IN THE HOT SEAT: Going mobile with Toshiba

IN THE HOT SEAT: Going mobile with Toshiba

After recording its best ever year in notebook sales, Toshiba wants to maintain its momentum in the consumer, SMB and education markets. Toshiba Australia's no-nonsense IT veteran, Mark Whittard, is excited about what's ahead this year in the notebook arena. He pointed to screen advancements and the continual reliance on wireless technologies - including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - as the areas and items to watch.

What's your background?

Mark Whittard (MW): I've been with Toshiba for six-and-a-half years, joining initially to head up marketing. Last May, I took on the GM role. I've been in the IT industry for 19 years. Prior to that, I came from a structural engineering background, working with CAD/CAM systems.

What falls under your current role?

MW: I head up the information systems division, which is selling all of our mobile computing technology products. It is a fully autonomous division responsible for sales, marketing, service, support, administration and logistics. It has a turnover of about $400 million and a staff of 140 people.

What are some of your key accomplishments since becoming GM?

MW: In the past 12 months, there has been significant investment in two main areas. The first is restructuring our services program - in particular, implementing our mobile care service depots, which complements our channel service infrastructure by supporting them in spares and overflow through to servicing markets that they don't want.

The second area is improving ease of business for our resellers. This is a complete revision of all of our internal processes and systems, giving us significant improvements in efficiency and productivity, which means it's a lot easier for the channel do to business with us.

What is your top channel initiative this year?

MW: I want to continue rolling out our revised go-to-market channel program with a specific focus on growing our second tier. We are investing heavily in sales and marketing to help drive demand in this area, introducing benefits and rewards for partners that meet certain criteria. For example, in the education space we have the mobile Ed program or the mobile AV plan for dealers in the audio-visual space.

Where should resellers look for growth in the notebook arena?

MW: Last year, we had a record year - our biggest ever for Toshiba. According to IDC, we sit fifth overall for the PC market; Number 1 for notebooks. The real growth area has been the consumer market with the SMB market ranked second. We've also seen strong growth in the education sector. It has been quiet for the last couple of years, particularly the private school sector, but it's coming back to strong growth. All market segments have returned to growth because of the refresh cycle - large business and government had been in negative growth, but are bouncing back.

How is Toshiba helping the channel go after specific market opportunities?

MW: We are always exploring opportunities outside of the traditional desktop replacement arena, and continued growth will come from that. The continual promotion and the benefits of mobile computing over desktops is a great way for a reseller to improve the average sell price and their margin.

There are clear benefits of productivity and efficiency gains.

We have launched new tools - (Toshiba Fleet Management and Why Toshiba - which helps resellers convince customers to choose mobile technology. The advantage for the reseller is it gets the discussion off cost. It allows the reseller to engage with the customer about what they want to do with their IT infrastructure. The discussion can also talk about opportunities from a service point of view, and from a wireless infrastructure point of view, helping them talk about the total solution.

Is the Tablet a main story this year or still considered a sidebar?

MW: We see this year as the Year of the Tablet in terms of conscious awareness and people starting to understand the technology benefits, what it can do for any type of application right down to its standard office use. We started a Tablet demonstration program, Try Before You Buy, in conjunction with our channel.

Along with the program, we have a few new Tablets coming out: a 14-inch model; and a new low-cost one. We have 60 per cent share of the total Tablet market in Australia. The market accounts for two to three per cent of the overall notebook sales, but this year we hope to push that up to 10 per cent.

In light of the IBM/Lenovo news, what is Toshiba's game plan to gain market share?

MW: There are obviously a number of customers and channel partners that are a little nervous about the new entity and what it means for IBM products, so we are aggressively targeting the opportunities there.

We are talking with the channel partners that have most of their business with IBM today, and that are looking for an alternative. IBM is not the strongest competitor in the notebook space in Australia. In fact, they have slipped. It's more HP and Dell and Acer that are the stronger. But certainly we are targeting IBM. They are internally focused at the moment, and whenever a vendor gets internally focused you can catch them asleep.

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