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The largest companies have used Web collaboration and portals for years to support business and workflow, but price and availability have made the technology all but unattainable to most of the SMB market.

The top tier of that market, however, will get its turn this fall, as Vignette Corp., the largest vendor in the field, announced today it is targeting their business.

Through an initial cadre of six VARs, the company intends to propel sales of its collaboration and portal software to the top SMBs—mid-level companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees. The program is to include a full array of training, support and incentives for VARs, as well as an as yet unestablished pricing model fit for the market, said Mark Belles, vice president of strategic alliances and business development at Vignette.

The company and participating VARs intend the campaign to drive the technology into the arms of a new market, opening new possibilities for the Web presence of those top SMBs and new business opportunities for participating VARs.

“From a public perspective, you’re not going to see a real difference in the Web sites you see,” said John Cook vice president of business development at LCN Technology, one of the early VARs. “But for the businesses and resellers, the difference will be ease of use, efficiency and cost.”

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“Everybody out there is collaborating in some way already; it’s just a matter of how well” Cook said. “For some it just means swapping e-mails and documents. It’s a question of how much easier can I make it for them and this is a big step forward for these smaller businesses. They can do more and better with this solution than anything available right now.”

The company’s software allows users to create collaborative tools online, such as shared access to documents and e-mail access (collaboration software) and manage access to the information and services it provides through its sites, such as searches and online shopping (portal software).

While the initial offering is for top-tier SMBs, Belles said he expects the technology to eventually make its way to smaller companies as prices fall. He said the channel would be a part of that expansion and could also be part of any expansion upward in the market, where larger companies are shopping for solutions instead of software.

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Vignette expects the collaboration and portal software line to be a boon to SMBs with a growing regional presence, Cook said. He plans to use the collaboration software in his own business to develop real-time, online and offline communications and work spaces, for employees and customers across boundaries and time zones.

“It could be a tool of trust,” he said. “This could be the face of the work you’re doing. You can have a site, where only customers and employees have access, and can see the progress you are making, whether its sales or actual integration.”

The portal technology can be equally useful in developing customized access to Web offerings based on a customer or employee’s needs, abilities and need to know, Cook added. “Each user could face a different page with different offerings.”

The channel-driven program is a shift from Vignette’s usual direct-sales philosophy, but necessary to advance the technology in new markets, Belles said.

“Historically we have only served the bigger markets, and direct sales was the best way to do that,” he said. “But we saw all that untapped potential in the mid-market and this was the best way to get to it.”

The channel, Belles said, is better suited for sales to the smaller companies who are looking more for a solution than a technology. “They have the industry expertise, they know where the market is and how to reach it. It’s a validation of everything the channel stands for.”

The channel partners also serve to validate the product line, Cook said.
“Every sale has to be a win-win,” he said. “I wouldn’t sell it, if I didn’t think it work for customers.”

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