Partner Pleasers

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The results of the 2005 VARBusiness Annual Report Card (ARC) are in, and leading IT vendors of the world have made sweeping gains across the board. That follows four years of declining grades given to vendors by their very own business allies in the industry's largest partner satisfaction study of its kind.

This year's big ARC winners include IBM, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard. All took home awards in multiple categories (see "2005 ARC Winners," right), while Intel, Xerox and Samsung won the single categories in which they competed. In fact, Xerox won for the fourth year in a row in network laser printers, while Samsung again recorded the single highest score in the survey, as it has in each of the past three years.

After faulting vendors for poorly constructed programs, wavering field support and a lack of profitability, in general, VARs expressed encouragement this year. The aggregate satisfaction score given this year to a vendor by its solution providers rose 2 percentage points to 67. While the gain is relatively modest, the reverse in course is noteworthy because it suggests the nation's leading IT vendors are starting to get things right.

For starters, vendors have increased the number of products targeted at specific customer sets that they provide to business partners. That has had an enormous impact on the ability of solution providers to deliver exacting solutions to customers, especially smaller ones. Take St. Louis-based Acropolis, for example. CEO and founder Tracy Butler says Cisco's products, engineered from the ground up for small businesses, are greatly enhancing his ability to take Cisco into smaller accounts. The same holds true for Microsoft's Small Business Server products. No wonder Butler's level of satisfaction is up with both companies.

"The things for us that are really exciting are what is going to be happening two and three years from now, with business intelligence becoming more important, the close integration of Office 12 and the entire line of the Microsoft stack, etc.," he says.

At the 2005 CMP Channel Group XChange event held recently in Orlando, Fla., VARBusiness honored the ARC companies of the year in 19 different categories. An exhaustive survey of more than 5,000 solution providers determined the winners. Vendors were rated for partnership, product innovation, support and loyalty. In addition, Steve Dallman, Intel's senior director of channels, was named Channel Executive of the Year by the CMP Channel Group, which includes VARBusiness, CRN, The Institute for Partner Education & Development (IPED) and the XChange Conference Group.

After two decades of working with solution providers and systems builders, Dallman says he's grateful for the money and thought that Intel has put into its partner programs. "We've made the investments and commitment required to build a healthy ecosystem. We've not always gotten it right, but we have persevered and made gains," he said.

And it shows. This year, Intel outpaced rival AMD in the ARC survey, taking home top honors in the Client & Server Processors category.

IBM scored well in several categories, winning the Enterprise Storage Management Software (IBM Tivoli) and Midrange Servers categories, the latter in which it actually scored a rare twofer: It tied itself for first when its iSeries and pSeries divisions were voted best-in-class by third-party business partners. In addition to these wins, IBM's former PC division, which is now owned by Lenovo, took home top honors in Advanced Desktops & Workstations. (Lenovo also won for best product innovation, support and partnership en route to taking home top honors as the ARC Company of the Year in Mobile Computing.)

IBM scored one additional victory in the 2005 ARC study: a tie for first with HP for best-in-class in the Entry-Level Servers category. HP also came in first in the Network Storage category, where it jumped from last place in 2004 to first this year. HP's ProCurve division scored perhaps the company's biggest win of the year when it toppled market-share leader Cisco in its core category, Networking Infrastructure/Data Networking.

Cisco, however, returned the favor when it upended more established security firms to tie for first with Trend Micro in the Security Management Software category. Cisco took top honors in Networking Infrastructure/Voice Networking and Business-Class Wireless LANs.

In Enterprise Disk Drives, two companies shared the title this year: Maxtor and Seagate.

There were other surprises in this year's study as well. Novell, for example, knocked off Microsoft in Server Operating Systems, though the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor did not fair badly elsewhere; it won in Data Management Software and Web Infrastructure & Integration Software.

In another surprise, Oracle topped all rivals to take top honors in Business Software. Clearly, the company's extended family of partners is responding to the company's push into midmarket software and the more partner-friendly policies put in place by Rauline Ochs, vice president of channels.

"We're thrilled our efforts are garnering the respect from partners that we had hoped," Ochs said. "There's more to do for sure, but we are making progress."

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