchase of Connectix (and later Softricity) gave it some virtualizaion know-how in what has become a classic ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ move.

One player in the application appliance market (hardly a dispassionate observer) summed up Microsoft’s move thus: “They want to make their hypervisor relevant and are making it practically free.  They’re thinking: ‘Good lord, how do we deal with VMware?’ It’s frightening the heck out of them. If you boot a hypervisor you’re not putting the operating system as the base layer,” he notes.

And that fact alone has big-time ramifications. The operating system–Windows–is the foundation of Microsoft’s stack.  “The hard thing for them to deal with is how to adjust to a business model where the ISV or the developer-not necessarily Microsoft– is the face to the customer. They do the life-cycle and licensing stuff.”

For partners, virtualization has been driving a ton of business as customers try to cut hardware and storage costs. The hope is that some of those savings may be funneled into system integration or custom app work. So solution providers should get their VM expertise in order.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area writer, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.  


November 19, 2007  10:35 AM

Ex-Loti Sturtevant heads up new Microsoft concept lab

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Reed Sturtevant, one of the Lotus stars behind Freelance Graphics, is now heading up Microsoft’s concept development effort just blocks away from the old “LDB” headquarters building. See story here.

This is ironic for long-timers who remember how much better Freelance was than PowerPoint. Not that it mattered.

Anyway, Reed came aboard a few weeks ago and will be working on incubation projects outside Microsoft’s business units. He was most recently CEO of Eons, a social network for the over-fifty set. Before that he was at IdeaLab and Radnet.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area writer, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.  


November 18, 2007  9:41 PM

Customer disorganization can be a big VAR margin killer

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

How closely do you manage your account size mix? There are certainly advantages to working with smaller companies—such as the chance to be a strategic IT advisor—but are you putting an inordinate amount of resources into these accounts?

A conversation I had late last week with Dave Casey, president of Westron Communications, got my mind racing on this topic. With the end of the year approaching, we were chatting about some things he’s learned about the business during 2007.

By his account, Westron has had a good year, basically doubling its sales to around $5 million. Its traditional client base is comprised of small businesses. But through Westron’s partnership with the 1NService solution provider alliance organization, Casey has been encouraged to take on bigger infrastructure projects.

And that, he says, has made all the difference this year. “We always thought we could get more margin from small businesses because we are more valuable to them,” he observes. “But the truth is that with these larger projects we can still add a lot of value, and we’ve been able to articulate that. We’re targeting larger projects, and we’re winning them.”

One example is a $100,000 deal that Westron was able to take on with the help of some of its 1NService partners. A focus on converged communications and IP telephony certainly hasn’t hurt Westron’s message, given the market interest in these solutions.

Westron has also learned some things about operational discipline by working with these larger companies, which it will use to rethink how it works with some of its smaller clients. For one thing, smaller accounts tend to be less organized about their IT strategy, Casey says, which means more of the burden lies on Westron’s own services personnel. On the flip side, Casey has found that his staff’s empathy with smaller businesses means that they sometimes overlook billing them for every service. I think you’ll agree that’s not exactly a sound business practice.

“All in all, we’re trying to target people who are better organized, no matter what the size of the company,” Casey says. “This should provide us with a higher profit margin.”

This is one of the leaps in logic that comes only with hard-won experience. For me personally, there’s a lot of validity to what Casey advocates. That’s because the first step to meeting a customer’s expectations is understanding those expectations, if not setting them in the first place.

Got a tip you’d like to share with other VARs and systems integrators? E-mail me at hccollins@mac.com.

Heather Clancy is a business journalist with 20 years experience covering the high-tech industry, especially the mechanics of the high-tech channel.


November 15, 2007  9:40 PM

Singing the Vista blues

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

 The Vista debate continues. John Dvorak and others have weighed in on the price, confusing SKU array and other potential hurdles to adoption.Most damning, in my view, have been the anecdotal comments among long-time Microsoft partners. I always ask these partners what they see in terms of Vista adoption at customer sites.

The near-uniform reaction to this question is not even verbal. It is laughter. VARs laugh when asked about Vista implementations: They are just not seeing them.

That’s not too surprising given that 1: Vista has been broadly available for less than a year and 2: people are pretty happy with Windows XP. But, people should pay attention anyway. Given the sheer noise going into this release years in advance (remember the laughable claims about “Vista capable” older PCs?) there should be more action by now.

Forrester Research analyst Benjamin Gray says enterprise accounts are now getting serious about migration to Vista and he expects broad rollouts to start in the middle of next year. By that time Service Pack 1 should be out there, giving companies some comfort.

The thing that struck me most talking to Gray was his contention that some security and UI improvements aside, the most compelling reason to move to Vista is to stay current with Microsoft support.

This should raise eyebrows.  If solution provider customers are upgrading just to “stay legal” means, to me, that they do not see feature- and function benefits in the operating system. 

That should worry Microsoft.

 Barbara Darrow, a Boston area freelancer, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.  


November 14, 2007  3:54 PM

Chizen exits Adobe

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Here’s  another news nugget that bears watching.

Bruce Chizen is leaving his spot as Adobe next month after 13 years with the company. Shantanu Narayen, who is now president and chief operating officer, will take his slot.

Chizen rode herd on Adobe’s blockbuster buyout of Macromedia. That buy gave Adobe, already ubiquitous with its Acrobat reader and the PDF format,  even more desktop presence and mindshare with Macromedia’s Flash franchise.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston area journalist, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.  


November 12, 2007  5:46 PM

Cognos: Sold to IBM for $5B!

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

 IBM Software has long made a big racket about how it’s an infrastructure player and would never ever, ever (again) compete with applications partners.

But now it’s buying Cognos for five billion big ones. That’s five billion. For Cognos! So those arguments are sounding pretty flimsy. Of course, IBM would (and will) argue that business intelligence and analytics are not applications per se. Yes, and you can probably fit a million angels on the head of a pin.

BusinessWeek’s headline summed it up:  IBM, Cognos, and the end of Best-of-Breed. Once again, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who has long said that best-of-breed was a goner, is proved right. Of course, as Bill Gates once said, Larry spent billions of shareholders’ dough proving that contention. But enough digressing.

A reporter pal could have one upped BusinessWeek with her suggested (but unused)  Cognos headline:  “Well, it needed killin’.”

 Of course IBM’s pledge of application agnosticism has long stuck in the craw of such “applications partners” as Information Builders and others. Many never bought the premise especially as the infrastructure of all the major players has crept up, up, up the application stack.
After  SAP bought Business Objects and Oracle bought up the rest of the known universe including Siebel and its analytics powers (Siebel had already bought nQuire) IBM must have figured it had to move. Don’t forget, Microsoft had its own buying binge snapping up Dundas technology along with Proclarity, ActiveViews, DeepMetrics, AssetMetrix (or parts of them) to beef up its BI portfolio.

So, as Cognos was the last BI player standing, it was only a matter of time. It has also been very closely aligned with IBM for years, especially once Microsoft started coming up the stack with its own reporting and analytics tools. In fact, IBM used to tout Cognos as a example of how it, unlike Microsoft and Oracle, does not compete with applications partners.

As SAP, Oracle, Microsoft continued their feeding frenzy, maybe it became an if-you-can’t-beat’em-join-em thing for IBM.

For  BI solution partners who’ve been in demand for their skills, will have to get used to playing with bigger and bigger partners.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston area freelancer, can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.  


November 12, 2007  2:29 PM

Got an IT job opening? Maybe you should take a chance on a vet

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

When I talk to solution providers about their biggest day-to-day operational challenges, hiring skilled technical personnel invariably comes up as urgent priority one or two. So it seemed appropriate to put on my patriotic cap for a moment on Veteran’s Day to mention a new program started by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) to prepare returning war veterans for jobs in the IT field.

The effort, called Creating Futures, links would-be employers with military personnel who are leaving active service and transitioning back into civilian life. It is, in its purest form, a training program intended to help these individuals develop the skills they need to potentially snag one of these jobs. The program provides a skills assessment, scholarship opportunities, technical training sessions, certification testing, internships and job search assistance.

CompTIA says it has been running a pilot program in Jacksonville, Fla., since March that has aided 47 veterans to date. The organization’s goal is to offer training for up to 200 people in this particular geographic area, with an eye to duplicating the program in other large cities that are home to large numbers of transitioning military personnel who are leaving active service and reentering the civilian job pool. CompTIA is also offering online training to active personnel stationed in Germany, and it is working with organizations, including Wounded Warriors, to identify IT job candidates.

Even if you’re not a CompTIA member, it seems reasonable for solution providers to look toward this candidate pool to address their hiring needs. Got any success stories or tips for how you’re successfully developing personnel? If you’re a solution provider with something to talk about, e-mail Tech Target contributing blogger Heather Clancy at hccollins@mac.com.


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