Keeping the SME Vendor Partner short list limited to just six names proved a real challenge for the Channel Awards judges, as they ploughed through the entries and customer testimonials. In the end they settled on Acer, Avaya, BT Indirect Channels (BTIC), HP, IBM and Veritas.
Acer has certainly increased its profile in the SME market during 2003 and its products continue to impress. The company claims to have extended its base of SME channel partners by 1,500 to 4,500 this year, and the SME market now accounts for over a third of its UK business.
In the first quarter, the company said the total value of its UK sales had increased by 180 per cent year-on-year. Resellers have been impressed by the company's approach to the market.
"Acer works out what you want," said Geoff Somervail, managing director of Claim Control Consultants, an insurance replacement reseller that targets SMEs.
"They come and see you, discuss your needs and tailor programmes for you. Their propositions are often innovative too, such as profit sharing. They're actually interested in doing a deal."
Paul Cook, managing director of Acer UK, believes the company has made enough progress to make a real challenge for the SME award this year.
"Our suppliers, customers and competitors are now viewing Acer as a force to be reckoned with. Being short-listed for an award is just reward for supporting the channel through thick and thin, and for our dedication to drive success through our partners," he said.
Representing the voice and data community are Avaya and BTIC. The arrival of such strong companies on the scene has certainly increased the overall level of competition and pushed standards higher.
While IBM and HP are the biggest names, it is very difficult to predict which of the six companies on the short list will win.
Avaya certainly believes it has a chance. Its Small and Medium Business Solutions group supports channel sales and its recent successes have included the 10,000th implementation of Avaya IP Office, an all-in-one voice and data system designed for offices with two to 180 extensions.
The company has developed a wide range of return-on-investment tools to help partners cost-justify investment in telephony to customers.
It has also built up a range of finance options designed specifically to help the firm target SMEs. These include a three-year spread payment, residual value protection and a range of flexible end-term options.
Its channel programme also provides technical support and marketing and sales back-up for partners. Its training and accreditation programme was revised at the beginning of 2003 to make it easier to use.
Feedback from business partners has prompted changes to the training curriculum with regards to course content, length and structure, and preferred learning styles.
BTIC has been active in the channel this year following the appointment of Mark Hollister as director of indirect channels at the company. BT has pledged to grow its indirect business significantly in all areas, most importantly in ICT.
A range of programmes is already in place to address the needs of the channel and more are being added.
Many of the company's offerings are designed specifically for SME customers with partner involvement. BT Broadband is one of the leading packages in the market and the BT Business Plan call option has quickly become BTIC's fastest selling call plan ever, mostly because of SME channel sales.
In addition, the Pulse managed application service for SMEs is available exclusively through BT's partners. It combines BT networking and Mitel connectivity to provide a complete offering and ongoing services revenue for resellers.
A CRM solution, Contact Central, has been released to the channel only recently.
BTIC's training and development programme is provided free to partners, enabling them to develop technical and business skills. The company's Maximiser campaign has generated 1,250 leads for broadband in the past year and BT claims an additional 1,700 leads were generated for resellers through other activities.
Chris Jagusz, general manager chapter management at BTIC, hopes that the company can attract significant support. "In the past 18 months we have been building our business in the data channel, and being a finalist in the Channel Awards affirms our success so far.
"We've built a proposition based on helping our partners to grow their revenues. It is a great encouragement that this has been recognised," he said.
HP's efforts to drive SME sales have been well documented by vnunet.com's sister title CRN, and HP is optimistic of winning this year. As well as continuing to develop its Centres of Excellence programme, HP has run a number of initiatives this year in the SME market.
In February and more recently it joined Microsoft and Vodafone to launch Outlook Anywhere, a package that offers SMEs mobile email and internet access from an HP iPAQ pocket PC for about £1 per day.
In May it announced HP Clearway, a scheme that enables SMEs to upgrade to new technology cost-effectively, offering customers cash in hand for their old IT equipment and a clear upgrade path.
HP distributed more than one million pieces of collateral in the second quarter of 2003 alone. Partners can track forthcoming activity via the online marketing calendar, and HP provides guides on SME co-branding and ROI reporting.
It is also providing access to SME contacts from the 2.9 million entries in the Dunn & Bradstreet database, and will perform local mail-outs for partners.
More recently HP launched Top Config, a scheme that allows customers to specify the design of server or PC they require and have it delivered within 10 days.
IBM is perhaps not a name that everyone would have expected to see in the SME Vendor short list, but many resellers that have worked with the company this year would strongly disagree.
Over the past year, IBM has continued to expand and improve its key channel programmes such as PartnerWorld, Know your IBM and TopSeller, with the aim of delivering good products to the channel at attractive price points.
It has also focused on product quality and enhanced its range further with the ThinkVantage technologies, which, it claims enable end-users to dramatically reduce the total cost of owning a PC.
Veritas Software seems to be everywhere at the moment and there is certainly some solid channel support behind the company. It claims to have about 700 SME channel partners and to trade with about 980 resellers on average per month.
David Mann, sales manager at reseller Trisoft Solutions, said: "Whether it's a pre-sales query or technical support, Veritas is always on hand to support our needs with a professional level of service."
Matthew Moss, sales manager at NCE Computer Group (Europa), said: "Veritas is a great company with proven data management solutions; both sales and technical support is second to none."
Helen Wood, commercial channel manager at Veritas, thinks the company can win the award this year. "We are having a terrific year in terms of year-on-year growth and this nomination completely reiterates this success," she said.
Like the other contenders, Veritas would love to be named SME Vendor Partner of the Year, and with the deadline for votes approaching fast, they all will be doing their utmost to persuade resellers to support them.
"There seem to be awards events springing up everywhere this year, but the Channel Awards is the place to be for networking, to pick up an award and to increase your channel exposure," Wood added.
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
Outstanding Product of the Year
AMD Opteron 64bit processor
Intel Centrino processor
Microsoft Windows Server 2003
Acer TravelMate 800 series
D-Link DSL-604+ wireless modem router
Smart Board SB-560
HP/Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
Bluesocket WG-2100 wireless gateway
Cast your vote
You can cast your vote for this year's Channel Awards here.The deadline is 24 October and the event takes place on Wednesday 19 November.
Voting is verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Acer (01753) 699 200
Avaya (0800) 698 3619
BT Indirect Channels
HP (020) 7216 0059
IBM (01475) 892 000
Veritas (0870) 243 1080
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