With mounting competition from Compaq and Dell, traditional resellers - once thought to be nearly extinct - are joining in the race to become the premier one-stop Web shopping site for all of a company's IT needs.
Ingram Micro is beta-testing a Web storefront package called PrimeAccess. And MicroAge has announced a Web service called MicroAgeDirect, which will anchor the company's e-business services for clients with the added twist of offering procurement-process management software to enhance the purchasing experience and provide various levels of clearance for buyers.
But for those in charge of IT procurement, many issues - including existing relationships, vendor neutrality, and services - will dictate whether they will buy through a reseller or from an OEM.
"We've been partnered with our reseller for six years, because I didn't want to have to maintain relationships with different manufacturers," said Joan Miller, director of procurement for Newbridge Networks. "Vendor neutrality is important, because what is available between different vendors changes every minute. Using a Web site is a way to buy, but not a way to do business."
Ironically, in just three years, some of the largest resellers' strongest partners have turned into their toughest competitors.
Compaq plans to sell and resell IT solutions, supporting services and content from various vendors, including its competition, through its forthcoming portal. Throw in the revamped, Extensible Markup Language-driven Dell.com, and MicroAge and Ingram Micro are facing off against what used to be some of their most lucrative partners.
The resellers feel that with a crowded field of companies all rushing for market share, Compaq, Dell, and others are still learning what is required in offering a multivendor solution, and they have to deal with conflicting interests.
"Resellers or integrators have always been in the business of supplying multivendor solutions, but Compaq's ultimate goal is always going to be selling you their software," said Jim Scharph, group vice president at MicroAge.
MicroAge officials say that MicroAgeDirect also benefits customers by managing their procurement process. By giving everyone in the organisation varying levels of buying clearance and routing purchase requests appropriately, MicroAge eliminates lengthy approval cycles. MicroAgeDirect can also be customised to appear as part of a company's intranet.
"We'll be building Web storefronts for customers who wish to sell through our site," said an Ingram Micro spokesperson. "We also back-end our inventory through other existing sites."