2008 CRN Channel Champions: Software

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Oracle software SAP

Oracle, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., scored an overall rating of 70.9 compared to Microsoft's 70.5 and SAP AG's 66.6.

Oracle's high technical criteria scores are what put the vendor over the top. Oracle's technical satisfaction rating was 83.2, a significant lead over Microsoft's 81.0 rating and a surprisingly wide advantage over SAP's 74.8 score. Oracle beat Microsoft and SAP in almost every technical criteria, including product quality and reliability, scalability, configurability and customization tools, and support for multivendor products and standards. Only in price for performance did Microsoft have a higher score—and by a wide margin at that, 80.0 to Oracle's 74.7.

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The contest between Oracle and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft was more evenly split in channel program and support criteria and financial criteria.

In channel program and support, Microsoft won out with a score of 66.3 to Oracle's 65.5. Solution providers gave Oracle higher marks for postsales training and channel program relevance while Microsoft earned higher grades for technical training and presales support. Walldorf, Germany-based SAP AG, however, scored higher than both competitors in managing channel conflict.

Still, Oracle's channel programs that assist solution providers selling to small and midsize businesses are winning praise from the company's channel partners.

"Oracle does a good job of pairing partners to their partner managers and providing us with solid sales leads as part of that process," said Tarek Fadel, CEO of New York-based Fadel Partners Inc., a supplier of solutions built for media and entertainment companies around Oracle's E-Business Suite. His company has benefited from the Oracle Accelerate Program, which provides sales and technical assistance to channel partners who sell vertical industry-tailored application bundles to companies with annual sales less than $100 million.

-- Rick Whiting

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SMB software is a hotly contested sector of the market, and the razor-thin margin of victory in the SMB business software suites category is an accurate indication of just how competitive it has become.

Sage Software Inc. topped the category with an overall score of 72.5, barely edging out Oracle Corp.,which came in second with a score of 72.4. Microsoft Corp. placed third with a score of 71.8.

Sage took the financial, and program and support criteria, and had key wins in the technical criteria, where it was bested by Oracle.

In program and support, Sage lost only one criterion, technical training, where it came in third. Sage's win in the financial area was driven by its 2.5-point lead in ROI of vendor relationship.

Nina Smith, president of Sage Software's Business Management Division, said the product category win reflects Sage's unwavering focus on product performance and customer engagement. "We concentrate on user-centric design and bringing customers in early on, involving them in the process of product development, getting their input, and building that into our products," Smith said.

Smith acknowledged that Sage hasn't focused much on technical training but said the vendor has stepped up this part of its channel program. And to further sweeten the deal for partners, Sage plans to augment its already healthy product margins with more channel promotions, spifs and rebates, Smith said.

David Cieslak, principal at Arxis Technology, a Simi Valley, Calif.-based solution provider, said Sage's comprehensive, full-featured product suite provides superior market coverage at a reasonable price. Sage's presales support is one of the vendor's strongest suits, according to Cieslak. "They have terrific resources dedicated to trying to help guide you toward the best components, features and modules," he said.

Greg Boyd, president of MIS Group, a Dallas-based solution provider and Sage partner, said competitive pricing and strong channel support have helped the vendor provide consistently solid returns. "Sage has people that work with us on large named accounts. They try to help run interference, making sure we have right references and associated reports necessary to compete," Boyd said.

-- Kevin McLaughlin

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IBM Corp. can thank the technical strengths of its DB2 database and other data management products for its first-place showing in the data and information management category. Solution providers gave IBM an overall satisfaction rating of 73.2, edging out Microsoft Corp.'s 72.8 rating and finishing significantly ahead of competitors Oracle Corp. and MySQL.

Partners gave an 84.6 technical satisfaction rating to IBM's data and information products—a full 2 points ahead of Microsoft and more than 4 and 5 points, respectively, ahead of Oracle and MySQL. Those surveyed gave IBM top marks for product quality and reliability, for scalability, and for product configurability and customization tools. "They have such a depth and breadth of a product set that it's easier for us to market a complete solution rather than just a product," said Bob Wilkinson, business development vice president at Fourth Millennium Technologies, a Houston-based solution provider.

IBM outscored its competitors in supporting industry standards and multivendor technologies. That's important for Anaheim, Calif.-based mLogica Inc., which builds data management and data warehouse systems that pull in data from non-IBM products. "Many of their tools support multiple [vendor] databases," said mLogica President and CEO Amit Okhandiar.

-- Rick Whiting

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The skyrocketing popularity of Microsoft Corp.'s Office SharePoint Server helped the software giant gallop to victory in the Collaboration Software category of this year's Channel Champs survey.

Microsoft outpaced its collaboration competition with an overall score of 72.8, followed by IBM/Lotus with 71.6 and Novell Networks with 68.6. Microsoft posted a solid win in technical criteria, posting an 83.5 to IBM/Lotus' 82 and Novell's 78.5. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant's score of 66.8 tied it with IBM/Lotus in program and support criteria. Microsoft dominated the financial area, sweeping all criteria and earning a score of 64.2.

Microsoft scored highly with VARs in product quality and reliability, technical training and overall ROI. However, VARs gave IBM/Lotus higher marks in product security and efforts to manage channel conflict.

Stuart Crawford, director of business development for Calgary, Alberta-based solution provider IT Matters, said Windows SharePoint services, the free version of SharePoint that comes with Windows Server products, has enabled partners to develop practices around SharePoint and get small business clients interested in SharePoint.

-- Kevin McLaughlin

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IBM, Armonk, N.Y., outflanked rivals Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., and Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., to take the crown this year in the middleware category of the 2008 CRN Channel Champions Survey. IBM posted an overall score of 73.7 to Microsoft's 73.0 and Oracle's 72.1.

The computer and services giant bested Oracle and Microsoft in both the technical area and program and support area, winning three of five criteria in the technical category and two of five in program and support. In the technical area, IBM posted its best scores over its competitors in scalability and multivendor support and support of standards. Wins in technical training and relevance of channel programs led to its success in the program and support area.

Microsoft edged out IBM in the financial area, where Microsoft took three of the four criteria. There, IBM won only the ROI of vendor relationship criterion, while Microsoft bested Big Blue in next year's projected sales increase, services attach rate and product margins, spifs and rebates.

Michael Borman, vice president of worldwide sales for the IBM Software Group, said the company began seeing some traction in its efforts with partners when it rolled out its Software Value Incentive (SVI) program for software VARs in 2006. "More and more partners now understand it, and value it," Borman said. "What we've done over the past year is just continue to tune it."

-- Edward F. Moltzen