One of the most intriguing questions posed by the continued convergence of technology and communications is what role Telstra will play in the future delivery of IT services. It has the biggest customer database in the country and a huge retail network with hundreds of stores. These two facts alone mean it could loom as a huge shadow over the IT channel.
But like most of the major IT vendors, Telstra's biggest problem in SMB will be the lack of flexibility inherent in large corporate mentality. Its attempts to service small businesses are likely to be based on building a handful of standardized solutions that look to bundle technology services with telecommunications - a bit like it does in the consumer market with landlines, mobiles and Internet connections.
Unfortunately, at least for Telstra, this uniform SMB market is something of an illusion. Customer requirements vary so wildly according to number of employees, vertical market and geographical location (to name just a few factors) that standardisation is a laughable concept.
These business owners are much better served through the army of resellers providing total solutions encompassing hardware, software and services. Small business owners need trusted advisors and Telstra cannot realistically hope to establish itself in that role.
So should Telstra give up the ghost when it comes to IT services in the SMB market? Not necessarily but I do believe it needs to engage the established IT channel. There are signs Big T sees the IT channel as a potentially valuable ally, such as its partnership with wholesale companies like Techhead Interactive, but initiatives like the 'technology makeover' services it is currently proposing send mixed messages that will make resellers suspicious.
A more sensible route to market is through partnerships with companies that can package its services as part of holistic solutions. For a good example, it needs to look no further than former employee, Peter Kazacos, who sold his Kaz Group business to Telstra back in 2004. The PK Business Advantage company he formed recently will offer managed services incorporating the products of leading brands such as Microsoft, HP, IBM, Cisco and Symantec.
While it has a sweet spot above 50 seats, there is no reason the model can't scale down and Kazacos has already flagged his intention of building a partner network to service the lower end of the market. It seems to me that Telstra is still hedging its bets and would rather service the SMB market directly whenever and wherever possible.
This strategy is certain to fail in my opinion and the national carrier would be much better served abandoning it in favour of a clear alignment with the IT channel. If you can't beat them, join them.
In the mean time, the huge marketing machine Telstra brings to bear on any market it attacks can only be a positive for voice and data resellers. It should at least reduce the amount of time they spend trying telling small business owners how and why they should be integrating mobile devices onto their networks.