Readers’ letters

SME challenge

Douglas Hayward's article about the SME market (see Stoop to conquer) touches on some interesting points. Regardless of the precise definitions of what exactly comprises a 'small', 'medium' or even 'micro' business, there's little doubt that larger vendors need to wise up to attack a market that many see as the Holy Grail. Selling to SMEs requires a different business model.

In my experience, most large IT vendors are woefully ill prepared for this challenge, falling into the trap of offering technology for technology's sake. This is why SMEs are better served by smaller vendors. The smaller the SME, the less likely it is that they'll have any in-house IT expertise. For too long, vendors have made it far too difficult for non-technical customers by focusing on technology rather than business benefits. You don't sell a car and insist the purchaser understands what's going on under the bonnet. There should be no difference with IT hardware.

Now, more than ever, IT manufacturers must take the mystery out of technology and offer solutions that are easy to install, configure and manage. But nothing I've seen or read convinces me that they're any closer to understanding this.

Bob Jones
Managing Director, Equiinet

Greater expectations

Segmentation of the SME market (see Stoop to conquer) using behaviour-based criteria is a useful approach. But it overlooks one important difference: the client's expectations.

While a corporate buyer wants to be seen to have used his budget wisely, an SME buyer is more likely to take the view that he is spending his own money and so takes a more hard-nosed approach. If the large suppliers want to do business with the SME sector their sales propositions will need to be tuned more to the delivery of real benefits that can be quantified and justified. They may also find that this approach is equally valuable when dealing with large corporates.

Simon Orme
Managing Partner, Simon Orme and Associates

Cisco rivalled

Cisco might retain the title as the major supplier of networking equipment, but as your article (see Cisco’s softer side) points out, this position is far from undisputed.

In the routing market, Cisco is extremely strong in core and CPE routers. But market research firm Infonetics has indicated that the current industry revenue earner is actually edge routing. In the race to attract more subscribers, provide quality connection and content, and to fill the over-capacity in existing networks, carriers are looking to utilise edge routers to deliver value to their businesses.

Over the past five years, Unisphere Networks has eaten into Cisco's market share to become the second largest provider with 12% of the edge routing market. This proves that in this fast-moving, specialised market, it is no longer enough simply to be a big name.

Wim van Campen
Technical Marketing Director, Unisphere Networks

Grid project

I read your piece on Grid computing with great interest (see The grid groundswell) and wanted to draw your attention to an exciting new Grid initiative in which we are involved – the Intel European Virtual Centre for Grid Computing.

The universities are supplying Grid middleware and application expertise while Intel provides technology expertise and the building blocks of the Grid – processors, platforms, interconnects and software.

We have a programme in place to generate Grid technology 'best practices' which will be published and shared with both the academic and commercial community, and we envisage working with commercial systems integrators and businesses to assist in the adoption of Grid technology in web-based solutions for industrial problems. The collaboration will also provide additional funding for specific Grid projects, such as Geodise, a Grid-enabled system focussed on engineering design search and optimisation. In the future, we hope to include additional European sites, and to demonstrate the applicability of Grid technologies to a range of business enterprises.

Professor Simon Cox
School of Engineering Sciences, University of Southampton

Women in IT

As you highlighted recently (see Customers on strike), a benchmarking report for the software and services industry by KPMG and the CSSA (Computing Services Software Association) found "overwhelming dissatisfaction" with current sales processes.

Is it just me or is there a solution staring us in the face? It has long been acknowledged that women tend to be better at customer-facing roles. However, our survey showed only 22% of the IT sales force is female. Of course, there is nothing new here: calls for greater female representation in IT are as old as the industry itself. But surely, given the changing role of sales professionals, there is an opportunity to encourage more women into sales, by either re-skilling those that have joined or encouraging women to join the industry in the first place.

Ten years ago customers tended to be suited men in their forties. Now some of the key decision-makers in a business are in their twenties and often female. Given the shift needed in the market it makes sense that women are encouraged into sales.

Julia Vale
Software & Services Manager, KPMG

VC market

I recently met a UK start-up company that raised £9 million (EU13.9m) in first-round funding from two of the biggest VCs in the sector. This first round closed in January 2002 – ostensibly about the worst possible time to raise money. Clearly, VCs are still taking risks.

Back in 1998, when I first hit upon the idea for IXEurope, there were very few VCs to turn to since the majority did not get involved in first-round funding in Europe. Development capital was all that was available: it was a tough nut to crack and we faced many closed doors.

Yet since the popping of the Internet bubble, the market actually offers much more than it ever did before. We are back to where we were before the 1999/2000 explosion, only with more capital available and more experienced investors. Many US firms – including Benchmark, Advent and Spectrum – now have EU-specific start-up funds. And European VCs have a greater grasp on the tech markets, even if they are rightly sceptical. All in all, nothing ventured, nothing gained – and now is an opportune time to come to the venture capital party.

Guy Willner
CEO, IXEurope

Cultural shift needed

I read your article about US and European government demand for technology since 11 September (see The 911 call) with interest and frustration. Have we learnt nothing over the last two or three years? Technology is not the solution in isolation.

Being a technologist and former intelligence operator, I accept that we need sophisticated tools to help deal with the huge amounts of information that help us understand both the risks and opportunities presented by our environment. But it is a tool within a process driven by the human, analytical mind. As Lee Roberts, CEO of FileNET, said in your piece: "No computer is going to predict a terrorist attack."

The most sophisticated technology is useless unless the information is crafted and exploited in support of the decision-making process. This is where the fundamental problems lay. I can assure you that the US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have sophisticated technology systems. And while there are obviously some compatibility issues, the underlying problem here is in the approach to intelligence, to utilising the 'product' within those systems and disseminating this to the right people.

It is about breaking down the politics and culture of the cold war era, which is still very much with us. What is needed is a cultural change in our approach to intelligence and training of agents and operators. If we throw money at this problem in the form of new technology, and expect it to provide the answers, I fear we will be making a fundamental mistake.

Nick Beale
Director, s2i group

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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