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When Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina talks, solutions providers listen.

More than 1,000 HP partners converged on Los Angeles earlier this week for an update on the company’s go-to-market strategy. Fiorina and other HP executives announced a major small- and midsize-business (SMB) initiative during the show, but the bigger news for partners involved HP channel veteran Kevin Gilroy.

Only days before the conference, HP named Gilroy as vice president and general manager of the company’s new Solution Partners Organization, which will begin operating May 1. Gilroy will oversee HP’s channel sales force, strategy, marketing, training and operations for distributors and solutions providers in Canada, Latin America and the United States.

Gilroy’s new post comes at a critical time for HP’s partners. Some partners earlier this year alleged that the company wasn’t listing to their ideas or concerns. High-level meetings between HP and several solutions providers appeased many of those concerns in February, and many partners say they are eager to hear Gilroy’s ideas.

“Everything that I have read and heard about Kevin Gilroy’s plans to date indicates that the potential is huge for him completing a successful merger of all the various divisions,” said Felise Katz, CEO of PKA Technologies Inc., an HP-exclusive enterprise VAR specializing in integration, enterprise servers and storage. Katz shared his thoughts with me Sunday, a few hours before the L.A. partner event kicked off. I’ll let you know how Katz and other partners are reacting to Gilroy in the weeks ahead.

Teaching the HP Way

Deal Two: Teaching the HP Way
Distributors such as the SBM division of Arrow Electronics Inc. also sought the spotlight at the HP partner event. Arrow’s SBM team used the show to announced PowerTrack, a training event for enterprise HP partners to be held May 10 to 14 in Atlanta. Partners who attend PowerTrack can obtain as many as four different HP server and storage certifications during the five-day event.

I’ve got to admit: Many certifications aren’t worth your time or money. Customers demand hands-on experience, and most aren’t familiar with the certifications that solutions providers pursue. Many national training centers that thrived in the 1990s are scaling back their operations because certification no longer guarantees employment in the tech sector.

Still, I suspect PowerTrack will gain strong interest from HP solutions providers.

Deal Three: Answer a Higher Calling
If you’re not serving the higher-education market, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Skeptical? Consider my own behind-the-scenes look at higher education. After 10 years as a full-time technology journalist, I joined a college—New York Institute of Technology—as editorial director in 2002. During the past two years, NYIT has installed six miles of fiber optic cable; deployed a completely new phone system; overhauled its datacenter with Sun, Dell and EMC equipment; and revamped its Web site.
Thousands of campus PCs and notebooks are continually refreshed as well.

Now that colleges have solid IT infrastructures in place, they’re seeking applications that give them a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining students. Savvy solutions providers such as Ciber Inc. hope to cash in on that trend. The Greenwood Village, Colo.-based firm has entered a development agreement with PeopleSoft Inc. to co-develop CRM products for higher education. The first CRM component, expected to debut in Q3, will offer recruiting and admissions functionality.

Let me know if you give it a look.

Next page: Calling All Customers

Deal Four: Calling All Customers
BearingPoint Inc. has launched an IP Telephony Readiness Assessment Tool to help customers embrace Voice-over-IP (VoIP) networks. The tool is designed for financial-services companies that are trying to slash their telecom costs and design telephony applications.

Is the tool truly valuable or merely a marketing ploy for BearingPoint’s networking consultants? If you’ve got some free time on your hands, register and check out the tool and let me know your thoughts.

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 my e-mail address below.

Joseph C. Panettieri has covered Silicon Valley since 1992. He is editorial director of the New York Institute of Technology. Write to him at