On my recent trip to Comdef, I attended a workshops - one of the many on offer - entitled: 'Why SMEs are not getting business benefit from IT.' The company running the workshop, BuyIT, has launched a scheme to encourage regional Business Links to team up with IT companies in recognising a new set of independent accreditation standards aimed at improving understanding between IT firms and SMEs.
Great idea, but will it work? Probably not, I fear. For one thing, the SME market offers the channel very little margin for a great deal of work.
It's like two sides of a coin. On one side are the SMEs. They still don't really understand the potential of what IT can do for their businesses - they are too busy trying to run them. Too few SMEs know why they should be using IT and even fewer know how to make it work to their advantage.
The guy conducting the Comdef workshop likened SMEs to small children.
Sooner or later, young children see themselves in a mirror and realise that they are staring at themselves - in short, they become self-aware.
SMEs are very similar, he claimed. It is not until a small business becomes self-aware that it can properly decide how best its IT can be put to use.
The most unfortunate thing about this is that, like a small child, the SME must learn from its own experience - it cannot be taught to make this connection and no amount of salesmanship will change that.
SMEs, then, will continue to place unreasonable demands on resellers - free installation, free development work, free support, a free helpdesk ... oh, and a partridge in a pear tree. Sound familiar? The fact is, the SME market is still a prohibitively expensive place for resellers to do business.
Many industry pundits believe a strong partnering approach will help resellers to win SME hearts and minds. Partnerships between resellers and clients, vendors and distributors and distributors and resellers.
Partnerships are all the rage, but can they really help? Although it may seem like more hard work, it may be worth a try.
And that leads nicely to the other side of the IT coin - the vendors.
Because, for those partnerships to be successful, the vendors must also change the way they treat SMEs.
So far, at least, vendors have only offered pretty meagre pickings for SMEs. Most are nothing but scaled-down corporate models in SME clothing.
On top of that, neither distributors nor resellers are properly geared up to cope with the business.
This must change if resellers are to take advantage of the opportunity.
And for that to happen, schemes like the one being run by BuyIT must be recognised and given a platform and their fates must not be left to the turn of an unfairly weighted coin. They deserve all the support we can muster and I for one wish them all the luck in the world - they'll need it.
Simon Meredith is a freelance IT journalist.
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