The Road to Increased Profits May Run Through Your Own IT Department

By Michael Vizard  |  Print this article Print


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Opinion: A plethora of tools to help solution providers run their businesses has hit the market, and they are worth evaluating.

When it comes to what's right and wrong with the channel, a lot of the weight of that conversation naturally falls on the vendors. But in all honesty there's still room for improvement among solution providers, especially in the area of operational excellence.

To that end, a small cottage industry with new sets of tools that help solution providers run their business better has started to emerge, including but not limited to new CRM (customer relationship management) tools, business optimization software designed specifically for the channel, and online productivity applications from Google and Microsoft.

For example, LexisNexis has integrated its recently launched InterAction CRM system with the vast library of information it has on millions of potential prospects. The core idea here is that you can buy a CRM application from LexisNexis that not only helps you track your own leads, but includes links to all kinds of additional information about that customer's corporate structure.

West Monroe Partners, a technology consulting firm based in Chicago, uses the Lexis-Nexis CRM application to find out who in the company knows what about any given customer and the divisions within that customer. According to West Monroe Partners president Dean Fischer, the value-add provided by the Lexis-Nexus software is that it allows him to see the complete network of relationships that his company has with a customer and then compare it to the total opportunity that may be available given all the data Lexis-Nexis has on the customer. In this way, West Monroe can better develop its own lead generation strategy, he said.

Of course, that's just one example of IT infrastructure that solution providers have put to work on their own behalf. Elsewhere, Autotask, which offers a Web-based product that helps solution providers manage their people and projects, is locked in a battle with ConnectWise, which pretty much delivers the same type of offering except that it's installed on the premises of the solution provider.

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ConnectWise, being the older of the two companies, seems to have a broader number of features at the moment, while Autotask, which recently struck a deal with Ingram Micro, argues that its Web-based approach is more conducive to how IT services companies actually run given all the work that needs to be tracked while managers are in the field. And as if that space wasn't crowded enough, now there is another company called Blue Folder that is offering a Web-based tool for tracking service team deployments and schedules.

Nor does it stop with operational management tools. Startup companies such as Circa65 plan to offer solution providers tools that help them better market their wares while distributors such as Ingram Micro and Synnex offer a range of services that allow solution providers to outsource a variety of tasks to them.

But none of this may compare to what Google and Microsoft are up to. Solution providers such as Blue Wolf, which has over 150 employees, are already using free Google Doc applications alongside Gmail to avoid all the expenses associated with buying and deploying Microsoft Office and Exchange servers. And now Microsoft has announced plans to create an online exchange environment around Office Live that will include CRM software that solution providers can use to manage their interactions with potential customers they meet through having a presence on Office Live.

Sometimes solution providers are so focused on the next sale that they forget to take a step back and check out all the options that are available to help make their companies more profitable. Not all these tools are going to be right for everybody, but the odds are good that if you take the time to look around, you're going to find some things that just might help you rethink the way you run your company.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media's Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at michael_vizard@ziffdavis.com.


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