Stories by Bill Bennett

Expanded Awards sees entry numbers rise

Because of the increased competition judging was noticeably harder than in the past. There were still a few standout winners, but in some categories we needed to employ tie-breaks and even appeal to the video referee.

Bill Bennett

Prize winners were not the only people to walk away from this year’s IBM Business Partner Awards feeling rewarded. I left the event with a good feeling about the state of New Zealand’s reseller community, a pride in our nation’s capacity for innovation and a new respect for the business sophistication of our industry.

Why do low-end laptops have wide screens?

Sub-NZ$1000 laptops have been around for a couple of years now. Some are priced lower. Last week Dick Smith was offering a model for under NZ$500. But for some reason, just about every bargain basement laptop currently on sale in New Zealand has a 14-inch wide screen. This is curious, because only months ago, wide screen models were commanding a price premium. Generally the low-cost models on sale have compromised specifications: too little ram, not much hard drive, weak processors and so on, but apparently rather upbeat displays. Here's a possible explanation. Laptop makers put wide screens on models aimed at consumers -- presumably the wide screens are manufactured in such vast quantities the margin cost of those extra few pixels is negligible. As soon as individual laptop models go off the boil, they are discounted, wide screens and all to that magic sub-$1000 price point. It's probably like mobile phone cameras -- it's actually cheaper to set up production lines so more or less every phone manufactured has a built-in camera somewhere, it's just not activated in certain non-camera models. Or is there a better explanation?

And now a word from our sponsor

New Zealand Reseller News has devoted gallons of ink and buckets of pixels to covering Microsoft’s Windows Vista launch. It’s a big story and largely a positive one for our industry. However, a seemingly insignificant nugget buried deep in the international coverage of last week’s events rang alarm bells. We’ll get to this nugget in a moment, first some background. Something seismic happened to relations between mankind and computers during the 1990s: we went from thinking about computers as being a kind of digital brain to viewing them as a forum or meeting place. In the sixties you could buy books with names like “The Billion Dollar Brain” – a spy thriller about a super computer. Movies, 2001 A Space Odyssey is the most obvious example, depicted computers as having human-like thoughts, motives and dysfunctions. Bladerunner did the same with more style. In the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy robots and even humble doors were given personalities. There was a time when any self-respecting software company simply had to use the words “artificial intelligence” to describe its new products. Our view of computers reflected our dramatic, pessimistic, optimistic or humorous views of humanity. We saw them as companions or possibly even rivals. Then data communications took off. First with local area networking. Then with simple wider area networks and eventually with the Internet. Overnight computers went from being powerful calculators to being communications devices. The metaphor switched from brain to destination. In the mid-1990s Microsoft’s main advertising slogan was “where do you want to go today?” Movie depictions of computers switched from paranoid androids and murderous replicants to the Matrix. We talked of cyberspace, we “went online”. Importantly, we purchased buckets more computers and related products than we ever did before. And we used our computers to buy other things. One of the places we went to with Microsoft was the online shopping mall. The switch from brain to place triggered an industry wide boom, it made some of us rich. The place metaphor was rich with potential. It still is. Moreover, both the brain and place metaphors made for good business tools. But sadly, the metaphor de jour is changing again and it doesn't look good for business. Steve Jobs and the iPod are partly to blame. Bill Gates and just about every consumer product his company pumps out are also to blame. Hell, cellphone makers are guilty too. Today’s Vista-era computers are primarily about delivering content. Less two-way communication, more passive couch potato. In other words modern PCs are souped-up television sets, transistor radios and music centres all rolled into one. They’ve become toys and there’s a danger they will dumb us down. But for business there’s something even worse. When Bill Gates made his formal announcement in London, one of the most important parts of his speech said Windows Vista would revolutionise television by letting people watch personalised shows, for example, with longer news items on subjects they were interested in. Even television advertising would be targeted to the individual viewer, he said. So, it has come to this. That powerful, liberating business tool on your desktop is now primarily a channel for advertisers to fill your brain with sales messages. The metaphor isn’t just TV and radio, it’s commercial TV and radio. Having software delivered as a service will only make matters worse. Putting up with spam is bad enough. Now there’s a danger the working day will be punctuated with “a message from our sponsor” delivered directly onscreen. Sessions of writing a document, preparing a presentation or crunching spreadsheet numbers can be interrupted with plugs for sets of steak knives and other assorted spivvery. That doesn’t sound very productive. Nor does it sound like progress. No wonder some companies are reluctant to make the Vista upgrade.

What’s clicking at reseller.co.nz?

Depending on how you view these matters, New Zealand’s technology resellers are either truly dedicated professionals or a bunch of lonely losers without real lives. These are two possible conclusions one can draw from the knowledge the reseller.co.nz web site attracted 147 unique visitors on Christmas Day. Clearly a couple of you had suffered enough quality time with your families on the big day – by Boxing Day there were 149 unique visitors. You’re obviously not big on religious observance. Our web site traffic was considerably lower for the secular New Year’s Day holiday when a mere 107 of you dragged your collective selves away from barbecues and beaches to peek at our finely crafted HTML. Actually, it’s unlikely more than a fraction of these readers listed above were bona fide New Zealand resellers. First, we took a well-earned editorial break over the Christmas and New Year period and didn’t update our news pages for some 15 days. Second, we know roughly where the traffic is coming from and on the days in question more than half of it came from overseas. Third, we don’t really believe for one minute that you didn’t have better things to do during the holiday season. The simple reality is that our normal weekday traffic runs into the thousands – weekends are bit dead though. It’s reasonable to assume the 100-odd visits we got on the public holidays were what engineers call ‘noise’. # # # # # Since we got back to work, the Reseller News web site has turned in some record-breaking traffic numbers. The launch of Apple’s iPhone caused a flurry of online activity – but our really big audiences have come from the more analytical background stories rather than the launch itself. Five of the top ten stories for the first three weeks of January were iPhone-oriented and Apple’s newest gizmo took out the top four spots. We compile our top story list from our internal server log, it measures each time a page gets served. This works well for news – the feedback is almost instant. However, because our blogs (blogs.reseller.co.nz) are hosted on a separate server, we can’t realistically include these in the list because there’s a small mismatch between external and internal page counts. However, we do monitor blog visitor numbers – the two top-ranked blogs for the first three weeks of January both dealt with iPhone-related issues. Not surprisingly Jan Birkeland’s ‘Apple’s iPhone and why it will fail’ was a major hit, so was the self-penned ‘I’ve already got an iPhone’. Going by the external page counts both these stories could have made their way into our official top ten. Away from the iPhone, early January was dominated by product-related stories – mainly because of the big CES and MacWorld shows in the US. This was reflected in our web traffic where more than half the top-20 items were product release stories. Toshiba’s flagship HD DVD-R laptop made it into eighth place. Top Ten stories January 1 to January 23, 2007 1. The iPhone: What you need to know

Playstation 3 to land in NZ on March 23

Sony will will launch its Playstation 3 games console in New Zealand on March 23, along with Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australia. Initially only the 60GB model will be available, the company says the 20GB version may arrive later in the year, "depending on demand". The unit will be priced at $1200.

How the Glich almost stole ChannelBeat

My apologies for the late delivery of this edition of ChannelBeat (it's quite likely you're reading it after Christmas). We fell into the trap of updating Internet Explorer to version 7.0 while our newsletter send service is designed to work with IE 6. By now we should know better.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers

It’s a media cliché at this time of year to reflect on events over the past 12 months. One common approach is for editors to draw the year’s themes together, teasing out a big picture overview. Alternatively, there’s the more philosophical search for meaning behind seeming unconnected events. Well, I’m not going to do any of that. In my view 2006 was a confused year for industry news with little in the way of obvious big picture themes and even less in the way of anything deep and meaningful. How can you interpret a year when the biggest international news story was about something that didn’t actually happen? I’m talking about the launch, or more accurately non-launch, of Windows Vista. No doubt its arrival will dominate the early part of 2007. And the biggest local story was also about an absence rather than a presence: the end of Tony Butler’s innings after 20 or so years with Tech Pac and Ingram Micro. How the company manages the transition to new leadership will be a big story next year. You may have seen New Zealand Reseller News pop-up in the media over the last six months or so. Earlier this year we were acquired by Fairfax Business Media and will be moving to fancy new offices in January. After spending much of 2004 and 2005 writing about industry consolidation, it was enlightening to actually go through the process in 2006. If you’ve picked up on the tone of the previous five paragraphs, you’ll have already realised this is the last ChannelBeat newsletter for 2006. We’ll be wrapping-up a few things around the Reseller News office (including some presents) until Friday and will then shut-down for two weeks reopening on Monday January 8. Expect to see the next ChannelBeat on January 10 – assuming something newsworthy happens between now and then. We’ll be refreshed and ready for business. Hopefully you will be too.

Pinchin's media prescription

According to Sway Tech’s Bob Pinchin small technology companies often struggle to articulate their message to the market. He says the reasons for this can be complex, but among other things: “Some are frightened of dealing with the media, while others simply don’t know how to get started. In contrast, big companies pump out a lot of material but don’t always get value from their media spending. “I’ve 15 to 20-year’s experience in the business and I’ve seen a lot of marketing dollars wasted.” Pinchin, former managing director of IDG Communications and the person responsible for launching New Zealand Reseller News, says his new business has identified a niche to service the specialised business-to-business communications needs at both ends of the technology market. To help small companies kick-start their marketing communications, Sway Tech offers a low-cost turnkey package that provides a company profile, biographies of key people with photos, templates and advice on how to reach the right media outlets. Sway Tech’s approach to larger technology companies involves working in conjunction with their existing advertising agencies and public relations consultants. Pinchin says, “We get them talking together, emphasising an integrated approach”. There’s also a marketing analysis survey that asks companies 15 questions about their communications. A typical question might be: “what is the purpose of your web site?” Pinchin says that companies can do the survey and get an analysis of their needs. “At this stage they can decide to engage with us or to disengage,” he says. Working with Pinchin at Sway Tech are former IDG CIO Mark Evans and the founder of the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards Selwyn Pellett.

Integral's sharp income jump

Success in three major business areas helped privately-owned Integral Technology Group score a 48 percent increase in revenue for the half year to September 30. The company’s revenue for the six months was $14.7 million compared with $9.9 million for the same period a year earlier. Integral is forecasting a full year result somewhere in the $26 to $28 million range. Chairman David Sutherland says the current half-year’s growth needs to be seen in the context of the company’s average 40 percent year-on-year growth rate over the past five years. He says, “Our service areas contributed most to the growth but we’ve seen positive signs right across the business.” Key successes include an IBM System p installation to support the SAP application at Foodstuffs (South Island). The project was one of the finalists in the inaugural IBM Business Partner Awards and is profiled on page 18. Elsewhere, Integral had significant projects at TNL Group and Yakka Apparel. Integral’s business continuity consulting division – which was only formed in January, 2006 – got off to a flying start with engagements at GE Money and Amcor.

Bennett: Web clicks revisited

A number of readers used our new online feedback feature to comment on the ‘Where the clicks are’ opinion piece in the 22 September edition of Reseller News. One asked for a more in-depth look at why some computer companies — namely Microsoft, Dell, Intel and, to a lesser degree, Apple — don’t interest readers as much as in the past. It’s a good question, possibly a worthwhile project for an analyst. The following isn’t research, it’s opinion. All four companies are (it’s still far too soon to say were), iconic technology brands. They occupy leadership positions in their niches and all have made bucket-loads of money for shareholders over the past two or three decades. One plausible explanation for their fading attraction is their marketing — or lack of the right kind of marketing. For example, Intel doesn’t appear to spend any money on advertising in New Zealand. It doesn’t have any appreciable presence here at all. Dell advertises, but its campaigns are all aimed directly at consumers, not resellers. Microsoft appears to be spending less on general and trade advertising than in the past. Maybe the company is keeping its powder dry for the big launches over the next few months. Apple does a lot of TV and poster advertising for its iPod range, but there’s nothing aimed at the channel and not much on the computer front. By contrast, most of the companies with rising interest levels spend money promoting themselves — both to consumers and to resellers. As far as readers are concerned, Hewlett-Packard has been the single most interesting company in recent months — not always for positive reasons. However, the company has a very high marketing profile in New Zealand, which may contribute to the general interest in the company and its products. However, it can’t just be a matter of advertising, public relations and other marketing initiatives. If it were that simple, the brands could spend their way back into people’s hearts and minds. A more intractable problem is they no longer have a simple, clear message. It’s hard to know exactly what they stand for. Dell is no longer cheap. Apple is no longer simply about computers. Microsoft covers a variety of bases. Intel got involved with a whole heap of non-core technologies. And, despite their often colourful marketing campaigns, these companies have become grey and corporate. They’re getting a bit old. No, make that tired. They may have been revolutionary in their youth. They set out to change the world. Now they are reactionaries. Think Fidel Castro. Of course, it would be wrong to describe these companies as has-beens. Apple still consistently rates in the top five; a story about iPods topped our first online hit parade following the website redesign. Likewise, Microsoft can still rate. Two stories about Windows Vista made it into the top ten. Interestingly, there were more than 20 other stories about the company over the two weeks surveyed for the list; none of them rated highly. Readers didn’t even seem interested in a story about Microsoft’s impending iPod rival, something that would have been a guaranteed click-fest at the start of 2006. Perhaps the story about Intel’s quad-core processors didn’t grab as much reader attention as it deserved. The chipmaker really does appear to be a reader turn-off these days. On the flipside, EMC made the top ten twice. Clearly, stories about storage are still hot. We should put the “snorage” label to bed. To underline this, a local story about Datastor made it to number 12 on our hit parade. At first sight, the fact that only one local story — Suzanne Hansen returning with Cisco — made the top ten is a bit disappointing. However, of the next 20 stories all but one was local. And local stories account for over two-thirds of the top 50. The Hansen story also underlines another article of faith in the Reseller News office: our readers really like people stories.

Bennett: Where the clicks are

The last two years have seen a notable shift in our online readers’ interests. We know this because regular reports tell us how often each www.reseller.co.nz story is read and which links ChannelBeat email newsletter readers are clicking.

New look Reseller News website goes live

If you haven't been here already, welcome to the new-look Reseller News website (www.reseller.co.nz). Amongst other features you'll find the content is now refreshed daily -- more frequently when there's breaking news and there's a new blog. Our entire archive of stories is now available online and the search tools have been improved so you can now find most of the stories that have appeared in Reseller News. There’s also opportunity for reader interaction. You can provide instant feedback on any story and, of course, respond to blog entries. As usual, we’re also asking readers to get in touch with us when there’s a breaking news story. Traffic to the Reseller News website jumped by more than 50 percent in the first 24 hours following the redesign, without any promotion. If you've got a story for reseller.co.nz get in touch with the editor Bill Bennett.