Selling SME Networking solutions
As resellers look to increase the value they can offer to clients and move up the value stack, they are looking more and more towards SoHo and SMB networking solutions, but where do the best opportunities lie?
As resellers look to increase the value they can offer to clients and move up the value stack, they are looking more and more towards SoHo and SMB networking solutions, but where do the best opportunities lie? Piers Ford reports.
When it comes to networking equipment, small is beautiful for resellers looking for new niches to exploit. Despite the commoditisation of basic networking kit at the SOHO and SMB end of the market, there is plenty of scope to add value for customers who want a truly integrated, multi-media environment. Wireless computing, IP telephony, cloud services and social media are all helping to drive this rapidly developing sector on the cusp between consumer and enterprise computing.
“As a networking company focused on all sectors, we see that small business and home office network customers are more interested in using consumer-led technology for the ease of doing business, rather than focusing on protection (against hacking) and/or redundancy,” said Marc Soulacroup, business development head MEA at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.
“This has meant that public cloud-based offerings like Dropbox and Google Drive for document sharing and collaboration have become popular. These small businesses use tools like Skype and G+ Hangout to communicate alongside other social media tools for networking.”
While enterprises in the Middle East region are naturally more concerned about network protection, redundancy and backup in the light of widespread adoption of these collaborative tools, they actually have a lot in common with their small business counterparts.
“The small office network doesn’t match the scale of its enterprise cousing but many of the same issues apply to both,” said Fayaz Ahamed, business unit manager – wireless division at regional security solutions VAD Comguard.
“The design of a small network must be simple yet functional, secure and scalable. As the business grows, the network must easily expand with it.
“SOHO organisations have more modest requirements. They might have a dozen or so computers and a few laser printers. The network for the small office must allow members of the organisation to share information as well as printers and other peripherals.
“The computing needs of most small organisations can be met by a single LAN with one or two servers, using off-the-shelf components. Unlike the enterprise network, a small office LAN can usually be managed by one person with only moderate technical knowledge and experience.”
Security is one area that resellers and dealers could focus on more strongly (see box), because customers in the SOHO arena have fewer resources but similar responsibilities for keeping their information safe – always a worry for users of public cloud services.
“Security is key,” said Niraj Singh, business services director at Vodafone Qatar. “All companies need to be assured that their confidential data is secure at all time. Smart phones get lost or left behind – that’s why remote lock and wipe is now of the utmost importance, with so much data and rich content being carried around. Technology trends are important, but security is paramount.”
Resellers who want to exploit this market should be adding security and basic infrastructure skills to their portfolio.
“They need to understand the challenges faced by SOHOs and SMEs so as to offer the best possible quality of customer service,” said Singh. “Smaller businesses generally don’t have IT experts so we have to fulfil that role for them. Our aim is to talk business, not just technology.”
According to Alcatel-Lucent’s Soulacroup, resellers servicing customers with five and more users will need basic networking and infrastructure set-up skills including IP and routing, as well as firewall, Wi-Fi, mobility and business productivity apps knowledge.
“There is also a very good chance that these businesses do not have a built-in IT department so resellers can provide a complete package from hardware to software, to a service-related agreement that will help them manage their infrastructure,” he said.
“As a vendor, we work with our distributors and reseller partners to ensure they have all the requisite material to help develop and train their team through hands-on sessions, as well as helping them communicate with their customers by providing assistance with marketing and cross-selling opportunities.”
Wireless is one of the fastest-growing networking elements in the SME market. Comguard’s Ahamed said this will provide a major opportunity for the channel.
“With more users buying tablets and smartphones, the number of devices connecting to the Internet through a wireless network has grown exponentially [in the Middle East],” he said. “The SME and home office are the fastest growing segments in the networking space. The move to cloud computing, increased costs of managing IT, and regulatory initiatives in verticals such as banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) are some of the growth drivers.
“For partners, these trends mean newer opportunities across many technology areas. Reseller competency is very important to us – because it’s very important to the customer. Your customers choose to work with you because you understand their business, their challenges – and know which wireless solutions and technologies can help them solve these challenges.”
This knowledge is crucial in helping ambitious resellers to overcome the constant pressure of commoditisation and squeeze on product margin.
“We don’t really work in the SOHO space but for the SME, we can see that at the lower end (sub-10 users), the infrastructure set-up can be a bit commoditised,” said Soulacroup. “Sometimes, these businesses are not quite clear on their own technology needs. As they get bigger, it becomes tricky to balance the needs of the business, with its scalability, and the budgets for networking and infrastructure.”
Retailers will often hold the upper hand in servicing SOHO customers, said Vodafone’s Singh. “Retail is important to us, given that many SOHO customers simply walk into one of our 20 stores as they know we have staff fully trained in SME needs,” he added. “The SME and SOHO sector have specialised needs, which we need to service in a value-added way. Therefore our business care teams need to understand the differences and offer tailor-made services accordingly.”