The short list for this year's Specialist Vendor of the Year award includes six companies with very different profiles.
It is certainly encouraging to see vendors that have started to break the mould in sectors that are dominated by only a few major players making it through to the final stages.
Accounting software vendor Exchequer Software is perhaps the most notable short-listed company in this regard. It has managed to penetrate a market that has been dominated for some years by Sage.
And while the latter continues to be the leader in the SME accounting software market, Exchequer has won many friends among the reseller community with its software and honest approach to the channel.
Over the past 12 months, Exchequer has increased its reseller sales by 37 per cent and its partners have certainly been impressed with the company's policies and the support it has delivered.
"The level of support from Exchequer has been remarkable and has given staff the knowledge and confidence they need to deliver a level of service that we, as a company, strive for," said Alan Mann, managing director of System Advantage.
The company is ahead of its rivals, according to Alastair Moir, managing director and founder of AMA Business Systems.
"The channel philosophy of Exchequer by far surpasses its competitors, with a programme that offers a high level of support from day one, allowing us to offer our customers a compelling product and service offering," he explained.
AMA has worked with Exchequer since August 2002.
Louis Crow, sales director of long-standing partner, 5 Star Computer Systems, said: "It is probably the most ethical, committed and enthusiastic company we have worked with and provides unparalleled levels of business support with a high level of integrity.
"It's a pleasure to work with a vendor that is so understanding and supportive to its resellers."
It may have surprised some people in the channel to see RSA Security on the short list. Not long ago, RSA was selling and supporting most of its customers directly. However, over the past two years the company has turned that around.
Its SecurWorld channel scheme has clearly had a positive impact, and RSA claimed it generates about 95 per cent of its UK turnover through its channel, up from 70 per cent last year.
The company is also getting its product offerings right, said Sean O'Brien, managing director of Data Voice and Video Solutions.
"RSA has helped us to grow our business, and the launch of the 25-user bundle opened up the doors to the SME market. We are soon to start selling RSA Mobile, which provides us with another excellent product to sell and potential new markets," he said.
Martin Jones, marketing director at Ultima Business Solutions, said the vendor was very supportive of Ultima's recent security seminar programme.
"RSA has delivered some excellent presentations at our events, focusing on real-life business issues and relating actual case-study experiences, rather than just delivering their standard product pitch.
"RSA understands what we're trying to achieve through these events and helps us to get the most from it."
Among the pack of antivirus software suppliers - some of which have too broad a range to qualify as 'specialists' - Sophos has emerged as a pace-setter. Its reseller programme has been very well received.
While it does not have the highest of profiles, Sophos is highly regarded and, like all the other vendors short-listed for this award, has delivered excellent products in addition to support for the channel.
Alan Clarke, managing director of Enforce Technology, said: "Its end-user support infrastructure is invaluable to our clients and is unrivalled in today's market.
"We can advise our clients to deploy Sophos with confidence, as we know the product and Sophos's service will satisfy the end user beyond expectation."
Paul Prior, sales director at reseller Foursys, said: "The product has been excellent and the quality of the technical and sales support has set Sophos apart from the competition.
"I have dealt with IT software companies for more than 25 years and Sophos is certainly the most effective company I have worked with."
Storage specialist Legato, with its intelligent management solutions and revised channel plans, has made a positive impression on the market this year.
Last year, Legato restructured its partner programme, and has also been running its Global Partner Programme in the UK for some time. It has grown its reseller base as a result, but even so, it still has only 45 certified partners.
These include corporate giants such as Morse and Computacenter, but also more specialised organisations such as Source Consulting, Trisys and Pythagoras.
Legato's levels of activity are impressive. The company has held more than 230 UK channel-targeted events in the past 12 months and its partners are impressed with the company's endeavours.
"The Global Partner Programme must be applauded. It is one of the most comprehensive programmes in the channel," said Bram de Groot, co-director of TriSys. Julian Stone, chief executive of Pythagoras, said that the products are always well received.
"Customers often already know about Legato and its software, and welcome using its EmailXtender products to develop and enhance their email storage strategies."
The presence of D-Link and Kingston on the Specialist Vendor short list also shows that you don't have to operate in an area that is currently a hot topic - such as security - or be a front-line brand name to have your capabilities and service recognised.
These companies are doing a good job for the channel and deserve to be on the short list.
Through its Network Partner Programme and Reseller Support Programme, D-Link has managed to increase its channel sales over the past 12 months very significantly in the UK, and it's total sales are up by about one-fifth.
It has also expanded the schemes and there are now 20 Network Partners and many more resellers working through the company's distributors.
D-Link has done especially well in the wireless market with its Air range of products, and was one of the first firms to market with 802.11g products this year. It has also been delivering some imaginative solutions, such as the Air DCS-1000W wireless internet camera, for example.
Balvinder Phull, marketing communications manager at D-Link, said: "This is D-Link's third year as a nominee in the Channel Awards. I think this is a great achievement in itself and speaks volumes about the hard work and effort we have been putting in."
D-Link will certainly be encouraging resellers to cast their votes in its favour. "I believe this is our year to win. We have worked hard and well in many areas with the channel to grow the business and develop real opportunities, especially in the wireless sector.
"We've also tried to invoke some fun in all the serious business," Phull added.
Showing its commitment to the channel, D-Link has sponsored this year's CRN Channel Golf Challenge and has run a competition earlier this year that resulted in one of its resellers - Expansys - attending the Italian Grand Prix.
Kingston Technology has also worked hard at its channel programmes and at partner relations, and is getting results.
In March, Kingston launched its reseller partner programme which, among other things, delivers a quarterly channel marketing pack that includes 'ready-to-go' templates for resellers to add their logo and contact details to, allowing them to save time and money on artwork and design.
Partners are very supportive of the company's efforts. Tracy Crawley, commercial director at ISC Networks, said: "Kingston provides us with excellent quality products, delivery and support, and this helps us to win and retain customers and to achieve our margin goals."
Over the past 12 months the company has been particularly impressive, said George Harold, commercial director at IT Partnerships. "We've worked with it on several joint initiatives, including marketing directly to the corporate end-user and an innovative incentive programme.
"This has helped us towards building a long-term partnership, and our monthly revenue and margins on Kingston products have more than doubled since the beginning of 2003," he said.
All of these companies will now be doing their utmost to persuade their partners to vote for them in the Specialist category. There are about six weeks to go before the voting closes, so resellers that want to support their efforts need to act swiftly.
Whoever wins, all six can be proud of their achievements in 2003, and in having them recognised by being short-listed for the Specialist Vendor of the Year award.
Cast your vote now
The Channel Awards voting pages are now open and will remain so until 31 October. You can cast your vote here. Voting is verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Channel Awards voting short list 2003
Corporate Vendor Partner
SME Vendor Partner
BT Indirect Channels
Specialist Vendor Partner
Parity ICT IT Partnerships
Corporate Distribution Partner
SME Distribution Partner
Specialist Distribution Partner
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