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Accenture on Tuesday inked a seven-year outsourcing contract with Elpida Memory, a Japanese supplier of dynamic random access memory.

Under the pact, Accenture will take over the operation of Elpida Memory Inc.’s systems that handle finance, procurement, customer relations and knowledge management. Elpida’s goal is to improve the cost-efficiency of its information technology and boost customer satisfaction as a result.

Some industry watchers suggested that Japanese companies have been slower to embrace outsourcing than their U.S. and European counterparts.

That said, Gartner Inc. predicts that the Japanese market for IT outsourcing will rise to $43 million in 2008, from $25 million in 2003.

John Wallace, an Accenture partner based in the United Kingdom, said the company has been working with Elpida on the outsourcing deal for more than a year.

He anticipates that other Japanese companies in the electronics and high-technology arena will follow suit, largely because outsourcing drivers in Japan are much the same as in other markets: cost management and quality improvement around a particular business function.

Convergys Targets Financial BPO Segment

Convergys Corp.‘s plan to acquire Deloitte Consulting’s business process outsourcing unit will propel the company into a high-growth opportunity.

Convergys last week signed a deal to acquire Deloitte’s Tulsa, Okla.-based unit that focuses on finance and accounting outsourcing. Convergys’ business process outsourcing mainstay has been human resources, so the deal would let the company expand into a new area.

The pending transaction “really broadens the array of [Convergys’] offerings in the market,” said Philip Fersht, a vice president with Yankee Group Research Inc.

Finance and accounting is the smallest business process outsourcing segment, but it is also the fastest-growing, Fersht said.

The deal also would give Convergys additional scale to compete against such rivals as Accenture, Affiliated Computer Services, Hewitt Associates and IBM.
Convergys executives recently told analysts that the company plans to expand its human resources outsourcing business, targeting companies with more than 20,000 employees.

In other acquisition news, Ciber Inc. this week agreed to purchase Knowledge Systems Pvt. Ltd., based in Bangalore, India. The move will more than double Ciber’s offshore presence, according to the company.

Fonality Builds Channel for SMB IP Phones

Fonality emerged from stealth mode this week, unveiling a relatively inexpensive, IP-based PBX product that it hopes to sell to SMBs (small and midsized businesses) using consultants and integrators as a key marketing channel.

Fonality’s PBXtra products are built on top of the open-source Asterix. PBXtra Standard Edition, priced at $995 including server, supports unlimited IP phones and as many as 12 analog phones. PBXtra Call Center is priced at $1,995 and provides automatic call distributor functionality, call queues and multiple auto-attendants, among other features.

Fonality is actually following a competitor into the market. Switchvox, which also sells PBX products based on open-source technology, launched a reseller program earlier this month.

Read more here about Switchvox’s reseller program.

Chris Lyman, Fonality’s CEO, said small business buyers traditionally have had two choices: comparatively expensive PBX systems, or low-cost but “feature-lean” key systems&#151systems designed to handle 50 or so phones, and that represent each outside line with a key on internal, multiline phones.

A 10-person office that needed the broad set of capabilities in a PBX might spend $15,000 to get them, while key systems can be had for $5,000 or less.

Lyman said a 10-user edition o fPBXtra costs a bit less than $3,000, with the price of purchasing IP phones factored in.

Channel partners are signing up with Fonality at a pace of 100 a month, according to Lyman. All told, the company has more than 300 partners—computer consultants, systems integrators and network integrators.

The channel-building task is familiar to Lyman. In the 1996, he co-founded Virtualis Systems Inc., a Web hosting vendor that sold its service through a network of some 45,000 Web designers.

Fonality’s channel program offers a commission to partners on PBXtra sales and a monthly commission based on a customer’s use of Fonality’s VOIP (voice-over-IP) network. The company handles some sales directly via its Web site, but passes installation leads to its partners. All other sales are through partners.

This month, channel sales surpassed direct sales in both revenue and volume, Lyman said.

Partners who sell PBXtra can take advantage of the ability to administer the system remotely through the Web, Lyman said. “You can manage and configure the entire system via the Web,” he said. For example, partners can record voice prompts remotely.

PBXtra is designed to provide connections via either the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), also known as plain-old-telephone-service, or as a hybrid PSTN/VOIP system. Integration with Microsoft Outlook, call paging and call-center reporting also are included with the product.

Compiere Goes West

Compiere, an open-source business software vendor, this week will open its new headquarters in Portland, Ore.

The channel-centric company initially launched in Connecticut. But Jorg Janke, Compiere’s president and project lead, said the company had difficulty recruiting personnel. “We had quite a hard time finding people,” he said, noting the challenge of competing against employers on Wall Street and in the Boston area.

Compiere plans to hire aggressively in its new location, according to the company. The company’s headquarters are now located at the Portland University Business Accelerator, an office park for software businesses.

Compiere offers an ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) application, through indirect channels.