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Resellers have been lectured on the merits of solution selling for years, but some industry executives are pointing in a new direction: demand innovation.

Traditional sales organizations typically enter into alliances with product suppliers and push solutions to customers. A demand innovator, in contrast, researches the market to determine customer needs and then tracks down appropriate solutions.

Demand innovators “become seekers of solutions for their customers instead of seekers of customers for solutions,” said Janet Szilva, president and CEO of JS Group, a Bridgewater, N.J., consulting firm. She said no more than 3 percent to 5 percent of the nation’s VAR population is currently pursuing the demand innovation path.

But demand innovation creates such a powerful connection between buyer and seller that she believes the ability to reform a sales department into an effective demand innovation organization will separate successful VARs from the also-rans within the next few years.

An effective start on that transition is to name a “research and development expert” from the reseller’s staff to shepherd the demand innovation push and research the market, Szilva said.

The R&D chief “plans the products, solutions and services that the reseller is going to bring to market,” Szilva said. The individual meets with C-level executives among potential customers to discuss future business needs, and crafts the reseller’s solution strategy accordingly.

The R&D position calls for a mix of business development and technology skills. Depending on the organization, the R&D expert may be termed a chief technology officer or a technology strategist, she said.

Among the early demand innovation adherents is Cross Telecom Corp., an Avaya solutions provider based in Eden Prairie, Minn. The company doubled its sales last year, but nonetheless has decided to revise its sales philosophy, according to Robert Coughlin, Cross’ president and founder.

Cross’ approach to customers was based mostly on transactions, rather than on building longer-term relationships, Coughlin said.

In response, the company recently went though “some realignment within the organization” that included moving a pre- and post-sales technical services expert into a CTO role.

The CTO is now in the process of launching Cross University, a program designed to educate account teams on the company’s new value proposition, Coughlin said. The CTO will also develop employee training paths and help cultivate the company’s service offerings.

ACS nabs HomeBanc BPO pact.

ACS Nabs HomeBanc BPO Pact

In its latest business process outsourcing deal, Affiliated Computer Services Inc. will take over the home loan paper workload from HomeBanc Mortgage Corp.

ACS will provide document imaging, indexing and storage services to HomeBanc, an Atlanta-based mortgage lender. The contract was announced on Monday.

The service company will also take over the HomeBanc-owned facilities, technology and equipment involved in managing loan documents, according to Todd Roark, vice president and director of change management at HomeBanc. The lender handled staffing through a third-party firm.

“Going forward all components are the responsibility of ACS,” Roark said.

Under the HomeBanc pact, ACS will handle all loan documents—about 250 to 300 per loan file, according to Roark.

ACS said it will process more than 1.2 million document images per month at its Dallas data center. It also provides outsourcing services to five of the nation’s top 10 mortgage companies.

Roark said ACS will be able to boost image quality, increase process efficiency and reduce business risk. ACS owns the “risk of image retrieval and backup/contingence processes,” he said; part of the contract is a service-level agreement HomeBanc has established with ACS.

Roark also said the contract provides regulatory compliance efficiencies, although that was not the main motivation behind the deal.

Agilysys to buy storage specialist.

Agilysys to Buy Storage Specialist

Agilysys Inc. on Tuesday disclosed an agreement to purchase The CTS Corporations, a move calculated to broaden the solution provider’s reach in storage-related service.

Agilysys agreed to purchase CTS in a $28 million cash transaction, which is expected to close by the end of May. CTS, based in Roswell, Ga., provides consulting and professional services in enterprise storage sector.

The company builds storage solutions around such vendors as EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, Legato and StorageTek.

Once the acquisition closes, CTS will become part of Agilysys Professional Services, according to an Agilysys spokeswoman. CTS employs a staff of more than 200 engineers nationwide, according to the company’s Web site.

The spokeswoman said the addition of CTS will provide the following offerings: storage assessment services, project management and business continuance/disaster recovery.

CTS’ impact on Agilysys’ distribution side is unknown at this point. Agilysys’ Keylink Systems Group unit distributes midrange computer systems to resellers.

When asked whether Agilysys will distribute EMC products, the spokeswoman said the company has nothing to announce in that regard.

Nemx Launches Channel Program

Nemx Software Corp. on Monday unveiled an e-mail monitoring solution and simultaneously kicked off a reseller push.

Nemx, based in Ottawa, announced SecurExchange, a suite of products designed to address customers’ e-mail-related risk management and regulatory compliance concerns.

The products work within Microsoft Exchange networks, monitoring incoming and outgoing messages as well as e-mail circulating within an organization.

The plans call for the company to register 25 to 50 North American VARs within the next 12 months, according to Larry Trenwith, Nemx’s vice president of marketing. The program will have two tiers: SecurExchange Referral Partners and SecurExchange Reseller Partners.

Referral partners recommend SecurExchange products to customers, who buy those products directly from SecurExchange. The company then provides a referral fee. Reseller partners receive discounts on products and support contacts based on the volume commitments they make. The minimum commitment is $3,500.

John Young, president of Nemx, said SecurExchange provides Exchange resellers with a follow-on sales opportunity. Resellers, he said, have encountered limited upsell potential after customers install Exchange 2003 and use that product’s Intelligent Message Filter (IMF) anti-spam capability.

SecurExchange, however, lets resellers “fine-tune” IMF, Young said. For example, SecurExchange—IMF Edition makes additional actions available for a triggered message, such as “reroute” or “move to any subfolder.”