Channel Marker

May 9, 2008  10:40 AM

Knowing your customer (or potential customer)

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

CDW recently released the results of what it’s calling the 2008 CDW Small Business Driver’s Seat Study, which taps more deeply into the motivations of technology buyers. The data is provides a fascinating snapshot of how an executive’s personal comfort levels with technology might affect the strategy of his or her company. They also provide some intriguing demographic insights, which I’ll get to in a moment.

For grounding, CDW’s survey covered 555 small-business executives in companies with five to 99 employees. Of those, approximately 127 responses came from African American-owned firms, 117 responses were from Hispanic-owned businesses, 152 responses were from non-minority-owned companies, and 159 responses were from woman-owned organizations.

So, one of the first things that’s worth pointing out from the data is that minority-owned businesses with five to 19 employees were more likely to hire an IT professional than the broader community of small businesses. Another area where minority-owned businesses tended to be innovators or technology leaders was in business continuity or disaster recovery planning. About 35 percent of Hispanic owners with busineses in the five-to-19 employee range reported that they had a plan, compared with 23 percent of all other businesses. Among companies with 50 to 99 employees, 67 percent of African American owners had invested in a disaster recovery or business continuity strategy, compared with 50 percent of the Hispanic owners and 48 percent of all owners.

On the flip side, though, minority-owned companies were less likely to have a server or remote access capabilities. Here’s just one illustrative statistic: 56 percent of all owners with five to 19 employees said they have invested in one or more server, while only 46 percent of Hispanic-owned or 47 percent of African American-owned companies said the same thing.

Here are some stats that might make for selling ammunition when you’re considered new approaches for your small-business clients:

  • Small businesses that considered IT as a strategic investment generally recorded faster growth than the average. Close to 70 percent of owners who reported they felt this way about technology said they posted annual growth of more than 10 percent, compared with 36 percent of owners who were more conservative about technology.
  • Minority-owned companies have an edge over the average when it comes to thinking about technology as a business driver.
  • Only 29 percent of the respondents currently employ a dedicated IT professional.
  • More than one-quarter of the small businesses surveyed said they regret not taking full advantage of the technologies they already own. Sounds like a great services opportunity to me.
  • When asked where technology has had the most impact on their bottom line, the small-business owners sited marketing and customer relationship management functions more often than other tasks. Which makes for an interesting self-searching question for VARs and resellers out there reading this that haven’t looked at these sorts of things for their own companies. Another top area where technology had impacted the bottom line for respondents was production/project management.

And, finally, here are the top five priorities that the surveyed small-business owners planned to achieve in the next three years.

  1. Have a formal business continuity plan (47 percent of respondents)
  2. Have a data warehouse and business intelligence tools (42 percent)
  3. Acquire off-site data storage and back up (37 percent)
  4. Provide industry-specific applications for staff (37 percent)
  5. Support mobile computing devices (36 percent)

Long-time business journalist Heather Clancy is a strategic channel communications consultant with SWOT Management Group. She can be reached at

May 7, 2008  9:27 AM

Microsoft and Yahoo: Dumb and dumber

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

After reading about a gagillion articles on the Microhoo meltdown, the big mystery remains. (The only more popular topic in my household is the Roger Clemens death spiral, but it’s a close call.)

Is Steve Ballmer a diabolical genius who pushed Yahoo away only to end up getting it in the end? For less dough? Don’t kid yourself: That could still happen.

Proponents of this theory cite how BEA Systems crawled back to Oracle in the end. Although not for appreciably less money than Oracle was offering

Or did Ballmer waver, Hamlet like, and merely end up looking foolish?

One Microsoft insider put it this way: If you talk about an unsolicited bid (which Ballmer did) and hint about a hostile takeover (which Ballmer did) you’d better be prepared to go for the gusto (to quote the great Ballmer himself). And that means if the difference between you and them is a measly couple of dollars among the tens of billions already on the table, then GO FOR THE GUSTO!

But, face it: As for looking foolish, Steve B. may have some egg on his face, but Jerry Yang got the whole omelet. It stretches credulity to think that Yang did not KNOW the offer had been raised to $33 as has been reported. And institutional shareholders are out for blood. Yang will probably spend what’s left of his reign in full damage control mode.

In any case, as a former Microsoft exec said the other day: The only winner here is (guess who?)


“You’ve got the number 2 and 3 search guys battling it out tooth and nail and Google gets to sail along,” he said. (As a Microsoft shareholder, btw, he is not happy about this.)

Added bonus for Google: It gets to play the role of white knight to its number one rival and can act as savior to the whole Silicon Valley culture which has been dying to knock Microsoft off its perch.

So, maybe Google is the new Microsoft. I don’t throw that phrase around lightly seeing as how some remember when Borland was going to be the new Microsoft. Didn’t happen.

It’s not that Google has more money than … well, more money than Microsoft (which it might); it’s that Google is now blessed with a  rivals who are obsessed with beating it at all costs, that those rivals now end up with omelets on their faces.

Microsoft’s worst nightmare is not that it is the new IBM. It is that it may become the new Lotus.

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

May 6, 2008  12:01 PM

Microsoft’s branding ’sucks,’ partner says

Bcournoyer Brendan Cournoyer Profile: Bcournoyer

Here on Channel Marker, we love taking vendors to task for their mumbo-jumbo technobabble. You know, announcements like, “This new suite of solutions will provide a platform for customers to leverage their CRM, ERP, SOA and BPM in the cloud, exponentially increasing their workflow and productivity.”

We do it for fun, mostly. But when a vendor’s product names become confusing to partners, it can create serious problems with customers. One Microsoft partner who forsees such issues is Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, who wrote on his blog today that “Microsoft sucks at branding.” Here’s his description of what happened during a Microsoft training session today:

I’m spending my day with Microsoft around their new products, Windows Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Essential Business Server 2008.   They are part of the “Windows Essential Business Solutions” family.   The presenter, who is quite good (and I’ve seen before), took the time to apologize for the potential confusion, and made a point to tell us to be clear with customers.

Those names are all way too similar, especially when you realize that “Windows Essential Business Server” and “Windows Essentials Business Solutions” have the same acronym: WEBS. And this is quite a tangled one indeed.

But wait, it gets worse. Before I wrote this blog, I wanted to do a little research on these products. So I typed “Windows Essential Business Solutions” into Google, and here’s what I got:

Windows Essential Business Solutions

That left me just as confused as Sobel. I poked around the Internets a little further, and I eventually found out that the product line is actually called Windows Essential Server Solutions.

I also discovered that Windows Essential Business Server is comprised of several different technologies, including Microsoft System Center Essentials, and that it comes in two different editions, standard and premium. The only difference between the two editions is that premium comes with SQL Server 2008. But even though it’s the premium edition of Windows Essential Business Server, it only comes with the standard edition of SQL Server 2008.

Got it? Me either. Good luck explaining all that to a customer.

And that’s Sobel’s biggest issue: Microsoft gave confusing names to all these products and acknowledged they are confusing, but the company is leaving it up to partners to sort out said confusion for customers. He asks, “How come this becomes my problem?” It will be interesting to see what Microsoft’s answer is.

May 3, 2008  8:58 PM

Shocker: Microsoft nixes Yahoo bid

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Microsoft has abandoned its hard-fought — and expensive — bid to buy Yahoo.

A post to the company’s website Saturday includes a letter from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to his counterpart at Yahoo: Jerry Yang.

For some, this is a sign of sanity. Last week Microsoft raised its offer to $33 per share from $31. But Yang, held out for more. That last bit of intransigence may have given Ballmer & Co. what they needed: A good reason to walk away.

In his letter, Ballmer said taking the battle to Yahoo shareholders would have made it hard for a combined company to retain Yahoo technologists and engineers. The Wall Street Journal online reported that just hours earlier Ballmer and platform & services division president Kevin Johnson met with Yang and Yahoo co-founder David Filo in Seattle. Yahoo dropped its price to $37 per share, but Microsoft wouldn’t budge above $33.

While Microsoft’s willingness to spend more than $45 billion on Yahoo proved, to some, the company was bound-and determined to get relevant in the ad and search business. To others it was a huge distraction that would have resulted in a huge overlap in staffing and R&D. They feared massive layoffs and period of uncertainty while the convergence was worked out. Blogger Mini Microsoft, who had railed against the deal for some time, is already celebrating.  “Hot damn and Yahoo!,” he wrote

Some Microsoft partners felt that the purchase attempt kept the company from concentrating on core efforts  that it can ill afford to screw up. (Office and Windows anyone?). They maintained the company should use its own in-house smarts to negotiate the road to software-as-a-service rather than spend $50 billion on Yahoo.

True, Yahoo would have brought some interesting stuff to the table even besides its successful portal. But how long has Microsoft been boasting about all the billions it’s been spending in R&D? Face it, many of us have been underwhelmed with the results thus far. So now would be a good time to wow the world with Microsoft’s home-grown tech, no?

In his letter to Yang, Ballmer still defended the purchase idea as the best option for both parties, “but clearly a deal is not to be.” (Update: Yahoo’s response here.)

That may very well be the best thing that’s happened to Microsoft in a long time — no disrespect to Yahoo.

The key now will be for Microsoft to focus on its own priorities — and maybe re-think whether fighting Google should remain job one.

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

May 1, 2008  10:50 AM

Intel site aims to hook up ISVs, system builders

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Intel’s newly launched Intel Business Exchange (that’s Intel BX to you) hopes to bring ISVs and system builders together in solution sale mode.

“We’re looking to make sure that ISVs who’ve enabled on our infrastructure have a path to market. We want to make sure their software is written for our architecture and match make them with our channel,” said Peter Elmgren, managing director of Intel Business Exchange.

The thrust is to make sure new software takes full advantage of the various threads and cores built into new Intel processors. The real, real thrust, is to help Intel move more silicon, but never mind that.

The exchange includes an online software store for the ISVs to display and sell their goods. The software will be certified by Spikesource to verify that it takes full advantage of the Intel chips and other infrastructure. (Intel announced its Certified Solutions Program in early April.)

Participating ISVs include AMI, Doculex, Everest, Fonality, Microsoft, Open-E,, Symantec and Tripwire.

System builders and PC makers aboard include MPC Computers, a Nampa, Idaho and Equus Computer Systems, Minneapolis.

The exchange could be a good way for smaller computer makers to differentiate themselves, said Jay Masterson, server product marketing manager for MPC.

“We’re not a Dell and this is a different way for our name to crop up. It allows us to talk about our value proposition. Hardware has become pretty commoditized even in the server realm and storage is going that way. The way to differentiate is if we can offer bundled solutions.”

“Intel’s done a good job building an ecosystem. We take part and will parcel up some of these bundled solutions. We take the Intel motherboard and chassis and add our own goodness,” he said.

It’s unclear how much VARs or solution providers will benefit from this online foray although web surfers clicking on a storage or security solution are directed to a “get a quote” page which in turn funnels them to an approved solution provider.

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

April 30, 2008  5:11 PM

For an edge in future career development, brush up on those wireless skills

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

This seems to be my week for rambling about training. In the blog I write for my employer, SWOT Management Group, I coughed up these thoughts about whether or not vendors should tier their training and favor their most committed VARs. This post here for TechTarget falls more along the lines of suggesting where you might consider spending your own training budget.

CompTIA reports that in all but two of 14 countries surveyed, wireless and radio frequency technology implementation and service skills will dramatically increase in importance over the next five years. Wireless skills were actually the second most important skill set for future hiring in South Africa (behind security) and France (where it came after Web technologies.) The countries covered by the survey included the aforementioned nations plus … Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

When it comes to specific industries, healthcare managers and IT teams in the education sector were more likely to say wireless would be critically important three years from now.

What does this all mean? For starters, this just plain makes sense in emerging countries, where the investments in data communications infrastructure have been less substantial than in the United States. Why on earth wouldn’t you look to advanced wireless first in some of these countries? Meanwhile, the radio frequency movement, believe it or not, is gaining some momentum from all of the green technology and sustainability efforts going on. One big growth area will be wireless sensors: for home energy management applications, in the so-called smart grid (on your electric meters) and within data centers, where they’ll be used to track energy efficiency.

Here’s some more data on where IT managers surveyed by CompTIA see future potential skills gaps.

Heather Clancy is a channel communications consultant for SWOT Management Group, where she focuses on simplicity and seeing eye to eye. You can e-mail her at

April 29, 2008  9:11 AM

Microsoft partner wants Live Mesh/Silverlight integration

Bcournoyer Brendan Cournoyer Profile: Bcournoyer

Last week’s Microsoft Live Mesh announcement had many observers dreaming of the day when their PCs, cell phones and other devices would all communicate and share data with each other.

At least one Microsoft partner had an even grander vision — one in which Live Mesh would promote truly open interaction among different devices and platforms. But Microsoft is still stressing how Live Mesh will work with Windows and Windows Mobile (even though it will be able to run on any device). And now that partner, Digipede Technologies CTO Robert Anderson, is calling that strategy “disappointing.”

“… it is a little disappointing that there is such a heavy emphasis on Windows and Windows Mobile,” Anderson writes on his blog, Expert Texture. “I discount the coming Macintosh support because support for non-Windows mobile devices is really the issue. If iPhones and Blackberrys are out of the equation, then the synchronization story isn’t so compelling.”

Live Mesh will run, as Anderson describes it, “as a set of open protocols that anyone can implement.” He had hoped that Live Mesh would run on a modified version of Silverlight — Microsoft’s .NET runtime for Internet applications — which would make it available on any device without the need for third-party development.

As my editor Barb Darrow pointed out during last week’s Partner News Podcast, Live Mesh is starting off as a consumer-oriented strategy, but it will sooner or later have ramifications for business users, the VARs who sell to them and the ISVs like Digipede who develop additional software for them. And if Microsoft plans to use Live Mesh to help compete against Google in the SaaS and Web-based applications markets, more partners should be like Anderson and start paying attention now.

April 28, 2008  2:52 PM

ISVs: One stack or two?

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

If you’re an ISV in the era of Saas vs. on-premise delivery models, the stack question has never been bigger.

If you’re going the on-premises route for your applications you must weigh the whole Java/Eclipse vs. .Net/Windows issue. If you’re going to SaaS, there are SaaS-based alternatives including’s heavily touted environment to be considered.

Narinder Singh, founder of Appirio, says it’s cheaper and less risky to use someone else’s already-built-and-tested services stack to build and field your own software services. He’s cast his lot with and Google toward that end. Singh was a featured speaker on’s recent ‘Tour de force’ road show, so his preference is understandable.

At the Boston event last week,  Singh said Appirio saved $300,000 to $500,000 last year in IT costs alone by using  (and Google infrastructure) as a foundation. It’s not coincidental that Appirio’s services–a CRM dashboard, calendar synchronization, online storage, are for and Google universes.

The company, now up to 60 employees from ten or 15 a few years ago, uses exactly zero servers for development. It has no servers at all. Singh estimates that the company’s entire IT spend (not including laptops) is in the “hundreds of dollars per year per user.” That includes $50 per user per year for Google apps, $40 per user per year for the platform license. Oh, and “we give everyone Microsoft Office” because they have to work with outsiders. So that’s probalby the biggest chunk of change outside the laptop. Appirio uses its own internal builds for recruiting, HR at very low cost compared to what he said could be $6,000 to $12,000 per user if SAP were used. (Singh used to be with SAP).

So Appirio gets all that foundational stuff and doesn’t even get a cut of the action on Appirio’s sales. Hmm. Guess the upside for is platform credibility and more application choices in its stable.

But Singh also says partners on side of the fence can win deals by saving corporate customers significant money. He cited one unnamed Midwestern company that evaluated a Microsoft Dynamics on premises financial solution and a competitor for about 1,000 users. The Microsoft software and services would have been over $4 million. The winning deal came in at between $1.2 and $1.5 million — roughly a third the cost.

The burning question then becomes whether that’s enough money for a services partner. “It’s enough for us to make money. It’s not clear whether it’s enough for Accenture,” Singh said. Accenture is a large services partner often aligned with Microsoft.

Another featured partner paints a more nuanced picture because the ISV, Coda Financials, is both a Microsoft Gold ISV partner and a fairly new partner. It’s upcoming on-demand financial services software, coda2go, build on, will launch in June.

The speed of development was fairly dizzying using, said Coda CTO Jeremy Roche. “From the minute we committed [to building the app services]  to cutting the actual application took three weeks. Now Coda’s been writing finance systems for 30 years so we know what we’re trying to do in terms of business requirements, but that’s still pretty fast.”

There was some retraining for developers in Apex vs. Java although even that learning curve was short because’s Apex supports the Eclipse IDE which most of its developers already know.

Coda will continue to work with Microsoft for its on-premises implementations. But as a point of comparison, the company runs something like 356 servers for development of its Microsoft-based on-premise financial software compared to no servers for

Of course, with its mesh strategy, Microsoft will no doubt come up with a development platform for SaaS rather than the ad hoc toolsets it now offers, but no one expects deliverables any time soon.

Coda2go users will need a license or Coda will OEM with but again, doesn’t get a piece of each sale.

Roche says the mixed stack mirrors his customer base. Some businesses are “actively moving to on demand. Some aren’t.” For companies wanting to deploy a a mix of both models, Coda will supply a connector to link on-premise and on-demand iterations.

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

April 27, 2008  5:56 PM

Microsoft’s Google goggles

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

It’s Sunday and it appears that Yahoo has let Microsoft’s “take our offer or else” ultimatum pass without action.

By now everyone knows that those at the top of Microsoft are obsessed with Google. What’s unclear is if that power structure will be able to do to that market dominator what a Microsoft was able to do years ago to previous rivals: Companies like Lotus, Novell, and Netscape.

Maybe not. With all respect to Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie, et al., Microsoft is exhibiting some of the same behaviors that led to the demise of its previous rivals. Namely, they appear obsessed with a competitor to such an extent that they may be missing other opportunities.

Novell owned the file-and-print then network operating system business. It built the best partner channel in technology. But Ray Noorda became obsessed with Bill Gates et al. So much so that Novell management took its eye of the prize. One could argue the same affliction affected Lotus’ Jim Manzi. Excel chipped away at 1-2-3 dominance As for Netscape, well; Microsoft spent billions building its own browser then gave it away. Bye bye Netscape.

Now Microsoft is focused on Google’s Internet search and ad business, but after many years and multiple billions it has thus far been unable to make itself credible. The Yahoo bid convinces some that it’s given up on fighting Google with its own technology and resources.

You have to wonder if the Google obsession has kept Microsoft from executing well both on its cash cows (Vista, Office 2007 etc.) and in new arenas beyond Web search etc.

So an interesting question is whether Steve Ballmer is the new Ray Noorda?

You tell me. Post comment below or send email to

April 24, 2008  12:44 PM

Salesforce switcheroo: Dumping Windows for Mac?

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow is reportedly dumping its Windows machines (Dell Windows machines, to be more precise) for Macs on the next corporate upgrade. This post, found by my office pal Colin Steele, has all makings of a great story The blogger, an iPhone developer and thus probably not the most neutral of observers, called his own source “impeccable.” could not be reached for comment, but the tidbit, if true, is a juicy part of a much larger narrative.

[Update: No sooner was the publish button hit than CEO Marc Benioff responded by email: “Employees can choose whatever they want pc or mac or blackberry for that matter. all of our servers are Dell, however. My opinion is the client is a commodity.”]

Early in its history, the SaaS trailblazer touted its “tight” integration with Microsoft Outlook, blah blah blah. Not so anymore. Especially since Microsoft started beating the drum about its CRM Live/CRM Online whatever, which is now available. is now blaring about its tight integration with Google Apps. Google, Benioff reminded Boston attendees, is’s “karmic” ecosystem. As he spoke, he was flanked by a podium running a Dell and a Mac. Hmmmm.

Again, if true, this would make one of the larger enterprise Apple shops.

Mr. Impeccable, a employee, said the reason for shifting 4,000 employees to Macs as the Dells come up for upgrade was: “Security.”

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

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