An increasing number of vendors are having to consider using the channel as the back-end of their operation. Not only are more and more distributors taking on logistical responsibilities for manufacturers, but there is now a move to involve them in the manufacturing process of bespoke kit.
Compaq UK MD Joe McNally said in July that Compaq had to be aware of the Dell's success in the UK. The Dell model, he said, had worked very well and Compaq would need to see what lessons could be learned from it.
The company has since confirmed that it will be remodelling its manufacturing processes in order to follow the build-to-order-type model that has worked so well for Dell.
IBM is the first of the big league vendors to commit to having its kit configured by the channel. It will begin a trial scheme in the next few weeks with Computacenter and Northamber, which will see the channel giants part-assembling and configuring IBM PCs. For Computacenter and Northamber this is a good move as they will be able to carry less stock and should be in a stronger position to react to customers' requirements.
Martin Hellawell, head of marketing at Computacenter, said the company is enthusiastic about the deal. 'Does it really make sense for a vendor to ship complete PCs if resellers are only going to open them up and change them anyway? Something like 60 per cent of all the boxes we shift involve us re-configuring at some level.'
Computacenter has identified this opportunity as a way of scoring points with users and cutting costs. 'We can cut down on inventory and can offer our customers greater choice at the same time,' said Hellawell.
This model could prove a turning point for the Compaq. Jonathon Adams commercial business unit director at Compaq, said that the company will reposition its entire manufacturing model between now and the end of 1997.
'By restructuring the way in which we operate our manufacturing processes we can respond to the users' needs more quickly. This will enable us to become leaner and more responsive in general,' Adams said.
Compaq's server manufacturing model already follows a similar pattern.
Many of the company's servers are shipped with no hard disk, allowing the reseller to configure the system to meet the exact requirements of the customer.
Corporate users are becoming increasingly demanding and their needs are ever more complex. PCs configured to meet specific requirements represent a responsible price-performance conscious approach to buying. The success of this approach will depend heavily on the indirect channel and on vendors being able to adapt to match its needs.
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