Bell Canada slow to firm up channel plans

Bell Canada has yet to disclose how channel partners will be compensated for a new joint initiative between the telecommunications company and Microsoft Canada Co.

Karen Sheriff, president of small and medium business at Bell Canada, said Bell will not be announcing any further details on channel

plans until the companies make a formal announcement to partners sometime in the first quarter of 2005.

“”I don’t think that it really makes sense for me to talk about compensation structure right now,”” said Sheriff. “”Microsoft and Bell will be ready sometime in the early to mid first quarter to talk about specific products, pricing the products and the channel compensation structure.”” Sheriff added Bell intends for the benefits to extend to both sets of channels.

In a joint announcement made last month, Bell said it would develop integrated IT-telco solutions based on Microsoft software targeted at the small and medium business market. They will be delivered as monthly billed services. Pricing and availability details will be released in early 2005.

The offering will be distributed through Bell’s direct channels, including recently-acquired Nexxlink, and Microsoft’s partner network across Canada. It, however, remains unclear as to whether partners will resell the bundle or receive agent fees from Bell.

Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg said the announcement is an opportunity for partners to provide ongoing support and implementation services.

“”Our value-added business partners can get out and provide business solutions directly,”” said Clegg. “”We absolutely see this engaging with the partner and engaging on the partnerships of both Microsoft and Bell.””

David Willis, vice-president of small and mid-market solutions and partners at Microsoft Canada, said the compensation structure is a key component for partners.

“”The key thing that I want to make sure that’s available to our partners is the ability to sell complementary products and services along with the bundles,”” said Willis. These include low-level infrastructure services such as installation, maintenance, break-fix support and training and more complex services such as applications services and custom solutions.

Willis added that Microsoft wouldn’t have entered the deal if it weren’t beneficial for its partners.

“”The Microsoft partner community needs to be integral in anything that Bell and Microsoft collaborate on,”” said Willis. “”We recognize through the research we’ve done, particularly at the small business level, that small businesses like to work with a local VAR.””

Potential license revenue

Despite Willis’ assurances, John Baker, partnership manager, at Mississauga, Ont.-based Lanworks Inc., a Microsoft partner, isn’t sure yet how his company will prosper from the deal.

“”I would hope that there would be some sort of revenue sharing to some degree,”” said Baker. “”It may be a one-time sale or we could potentially get some license revenue.””

Lanworks recently got into selling Voice over Internet Protocol solutions. Baker also said the product would benefit his small business customers, which make up 35 to 40 per cent of his company’s total revenue.

“”We’re looking at what are the points that it’s going to leverage for us as a reseller, hopefully in the small business space,”” said Baker. “”We have several small business customers that this would work out very nicely for, especially in the cost savings side.””

In the first phase of the initiative, Bell will launch a Productivity Suite that includes Microsoft Office software or Microsoft Office Live Meeting service as well as Bell’s telecom services. These include DSL Internet connectivity, Productivity Pak, Business Back Up and Desktop PC Care.

Bell and Microsoft, which recently collaborated on the MSN-Sympatico joint initiative, also plan to create an incubation lab for development of future integrated services and customer education programs to support these services. The lab will be built close to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. for easy access to the software company’s development team, said Willis. He declined to attach a specific dollar amount to the cost of the new facility but said Bell and Microsoft are investing “”millions”” in the project.

Bell currently has over seven million customers in Canada — 450,000 of which are SMB.

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