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Sun 13 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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End users vs vendors

End users often have niggles and complaints about vendors' services, but rarely have the chance to put them on the spot in public. ACN went to these companies on their behalf - these are the responses.

End users often have niggles and complaints about vendors' services, but rarely have the chance to put them on the spot in public. ACN went to these companies on their behalf - these are the responses.

I'm tired of vendors showing me endless presentations about virtualisation talking about how it's an enterprise 'game-changer'. What I want to know is, what are the tangible features, advantages and benefits virtualisation can offer that actually affect my bottom line?

Vendor: Sun Microsystems

Process: We received an e-mail from Sun's PR agency the next day suggesting several times for a face-to-face meeting. Post-interview, we received follow-up calls and e-mails asking about the quality of the response and if it lacked any details. 5/5

Response:Basil Ayass, X86 product manager at Sun Microsystems labelled virtualisation a buzz word which only confused potential buyers.

"You cannot buy ‘virtualisation' - there's no such thing. It's like the Asian fable of six blind men trying to describe an elephant by touching it and coming up with six different accounts. Similarly, virtualisation has a hundred explanations," he said.

Ayass defined virtualisation as a tool that enables customers to have a more flexible and cost-effective IT infrastructure, partitioning one resource into several. He gave examples of customers which consolidated 40 servers into five, saving on power and cooling costs as well as conserving space - and emphasised that these examples are the real story behind virtualisation, rather than empty marketing. 5/5Vendor: Fujitsu Siemens Computers

Process: Fujitsu Siemens's PR didn't acknowledge receipt of our initial e-mail, but replied the following day with the complete answer via e-mail. When we informed them that the answer was too technical, the PR arranged a follow-up interview within an hour, and checked post-interview to see if the answer was satisfactory. 4/5

Response:Chandan Mehta, enterprise product manager at Fujitsu Siemens Computers, provided an overly-technical answer that was steeped in IT jargon. For example, he stated that server virtualisation should focus on "increasing computing densities, analogous to layer 1 and 2 of the OSI layer (VM and Hypervisor)."

His amended response was: "In a nutshell, virtualisation allows customers to better utilise their infrastructure and also reduce the total number of components in the datacentre. It is a simplification of the physical infrastructure or classic virtualisation as people understand it to be and basically, consolidation. This is what gives direct benefits to the customers." 3/5Vendor: c

Process: Citrix's PR firm was the fastest to respond to our initial e-mail, and we secured a phone interview within a day. The firm was also quick to call post-interview to check if the information received was acceptable. 4/5

Response:Nick Black, manager for systems engineering MEA, provided a response that illustrated precisely the problems that end users face getting easily-digestable information about virtualisation.

His exhaustingly comprehensive answer was heavily biased towards explaining what the different types of server and application virtualisation mean - and how Citrix products perform virtualisation - rather than explaining how it can directly benefit the business. At times, Black's response seemed akin to reading a Citrix product brochure.

Black highlighted operating system virtualisation as Citrix's specialty: "With our Provisioning Server product, you can change an existing XP Pro desktop into a Vista or SUSE desktop within 18-20 seconds by simply rebooting, giving you a pristine image which doesn't have memory leaks or legacy patches degrading performance that desktop. This saves companies money by keeping users more productive." 2/5How can you offer me 24/7 support and show after-sales commitment for the expensive systems I purchase if your only office is in Dubai Internet City? And no, I don't consider a call centre as adequate support.Vendor: Lenovo

Process: Although we had to chase Lenovo's PR to reply to our original e-mail, they redeemed themselves by immediately arranging a face-to-face interview -which fell through because of scheduling conflicts. They then quickly organised a phone response, and repeatedly checked afterwards to ensure it was satisfactory. 4/5

Response:Lenovo's regional manager for Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan, Khaled Kamel took the question head-on:" "My immediate reaction to this is that even if we had a person in the office next door to the customer, it wouldn't mean anything because we service our customers through a set of 44 trained service centres scattered throughout the region."

He indicated that the problem might be related to awareness: "We have a huge list of business partners that legally represent Lenovo through binding business contracts. The answer is - we are closer to the customers than they might think."

Kamel further reiterated that he and his staff remain easy to contact - as evidence by this interview - and that Lenovo will continue to educate customers about available service centres.

"I definitely continue to welcome any complaint that any of my customers have", he said. 5/5Vendor: McAfee

Process: McAfee's PR agency quickly acknowledged the receipt of our original e-mail, earning them rapid response points - which were immediately docked for trying to find out which other vendors were also participating. The next day, its agency informed us via e-mail that McAfee would not be able to participate - without specifying a reason. We had to push the PRs through several phone calls and e-mails for a more solid explanation - and never spoke to a McAfee representative at any point. 2/5

Response:With the recent departure of regional director Patrick Hayati, McAfee claims there is no appropriate spokesperson available to provide comments. 0/5

Vendor: Nortel

Process:We had to chase Nortel's generally uncooperative PR agency over several phone calls to acknowledge our initial e-mail. The PR firm then tried to set up a phone interview - even locking a date and time - but one day before deadline, pulled out, claiming the timeframe was too short to guarantee a suitable response and cited a lack of available spokespeople. The PR requested via e-mail a deadline extension to provide an e-mail response or alternatively, to be removed from the feature. We phoned the PR to explain that neither would be possible. 2/5

Response:Nortel could not comment as it claimed had no spokespeople available in the supplied timeframe. 0/5

Given the constant bad Vista press, I'd ask Microsoft why it continues to bundle it as a default operating system - when it has absolutely no features I'm interested in. I'd much rather stick to Windows XP, which still fulfils all of my enterprise requirements without having to upgrade the hardware.

Vendor: Microsoft

Process:We sent the question to Microsoft's PR, who indicated that the response would only be by e-mail, which was received a day before deadline. 3/5

Response:Wilson Xavier, business group lead for Windows clients at Microsoft Gulf was reasonably candid about Vista's weak market reception.

As expected, he highlighted several areas of Vista improvement over XP where public perception differed from fact, including security - noting that Vista has less than half the vulnerabilities of XP SP2. He did not completely avoid marketing, linking to a Microsoft report which stated that Vista's power efficiency was such that equipping ten PCs with Vista was equivalent to taking a car off the roads. That's one for Dubai's RTA to consider, then.

Xavier further provided data suggesting that perception is shifting in Vista's favour: "83% of people that used Windows Vista at work and home would recommend it to a friend and 70% of organisations who have already adopted Windows Vista report strong user satisfaction."

"Windows Vista was a very ambitious release, containing significant advances in many areas, ranging from enhanced security and lower total cost of ownership to support for the next generation of hardware. Having seen a healthy Windows Vista adoption trend in the Gulf region, we expect rate of migration and adoption of Vista to continue at an even faster pace," he stated. 4/5

I would like to implement SAP solutions, but I have no faith in its expertise or support after it persisted with SAP Arabia for more than 20 years. Even though it claims to have a better market presence, now it needs to have a really good reason for why I should give SAP my business when its regional track record is so appalling.

Vendor: SAP

Process: Despite having one day less than other agencies to respond (due to an e-mail problem) SAP's PR agency got back to us with a confirmed phone interview slot shortly afterwards. They lost points, however, for scheduling the interview only a few hours before the deadline. 4/5Response:SAP's MENA managing director, Sergio Maccotta, admitted that the firm's regional presence was previously lacking: "I might agree with the fact that in the past there was some concern about the fact that SAP was not here. But the fact is, SAP is investing here. Just by looking at the number of people that are working on the SAP environment as of today, it's giving the customers additional comfort that we are here to stay."

Maccotta believes there aren't too many customers left with bad experiences: "When we talk with new or old customers, the conversation is always leading towards the future rather than towards the past. The type of requests that we are receiving are: How SAP can bring value, what are the solutions SAP has for my business and which are the best partners that can best support my growth?" 4/5

Is it true Oracle ERP is a Batch Processing System? Though there are hundreds of standard reports available, is it true that most of them do not match with any standard requirement of any company?

Vendor: Oracle

Process: No reply to the initial email and when we called the next day, the PR agency said they had passed on the questions, but candidly admitted they felt a response would be unlikely in the timeframe. We received an email the day after deadline saying Oracle wouldn't be responding. 3/5

Response:Oracle said the questions were too broad to be answered well in the time given, which was an unusual response as these were quite specific questions. 0/5

Why are so many of your partners in the Middle East incompetent? Why should we trust you with our critical systems if we can't trust your channel?Vendor: HP

Process:HP's PR agency got back to us very quickly after the initial e-mail, and arranged a time to speak on the phone with the appropriate spokesman. 4/5Response:Bernhard Isemann, SPO manager at HP Middle East gave a robust response to the question, stating that the vendor separates its channel into "transactional" partners that focus on delivering products as fast as possible, and partners that deliver advanced solutions, who are then specialised by sectors - Isemann suggests this division helps keep partners focused on their core strengths.

He absolutely rejects the suggestion that any of HP's partners are incompetent, but doesn't try to suggest the channel is perfect: "Looking at the current quality of our channel, we are very happy - satisfaction will come when we improve it further. But the improvement we're driving and the education and training we're driving in the channel are coming from change in the industry."

Isemann said HP monitors end user satisfaction and rewards partners with an annual awards ceremony, and stated HP does not give financial incentives or rebates based on customer satisfaction. Overall he makes a decent case for the majority of partners being competent, but fails to address some issues at the low end. 3/5Vendor: Cisco

Process:Cisco's internal PR representative responded quickly with a spokesperson and a time, after an initial query about the nature of the feature. 4/5

Response:Adrian Taylor, Cisco's regional channel manager for Gulf and Pakistan, started by stating that he had not heard of any complaints from customers about Cisco's partners. He also emphasised that partners are strictly certified and audited, with everything managed centrally from the US, to avoid local variances.

Taylor suggests that end users are partly responsible for poor partner performance: "We continuously advise our customers that early partner selection and engagement is critical.

Quite often what we find is that going through the RFP process, partners are selected very late - and they can't then build their quality and value to the customer in the given period. Late selection also means partners struggle to differentiate in value through the RFP process - this means margins are squeezed and satisfaction can be impacted."

When given a specific example of customer dissatisfaction, Taylor points to Cisco's communication channels for customers to get in touch about problems, and suggests the end user would be able to escalate the problem easily. He also highlights the requirement of customer satisfaction for partners to claim rebates. 4/5

Given that you make most of your revenue and profit from consumable sales, why should we trust you when you claim to be making your printers more efficient and reducing ink consumption? Isn't this a massive conflict of interest?

Vendor: Brother

Process: Brother's PR company actually contacted us before we sent out the question, asking if the vendor could contribute. The agency continued this early zeal by swiftly arranging an interview, and following up after. 5/5

Response:Ranjit S Gurkar, general manager of Brother Gulf states at the outset that Brother does not make the majority of its revenue from sales of consumables - he puts the revenue split at 50/50 between consumables and devices.

He also claims that Brother's cost per page in the Middle East is at least 20% lower than HP and Canon, and emphasises that all the vendor's claims about page yields are ratified by international standards bodies. "We try to address issues of efficiency at the point of sale - we always provide comparisons to competitor products and so forth," states Gurkar. Full marks for emphasising efficiency, but the issue of an overall conflict of interest is not really addressed. 3/5Vendor: HP

Process:Immediately after sending out the question, HP's PR agency called us to say that it might be difficult to arrange an interview, as its printing team was at an event overseas. They did send through an e-mail response shortly before deadline though. 3/5Response:HP's statement stretched to more than 650 words, and largely focused on the efficiency and value of its printer offerings - and managed to include a few of the vendor's current marketing slogans along the way.

It did address the issue of a conflict of interest with this comment: "HP like any other business benefits from a happier customer on the long term. It's always essential in IT to increase performance and reduce costs. When cartridges provide more efficiency, this leads to a happier customer on the long run and also helps the technology reaches a wider segment of the market."

A lot of marketing speak, but some attempt to address the question. 2/5

We've been sold systems with promises of speedy deployment, but then it has taken weeks to arrive - why don't you sort out your supply chains?

Vendor: Juniper

Process: After an initial phone call following the question being sent out, there was mostly silence from the PR agency, until the day of the deadline when it sent through a reasonable - and clearly not marketing-based - statement from Juniper. 3/5Response: Juniper's statement, from Taj El-Khayat, head of the Middle Eastern channel group at the vendor, emphasised its export compliance requirements coming from its status as a US technology vendor, suggesting the regulations around this can create additional delays within the supply chain.

It did suggest it was making an effort to improve its regional distribution performance: "Juniper has revamped its internal process for large projects, creating a system that enables Juniper and our distribution partners to ensure stock and export licenses are in place in time to provide our customers with a faster delivery and swift deployment. Over the last year Juniper has refined its logistics operation by investing in hub within the theatre. Our partners and customers are already seeing the benefit of this investment." 3/5Vendor: Acer

Process:A very swift phone call from the PR agency followed the e-mail, and a followup call came a few days later to say Acer had the question, and was looking at it. The agency then came back a day before the deadline to say Acer did not want to respond to a "hypothetical" question. Good result getting the question to Acer, but not so good on the willingness to engage with the issue. 3/5Response:No response. 0/5

MethodologyThe ACN team canvassed regional end users for their burning questions, and put forth a couple of its own. After whittling down the list of questions, and deciding which vendors to put them to, the team sent out the questions by e-mail to the PR agencies or official press contacts of the vendors.

If initial responses were not forthcoming, the ACN team followed up with phone calls and additional e-mails.

Marks were given first for the efficiency and ease of response, also including the ability to put followup questions, and second for the quality of the response itself. In cases where vendors declined to respond, we ensured they were aware this would be recorded in the feature - and that a mark of zero would be given.

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M 11 years ago

Amazing how a media organization is able to get a response from vendors. Recently I've approached 12 different companies to get help with a new ERP Project. We're not a small company, annual turnover in the billions... Only 4 actually returned calls/emails and only 2 decided to pursue discussions further.