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If you’re a solutions provider trying to make a buck selling Wi-Fi hardware, you’re focusing on the wrong piece of the market. Software is where the action’s at.

Just ask Ameranth Wireless . The savvy Wi-Fi solutions provider in Long Beach, Calif., has won a big integration deal with Darden Restaurants Inc. Never heard of Darden? Guess again. The company operates family food chains like Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Ameranth CEO Keith McNally walked me through the Darden story during an e-mail exchange. Actually, it was almost like instant messaging. McNally personally replied to each of my messages within about 15 minutes. Talk about a responsive CEO who loves his business.

While most solutions providers are struggling to make money on Wi-Fi hot spots, Ameranth instead focuses on software. The company’s wireless applications allow restaurant employees to roam about dining rooms and kitchens with PocketPCs. The potential implications are huge: Food orders can be sent wirelessly to the kitchen, credit card transactions can increasingly occur at a customer’s table, and menu updates – “we’re out of tuna; push the salmon” – can be communicated instantly to all staff.

Ameranth partners with Wi-Fi hardware maker Symbol Technologies Inc. and point-of-sale specialist Aloha Technologies, but McNally’s secret sauce is software. Oh, and did I mention that Microsoft Corp. quietly invested in Ameranth a few years ago?

Deal 2:
If you’re not familiar with the hospitality market, perhaps you can focus your wireless efforts on the health care sector. Just follow Keane Inc.’s lead. The Boston-based IT consulting firm has partnered with ArcStream Solutions Inc. to design handheld wireless systems for Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Pa. and Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, Mich. The wireless systems allow approved medical staff to place orders, prescribe medications, chart vital signs and gather other information using handheld computers. Both installations should be wrapped up by the end of this year.

Deal 3: Rather than praising another customer engagement, here’s a deal that’s stumbled. Computer Sciences Corp. says it will miss a Dec. 13 project deadline for the FBI. The blown deadline involves new case-file management software. (Gee, I feel secure. Don’t you?)

Okay, that was a bit of a cheap shot. We all know how deadlines can slide in the world of technology. Delays and distractions can snowball when you throw an acquisition into the mix. In this case, the blown deadline involved DynCorp, a solutions provider that CSC acquired in March. CSC is working to get the project back on track, and told Dow Jones Newswires that the delays won’t impact the FBI’s ability to search for data.

Deal 4: Last week’s column promised to update you on Microsoft CRM’s momentum in the channel. Although Microsoft CRM isn’t setting the world on fire, anecdotal evidence from Tectura Corp. hints that the future looks bright. The Tempe, Ariz.-based solutions provider recently secured $12 million in private equity financing from Pequot Ventures . And in a bid to strengthen its services organization, Tectura has gobbled up Integrated Systems Solutions Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz., for an undisclosed sum. What do those two events have to do with Microsoft CRM? Plenty. Tectura is one of the product’s loudest proponents. It’s a safe bet they’re amassing money and staff for a big CRM push.

About Contract Watch:
Each week, this column examines customer engagements that are stirring the channel, and the solutions providers behind them. Our goal is to strip away the hype and tell you what’s really selling—and what isn’t—in today’s IT marketplace. Send your tips to Joseph C.Panettieri (

Joe Panettieri has covered Silicon Valley since 1992. He is editorial director of the New York Institute of Technology and founder of JCP Media Inc.