When it comes to PCs, there is no market in the world where competition is less tough than any other. As fast as any region may be to adopt PC technology, there are always a large number of PC vendors hungry to gain a piece of the market.
So how does any one company make headway in such a competitive market? Brad Howarth was in Scandinavia recently talking to representatives of Fujitsu ICL Computers, and asked how that company plans to meet its market targets.
Fujitsu ICL Computers' Professional PC unit is one of three units making up the company's European business operations. Acquired and refocused when Fujitsu purchased ICL, Professional PCs comprises a manufacturing plant and headquarters located outside of Helsinki, Finland, and a research and development centre located at Linkopin, Sweden.
Together with its server and consumer division in England and Germany respectively, it forms the heart of a strategy Fujitsu hopes will continue to win it significant marketshare in Europe, and the rest of the world.
Vice-president of personal systems, Raimo Puntala, says this divisional separation has allowed each of the Fujitsu business units to concentrate on the issues specifically facing their users, rather than working to satisfy a number of disparate and conflicting needs.
"Naturally we are working very closely with issues such as buy price, but the idea is that in this professional arena we can wholeheartedly concentrate on the issues and topics that are important to our customers."
Those customers may be anyone from small- to medium-sized enterprises to the largest corporate and government users.
And attracting large customers is what Fujitsu will need to do if it is to meet its stated objective of being number three in the world PC market by 2000. Recently it recorded 73 per cent quarter-on-quarter growth for Q3 1996.
Operating an entirely indirect go-to-market model, the Professional PC unit sells in 15 European countries through large systems integrators, corporate resellers and VARs. The PCs they sell are exactly the same as those in Australia.
Puntala says Fujitsu has a strong argument for users in its ability to offer a complete range from consumer products to very high-end servers. More recently it has begun marketing notebook computers from Fujitsu's US-based PC Corporation, a factor Puntala says should be able to propel the company beyond its current 7 per cent marketshare in Europe.
"In terms of the physical products, we have a lot of good features and bring value-add to those customers. One of the key areas where we focus is quality. That's not really value add, it's just something that you have to have."
Puntala says this commitment to quality is something the buyers appreciate. "When they put our products in corporate environments they work much more often than even our well-known competitors. And that is a major advantage, because it's really the reduction of this additional work that the channel partner may experience.
"Then further on there is ergonomics. Ease of use is really one of the cornerstones - in Scandinavia that has been always of very high importance. We started from that development in an early stage when we were part of NokiaData (pre-ICL), and we have continued that quite heavily. With our ergonomic features we have been able to keep ahead of the competition."
Much of the input on useability comes from Fujitsu's Helsinki ergonomics laboratories, which are continually testing product to make sure they are the best possible for customers (see story on page 16).
At its Linkopin research facility in Sweden, Fujitsu is also taking a strong line on the manageability of its systems, incorporating desktop management interface and advanced BIOS configuration controls. The Linkopin facility is also responsible for Fujitsu's ability to quickly incorporate new technology into its line, such as Intel's new MMX-enhanced Pentium processor, due for release early 1997.
While Fujitsu may have the components in place to be a strong player in the market, Puntala says it is now imperative that the company further promote itself in order to gain the mindshare of both users and resellers alike. He says the strength behind the Fujitsu name provides the stability customers seek when buying PCs. "When looking at the top 10 list there is no guarantee that the companies will stay there."
A further benefit Puntala sees here is in Fujitsu's own vertical integration, as by manufacturing in so many component areas the company is in a good position to supply many of its own components, rather than be at the mercy of external forces. "Already at this moment PCs are the biggest consumers of electrical components. And when thinking of the investments that are required in the production of semiconductors, one possible scenario is that many of these component manufacturers want to have PC operations as a distribution channel for their components. It may not be generally accepted, but it's not very far from being a basic strategy."