Why VARs should get over fear of systems management

Once thought of as a category to avoid, systems management software might be the next wave of opportunity for VARs.

Big-bang systems management software offerings have long been considered a dead end by resellers because of customer concerns about affordability and complexity. But that may be changing. For the right VAR and the right customer, systems management implementation could represent big new business.

Paul Shoberg, director of sales at Works Computing Inc., said systems management gives the customer one place “a single pane of glass” to manage all the pieces of their IT environment. Dealing with the “big four” systems management software offerings – HP’s BTO line, IBM Tivoli, BMC’s Business Service Management platform and CA's infrastructure management products – is an intricate process and can be a difficult sell for VARs because customers are worried that they’ll get stuck with a large, multi-layered product and not have the proper services and support for it.

Shoberg said that just as server consolidation took off a few years ago, a “systems management spree” may be on the way. Works Computing started selling Hewlett-Packard’s BTO suite late in 2010. He agrees that BTO is extremely complex, and it’s nearly impossible to know the full details of each of the 35 solutions.

So why have 12 customers already bought BTO offerings from his company? Having the right type of customer (the majority are enterprise or state and local government accounts) and the right needs go a long way toward selling BTO.

“Nine times out of ten, we’re focusing on an individual issue that BTO helps solve, but while we’re talking to them [about that], we explain the other aspects of the product,” Shoberg said. “This gives them the opportunity to be proactive by keeping their IT department as agile as their business and get a step ahead of their competition.”

Systems management software is a different type of sale for Works Computing because the majority of the revenue comes from individual sales and not a recurring subscription.

“BTO is extremely big, but there is a lot of potential with ROI and this can be very profitable but in chunks,” Shoberg said. “For us, it’s a value play. There are a lot of high-end opportunities here with customers.”

Calling all ‘the right’ integrators
Dennis Drogseth, vice president of Enterprise Management Associates, said that there are certainly opportunities for channel sales in systems management software, but VARs need to be well-positioned. Among the best fits, he said, are systems integrators that work with sophisticated technologies such as configuration management databases or network monitoring devices.

“The three key areas are support, delivery and consulting, and the ideal mindset here is ‘What problems does your organization have’ and ‘how can I help,’” Drogseth said. By asking those kinds of questions, VARs can avoid offering solutions in search of a problem.

VARs that have high-level sales staffs with a comprehensive knowledge of the technology and strong deployment skills can ease customer concerns. The CTO of a large Washington D.C. area integrator, who used to sell systems management, said that there is little room for error when it comes to selling the large systems management software.  “Systems management is “big, tough and complicated and there’s a lot of margin in it if you’re very good at it. If you’re not good at it and don’t properly bid it, you can take it in the shorts very fast,” he said.

In his opinion, CA and IBM/Tivoli have gotten a black eye because of each product’s complexity, but many times the customers, as well as the vendors, contribute to the problem. 

“Because of all the complexity, customers often want fixed time and fixed cost deals, but if you [as an integrator] do that, you’re dumb,” he said. “You have to have people really good at defining exactly what you’ll do and do just that. If a project got really complicated we’d sometimes have to revert back to time and materials [billing].”

An integrator that fits the systems management profile is Albany, N.Y.-based Linium LLC. Melanie Worth, principal consultant at Linium, said her company integrates BTO with IBM or Microsoft offerings, depending on customer needs. “I like the toolset integration that BTO offers, and HP makes it easy to integrate the smaller companies that are looking to get bigger,” Worth said.

Demand for systems management is up as customers keep looking to do more with less money, she noted.

Systems management systems that make customer IT environments “smarter,” more automated and self healing are definitely valuable, VARS said. Properly implemented systems management can reduce downtime by letting IT managers pull equipment before it fails, they noted.

Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director, contributed to this report.

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