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As part of its recently unveiled PartnerEdge Channel Partner Program, SAP is developing an online resource designed to help its solution providers increase their sales capacity and expand their geographic reach, potentially around the world.

SAP AG will roll out the Channel Partner Solution Network, currently in beta with 14 program members, in August, said Ira Simon, vice president of global channel marketing at the New York-based ERP (enterprise resource planning) and business applications developer.

“We rely an awful lot on partners. The Solution Network really fits our channel and marketing model well. It provides an infrastructure for partners to connect with each other,” he said. “We don’t own the network at all. It’s by the partners, for the partners. They administer it. They own it.”

The Solution Network will be available to all authorized, active SAP solution providers&#151those that resell solutions, those that primarily develop applications based on SAP technology and those that focus on consulting, Simon said.

In addition to having access to fellow partners’ areas of expertise, SAP VARs can build customized micro sites, or “mini trade shows,” that include additional information, access to e-newsletters, product demos or anything else the solution provider chooses to showcase, he added.

“It’s all held on the network,” said Kathy Lopez, director of global channel marketing at SAP. “These partners can choose to show as much or as little as they want. It’s really dynamic.”

SAP joins the ranks of a small but powerful base of companies decentralizing the ways in which they work with partners, said Stephen Graham, group vice president of IDC’s Software Business Strategies Group in Toronto, Vancouver.

Read more about SAP’s attempts to sweeten the channel for SMB sales: SAP to Offer VARs New SMB Incentives, Double SMB Resellers

“The risk involved from a vendor perspective is you need to shift from a linear to a network in the way you manage partners,” Graham said. “You have to be willing to shift gears into a new set of management principles. It’s a very decentralized control mechanism.”

In addition to helping partners locate other partners with complementary products or services, it also will help reduce duplication, Lopez said. “It lets SAP and our partners know what’s out there.”

The network should reduce marketing costs, in both time and dollars, said Lisa Schneegans, president of Minneapolis-based Praxis Software Solutions, a longtime SAP developer partner and member of the developer’s PAC (Partner Advisory Council).

“What you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it,” she said. “We sell our solution only through the channel. What better way to reach the channel? This is our magazine ad.”

SAP worked closely with 12 members of its PAC on the design and structure of the program. Although the developer plans a hands-off approach, SAP holds a seat on the council and will work with its partners to ensure that the network is used correctly and that it is functioning well, Simon said.

Read about other partner connections SAP has made in the SMB market: HP, IBM Bundles Target SMBs

In July, SAP will start phasing in data collection from some of its partners, and the network will become fully available in August, he said.

“From our perspective, visibility is a big benefit,” said Klaus Schneegans, CEO of Praxis. “This is a huge opportunity for us. This is a global opportunity. Partners know who does what. You don’t have to do so much checking around. We can partner with somebody rather than reinvent the wheel.”

The developer decided to create the channel network based on partner feedback. “One of the key elements [partners had] was this desire to collaborate,” Simon said. “They were working hard to try to connect, so we upped the ante. This is just another element they access through our password-protected portal. It’s like a reseller locator on steroids.”

In July, SAP will take the wraps off of its redesigned partner portal, which is intended to be more user-friendly, he said. The company also plans to unveil new e-learning solutions in the same time frame, Simon noted.

To further facilitate international communication between its solution providers, SAP’s channel portal has a link to external, third-party resources such as global time and holiday information, language translators and tools for using VOIP, he said.

“It really facilitates this global collaboration,” Simon said.