Tech Data Launching Turnkey Platforms For Software Sales, Mobility

Tech Data is preparing a new cloud-based software sales platform and a soup-to-nuts mobility sales platform it says will provide turnkey solutions to solution providers in both markets.

Early next year, the distributor plans to unveil a major revision of its StreamOne automated software licensing and sales tool that will enable solution providers to brand the technology as their own, thereby allowing a VAR to manage the customer's software purchases under its own name.

Tech Data is also preparing to launch TDMobility, a new turnkey platform it said provides all the tools a partner needs to help customers select, purchase, and activate mobile devices without ever dealing with the carrier.

StreamOne and TDMobility were introduced to solution providers at Tech Data's Channel Link conference, being held this week in Los Angeles.

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StreamOne, which Tech Data introduced in February, guides solution providers through a simple question and answer process to both search for the right software application based on customer requirements as well as the most appropriate license.

Tech Data currently has over a half-million software SKUs, said Toby McDuffie, director of software product marketing for the distributor. The StreamOne application filters down to the exact software application and license per customer needs.

Tech Data is currently the only distributor to work directly with software vendors to get real-time information on their applications, McDuffie said.

Sometime this Fall, StreamOne will be integrated on Tech Data's web site, McDuffie said. The company next March expects to unveil a new white label online storefront that will let its solution provider partners to present the offering directly to customers under their names, she said.

"A lot of people do SaaS, or online software downloads, but not both," she said. "We do. That's a big piece of our requirements. There's a lot of demand for business-to-business titles as well as business-to-consumer titles for e-tailers."

Joe Quaglia, senior vice president of U.S. marketing at Tech Data, said one could think of StreamOne as similar to Apple's app store.

"The lines are blurring between consumer and professional business," Quaglia said. "A solutions store like this is something people really understand. Our offer to host B2B solutions like this has not been available to the channel before. We're going to provide the logistics for this."

That blurring of consumer and professional business is also evident in some of the features for StreamOne, including the ability for customers to rate the software they purchase and to easily search for what they need, Quaglia said. "I don't see anyone else doing that for the channel," he said.

Solution providers said providing convenient online software storefronts using their brands should make the software selection process easier for them and their customers.

Kevin Wang, business consultant at Noviant, a New York-based solution provider, said he likes the idea of StreamOne because it brings new sales resources to smaller partners that typically do not have the resources to do so on their own.

"A lot of vendors are doing something like this," Wang said. "The advantage for us is we can bring the reselling process more directly to the customer."

However, solution providers said there is a risk that the process could be too easy.

Tom Johnson, president and owner of Computer Technology Solutions, a Fresno, Calif.-based solution provider with both a hardware and software practice, said he is concerned such storefronts could diminish his company's value in the eyes of its customers.

Next: Easing The Mobility Sales Process For VARs

"Customers sometimes think they know what they need, but often times they are wrong," Johnson said. "I see it all the time, where customers go to Costco, get 20 computers, and then find out they're not what they need. If some clients have the ability to log in and access the system, that's one thing. But if it becomes possible for customers to order any product, it devalues us. It's already hard enough to create a value for our clients."

Wang said he hopes to see some kind of customer flags in the database that allows those who have made prior purchases to do things like add to an order or handle updates, but not necessarily make all their purchases unsupervised.

Alexander Osifeso, CTO of Micro Controls International, an Upland, Calif.-based solution provider, said solution providers can benefit from systems like StreamOne as long as the provider respects their business and their involvement in the sales process and does not cut them out of deals.

"We will need transparency from the distributor," Osifeso said. "And the integration of the system must be done at such a level that the customer does not see Tech Data in the process."

Some software like Microsoft Office can be opened for anyone to purchase, Osifeso said. "But we don't want to see this as a tool that will cannibalize our customer base," he said.

Tech Data's new TDMobility plans stem from the move earlier this year by Tech Data and BrightStar, a European mobility distributor, to jointly acquire ActivateIT. ActivateIT provides the platform that lets Tech Data serve as a go-between for VARs wanting to sell mobile devices and the telecom service to activate them.

TDMobility is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering which allows solution providers to handle mobile devices and carrier services via a single SKU.

Greg Parsonson. vice president of corporate business development at Tech Data, called TDMobility a single-source solution that allows all mobile device selection, activation, billing, and engagement with the carriers handled by Tech Data.

"It's a holistic solution to mobility," Parsonson said. "Partners will be able to activate mobile devices in a single reseller transaction. We work with the carrier to do the activation."

The distributor is rolling out TDMobility in stages. The first stage, currently on-going, is to migrate existing customers from ActivateIT into the Tech Data system.

Under phase two, Tech Data will be proactively reaching out to about 85 reseller partners ranging from smaller resellers to software partners to direct marketers to bring them on-board by the end of October to make sure the TDMobility system works as promised, Parsonson said.

In phase three, Tech Data expects to open TDMobility up to all its solution providers, he said.

TDMobility is currently working with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint as carrier partners, and is talking to Verizon, he said.

Tech Data is working with CellManage, a services provider which brings a services approach to the activation, Parsonson said.

"It lets the end user manage their plans, voice, data, and hardware through a simple heads-up display," he said. "So our resellers' customers, regardless of the number of user they have, can determine what hardware to use, what rate plans are best, with it all managed on the back end by Tech Data."

Solution providers will be able to white label the portal so it appears as if the partner is managing the system, Parsonson said. The portal handles the renewals and commission structures and handles all billing reconciliation, he said. It will also make sure partners get their commission checks within 30 days, not 120 days, he said.