Pity the poor trade magazine, whose August diet consists of self-serving vendor surveys.
It doesn't do for reporters to examine surveys too closely, especially in the dog days of August. Surveys are meat and drink to newspapers, especially in the silly season when everyone packs up for their holidays and real news breaks are all too rare. Trouble is, trade rags can't afford to pay the sort of sums market researchers charge to conduct surveys.
The computer press depends instead on data providers like Context, Romtec, Dataquest and IDC, which publish the occasional executive summary, gleaned from their expensive reports. But there is always another survey source to turn to - the vendor commissioned report. Invariably, these reports are self-serving, seeking to show why the vendor's product, channel and strategy is much better, much stronger, and much more profitable than its rivals.
The statistical basis for these reports is often suspect. But newspapers are loath to dig too deep as their stories may disappear. Today, for example, a typical self-serving survey lands on my desk. The report comes from Lotus, which commissioned IDC to survey the financial opportunities that Notes brings to business partners.
And surprise, surprise, the financial opportunities are 'tremendous'.
IDC's research maps out a highly profitable service business with a low cost of entry and aggressive growth prospects. 'In the next three years, business partners will see a 38 per cent margin and 71 per cent growth rate per annum for their Notes-related business, due in part to the strengths of combining Notes and the Internet in customer solutions,' the report states. The survey reveals the statistical basis from which it drew its conclusions.
The study , we are told, is based on an anonymous survey of 275 existing Lotus business partners, of which 75, or 28 per cent, completed the multipart 32 question survey that sought out highly proprietary information. One suspects most of the business partners surveyed were American - the financial figures were quoted in dollars. Nevertheless, the IDC survey teases out an interesting aspect of the Notes market which is equally applicable in this country - the so-called services multiplier effect.
For every dollar or pound customers spend on Notes product, they spend another seven on Notes services. 'The Notes services multiplier is key to the success of Lotus' business partner programme,' said Gerry Murray, senior analyst at IDC/Avante. 'There's an extraordinary range of value-added services that partners can provide, from training to shrink-wrapped add-on products.'
This statement may come from a vendor-commissioned source, but for once I agree. Recently, I completed case studies on Notes sites in the investment banking and insurance sectors. The enthusiasm these companies had for Notes was striking.
More encouragingly, the companies were convinced in the merit of Notes business partners. 'Hire outside consultants,' was one typical response.
'A mixture of training in-house staff and getting expertise and cross skills from external experts is extremely valuable,' another corporate Notes user declared. 'Implementation would have taken longer, would have cost more and would not have been as successful if this mix hadn't been correct.' The Notes market is picking up speed. There are more than 200 active Lotus business partners in the UK Notes market.
With the exception of Info' Products, few major resellers have built up strong Notes business. The majority are small- to medium-sized independents plying their trade quietly and successfully. One example is Gimlet Management Consultancy of Bristol, which has grown in the past year from 30 to 50, entirely due to demand for Notes installations.
Some analysts say Notes has peaked and will be superseded by Internet and intranet technologies. This looks unlikely, at least in the medium term. Corporates are using Notes as the platform to leap into the group - Pearsons and Sedgewick Group are two examples. These companies believe that Lotus Notes delivers a a more secure, cost effective and robust way of publishing large Web sites, than by doing it all through HTML. And they have done the sums.
The Notes market looks a safe bet for a few more years growth. Opportunities in the small and medium-sized sector have barely been touched. Notes Mail, described by the Sedgewick Group as the 'single-best client/server mail environment in the market today', could be a relatively painless introduction to the Notes concept. Smaller resellers will do worse than to climb aboard the Notes bandwagon.
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