Magazine Article | November 1, 2003

Six Factors To Consider Before You Choose A VAR

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Prior to choosing a reseller/integrator to handle your systems upgrade or overhaul, you should address the basics.

Integrated Solutions, November 2003

Before you put your money in someone else's hands for an IT project, you might want to consider a few factors. Trusting your budget for upgrades and replacement on existing technology to someone else is a big risk. One of the first assessments you have to make is whether to choose a vendor or VAR/integrator. If you've never worked with a reseller before, you probably don't know know what services and training to expect. The following six factors highlight what specifics you should look for when trusting your IT budget to a reseller/integrator.

1. Don't Wait To Consult A VAR
"The earlier a VAR gets involved, the better off the end user is," says Michael Bernard, VP of business development at the CSC Group (Brecksville, OH), an integrator of image management solutions. Many times a VAR has experience within the industry segment or application. "Often times the VAR can provide something extra in the way of professional services, support, or unique software add-ons or modifications," explains Bernard. A VAR can inform the end user about the benefits of these extras from the beginning. Bringing in a VAR from the start of your decision-making process could save you time and labor expenses.

2. Count On VARs' Expertise
There are clear advantages to working with both total solution providers and resellers who specialize in one technology. Ed Kenney, VP of marketing at Advanced Imaging Concepts (AIC) (Louisville, KY), integrator of digital imaging solutions, believes the answer here is dependent on the end user's needs. "An end user with a technical staff that is knowledgeable in several technologies could be better served by the VAR that focuses on providing a specific solution. On the other hand, an end user without a technical staff may be best served by the total solution provider," says Kenney. The idea of one VAR for all of your solution needs is an attractive one, according to Chris Wilkes, VP of engineering and services at SANZ (West Chester, PA), but is it realistic? "It is best to work with a small group of specialized VARs," says Wilkes. "Networking VARs, server VARs, storage VARs, etc. have complementary roles to play and as a group can provide knowledge and skill sets not found in one total solution provider," explains Wilkes. SANZ is a storage consulting and integration services company focused on storage networking solutions. "Technology moves so fast, it is difficult for anyone to do everything extremely well. Most major VARs have some form of business partnerships for this reason," says Bernard. But be warned, says Wilkes, you don't want to have multiple VARs that sell the same technology working on the same project; it could limit the VAR's ability to speak openly.

3. Expect The Service You Need
When working with a VAR, it is best to find an SLA (service level agreement) that fits your needs. For example, do you need coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Or, do you need coverage only during your hours of operation? Does your company require, and does the VAR offer, different levels of support? According to Bernard, you should ask yourself what your company needs to support its business model. "If you need something specific, ask for it. The VAR may be willing to customize/modify an existing program to better fit your needs," says Bernard. VARs are often willing to do this because the option created usually can be used to solve other customers' problems. Another important feature to look for in an SLA is penalty for non-performance. "Make the penalties painful and the SLAs become important to the VAR," explains Wilkes. Having a penalty system gives the end user additional assurance that they will be taken care of and receive the service they paid for.

4. Select The Right VAR For Your Project
Everything may look good on paper, but how do you know you can trust the VAR you selected truly knows the ins and outs of the installation process? "Ask the VAR for references. If they can't provide references, then do you really want them doing the install?" asks Wilkes. Another resource you could tap into before your final decision is the VAR's vendor partners. "It is important to look at the VAR/vendor team. In many cases, if the VAR is certified, the vendor can offer additional backing or an extra level of comfort or security," explains Bernard. Kenney concurs with both of these tactics. "A VAR should be able to demonstrate the ability to deliver the software or level of service required by the end user," advises Kenney.

5. Get The IT Support You Require
Since more and more companies are cutting internal IT staff, end users are now looking for support from outside sources. If you are one of these companies, VARs can provide outsourced support and on-site help. "It is common to find end users 100% dependent on the VAR to deliver complete IT services. I think that system can work as long as the end user has realistic expectations of the services that can be delivered from non-employee technicians," says Kenney. He points to a company's size as a contributing factor. "Outsourcing IT services usually works best for small organizations that can't afford a competent, full-time technician," explains Kenney. He believes that in larger organizations, it depends on end user expectations (e.g. number of hours on-site, response time, timing of reports, and number of meetings) set forth from the start of the project.

6. Get What You Pay For
The amount of money you spend on consultation services and follow-up audits after the installation varies. "Help with selection of products is often a complimentary service," says Wilkes. "Consultations should be paid if value is added to the decision-making process. If a VAR spends time to evaluate multiple solutions and provides a recommendation, it should be paid consultation," explains Kenney. Paying for service is not necessarily a negative thing. "If you want a complete independent assessment or analysis, you'll pay for it one way or another," says Bernard. "If someone tells you they will consult for free, the cost of that analysis is buried somewhere. Why not just pay for it up front so you know what you're getting and that you are getting something that has value?"