Each week in ARN, we will profile the local channel manager of one of the world’s most influential hardware and software vendors. This week, Alcatel’s Vaughan Webster faces the panel.
What brought you to Alcatel and more specifically, managing Alcatel’s channel?
Vaughan Webster (VW): I have been channel manager for Alcatel for about 18 months. I come from a very different space within the company so the transition into the channel manager role has not been easy. My original profession is mechanical engineer. Prior to my current position I was overseeing Alcatel’s role in the building of fibre optic submarine cables. Globally, the industry came to a point where there was an oversupply of capacity to make these systems. When Alcatel disbanded this division, I moved across to the enterprise business and [former Alcatel chief executive officer] Ross Fowler offered me the channel management position.
What is the current status of Alcatel’s distribution channel?
VW: Our current distributors are VExpress and IPL. VExpress has been with us since June, IPL came on in October. These distributors are providing a lot of value-add to our resellers. The previous guys were just box droppers. Resellers who were not familiar with the new kit have been very appreciative of the technical support our distributors have been providing.
How many resellers on the books?
VW: There has recently been a rationalisation in our certified reseller base. Alcatel in Australia has six premium partners plus a certified base of just over 30 resellers. The certified resellers have access to a limited range of our products [the PCX Office line] which are available through distribution. The premium partners [Intel, Lanlink, Nexon, Tyco, VoIP and BTAS] have the right to decide whether they buy the same products direct from Alcatel or from distributors, plus they have access to our enterprise product line and all of the applications that run on that platform.
Was the addition of IPL aiming to increase that reseller base?
VW: Not especially. We are mindful not to saturate the market with too many dealers. It is about respecting the investment that your existing distributors and resellers have made in your business – they would not want to see new channel partners popping up on every corner.
Has there been any resolution to the conflict with Lan Systems?
VW: The situation hasn’t changed since the last time we spoke.
[Editors note – Alcatel officially ended its relationship with distributor Lan Systems in December. However the distributor wishes for the relationship to continue and has subsequently requested that its parent company resolve the issue with the vendor.]
How has Alcatel been performing?
VW: We had a solid year last year — we certainly made our numbers. We won some great deals toward the end of the year against some of our bigger competitors.
Is it difficult competing with the likes of Cisco?
VW: The goal for this year is to win the mindshare of those partners that might be selling a lot more of competitors’ products. The competitive landscape in the local networking market is tough. We fight to the death with some of these guys — we win some and we lose some.
What do you consider to be Alcatel’s differentiating factor?
VW: Alcatel’s strength, when we are being pitched for contracts, is our applications. Whereas many of our competitors are installing applications in the phone unit itself, ours run on the desktop.
Alcatel also, unlike some of our competitors, advocates a hybrid model when recommending new or upgraded networks for its customers. Instead of always trying to convince customers to dump their TDM systems and go all-out on Internet Protocol, it is able to offer a more gradual migration path between the two technologies. I think a partner has a better chance of winning a sale if they can show the customer ways of protecting investment in both systems. It is not easy to sell the turfing out of old gear and the putting in of new infrastructure.
Is IP telephony starting to sell?
VW: Alcatel has been providing some resources to its partners globally to push the adoption of IP telephony. Under our VoIP readiness program we have been providing working systems and configuration tools to partners that are attempting to sell and build such a solution for customers. There are more programs on the way to assist in this area.
What are the barriers to adoption?
VW: The problem with this technology is that it is human nature to take the path of least resistance. Some partners tend to sell traditional gear just because it is what they are used to.
Thankfully, we have seen sales pick up dramatically since we began helping them demonstrate the value in this new technology. Among our premium partners, they are realising that IP is a fact of life. It isn’t just something that vendors are talking about any more — it is something that customers are taking seriously.
The fact that our partners can provide a solution based on TDM, on hybrid or on IP means that they have the best solution for their customers, rather than just pushing products.