Different strokes

WA-based IT Procurement Services (ITPS) only has two staff but TechLink4U could prove to be a goldmine for the company. Instead of aiming the newly created Web store at the retail market, it will use the facility to strengthen relationships with existing corporate and education customers.

"Some people are bound to go retail but if you want to play in that game you need to move a lot of boxes," managing director, Mark Smith, said.

"We provide IT product and services to a small number of university and major corporate clients. I don't see any point in doing small bits of work here and there with hundreds of customers."

The most exciting opportunity for ITPS is centred on the technology advisor role it has established with Curtin University during the past eight years. In effect, the company has now developed a private portal that will give thousands of students and staff access to desktops and notebooks.

While a couple of thousand dollars for a computer would generally be a major concern on a student budget, the monthly terms available through Flexirent means they will be able to pay for any purchases over a period of up to four years.

"In offering computers to the student population, we wanted to make sure the scheme was accessible to everybody," Smith said.

Curtin's purchasing will be available to all university staff and students but centralised by department. Random visitors to the ITPS site will see retail pricing but anybody with a login has access to discounts.

Pressure value

ITPS has been beta testing its TechLink4U site - www.itprocurement - since early February. Smith said the site had taken some pressure off his small staff and initial feedback from customers had been superb.

"One of the main reasons we were keen to get involved was that it makes it easier for people to order online with limited involvement at our end," he said.

"I expect it will halve the number of phone calls we take because people with simple queries can just jump online and take a look without the need for human interaction. It frees the whole process up.

"If a customer orders a notebook it will be shipped straight to them from Ingram Micro - the ease of use has been getting rave reviews from my clients."

While exact pricing has yet to be finalised, Smith said the solution was also cost-effective because a reseller would be looking at a significantly larger investment to build a website with this level of functionality. Dealers are expected to be charged somewhere in the region of $3000 for a TechLink4U site when the hosted service is eventually launched. No release date has yet been finalised.

Queensland-based reseller, D2K, will take a different approach and use the website to expand its geographical reach.

Managing director, Matthew Drane, said it would enable the SMB-focused Bundaberg dealer to build a customer base in new towns like Mackay and Rockhampton.

The company has 30 staff servicing regional Queensland and aims to get face-to-face time with all customers at least once every three months. However, the site would free up resources because customers could find answers to minor queries online instead of making a call.

"We are using the Web as an interface with clients we don't get to see very often," he said. "We might not have physical resources in some of the areas we service but at least those customers now have somewhere to browse products."

Page Break

Volume Driver

While D2K concentrates on building tier-one solutions for specific business problems rather than product delivery, Drane said the site would help the company increase its volume of transactional sales. A significant improvement in Ingram Micro's drop ship capability during the past six months was also working to its advantage.

"We had an emotional attachment to the cardboard in the past because we have deep relationships with customers and know where a particular server they have ordered will be deployed," Drane said. "But as we grow, there is an opportunity for some sales to be done differently.

"Previously, if somebody just wanted a copy of Norton Antivirus it would take too long to deliver. Now we can fulfil those small orders, rather than losing business to the likes of Harris Technology.

"When an order is fulfilled from Ingram's warehouse through TechLink4U, it arrives at the customer's premises with our logo on it. That's another useful point of touch and helps build familiarity."

But although he was full of praise for the functionality, Drane warned dealers against trying to push all of their business through the site.

"Some people will try to move everything across but I can see it putting them out of business. It creates the danger of losing customer focus," he said. "People make a difference at the end of the day - anybody who forgets that will quickly become just another website offering product with a mark-up."