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Channel Globe-Trotters

Solution providers tackling multinational projects face many of the same challenges, including time differences, contract structures and resources. But help is on the way.

In January, Angela Trillhaase found herself in the shoes of a foreign exchange student.

That's when the senior vice president of business development for Meridian IT began tackling one of her biggest career challenges to date, figuring out how her Chicago-based regional integration firm could handle a 14-country rollout for a longtime U.S. customer—without actually having a physical presence in nine of those countries.

Developing Meridian IT's multinational presence became part of Trillhaase's job description late last year, after its most recent acquisition, when the executive team realized its country-centric approach was leaving money on the table. What's more, a growing number of Meridian IT's clients—not just big enterprises—need the solution provider to handle multicountry deployments.

Trillhaase believes that about 10 percent of her company's clients, so far, have requested international capabilities and that number is on the rise.

"Our customers are the ones that are driving this requirement," she said. "It's not that we thought it was fun or sexy or cool."

Meridian IT is, perhaps, unique in that it does have offices in several countries outside the United States, including Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. But lest you think smaller solution providers are immune, consider the case of, which generates around $1 million in annual revenue, and is dealing with a major project involving multiple locations in Asia. originally was called in to a consult on a data security issue for a New York-based aerospace company, Argosys International, and found itself charged with rebuilding the company's corporate network, which has locations in South Korea, Taiwan, several cities in China, and soon-to-come India. The four- to six-month project includes a database migration, deployment of a new security infrastructure and a server consolidation that involves virtualization work.

"There are many interesting turns in this project, for example the 12-hour time difference—during the D-Day switchover week, we worked six consecutive 24-hour days via shifts starting at 3:00 a.m. on a Friday and completing phase one at 4:00 a.m. Thursday," said CEO David Dadian. "We slept at the New York location over the weekend. This was required so that the company could function and run on Friday in the U.S. and Monday in Asia [our Sunday]."

Language was not as much of an issue, as the company had translators and the engineers quickly learned some common syntax to aid in support. A bigger problem was the fact that underestimated the amount of resources the project would consume, Dadian said.

The need to share information about best practices and points of regional differentiation around the globe was just one dynamic behind the ASCII Group's decision to become a founding member of the International Technology Channels Association (ITCA), said Alan Weinberger, chairman and CEO of the ASCII Group, Bethesda, Md.

Weinberger said ASCII is increasingly having discussions with vendors looking to affiliate with a group that can help them forge transnational contracts.

Contract structures are probably one of the thorniest issues for solution providers trying to take their business across borders.

In the case of Meridian IT, the company holds an advanced partner designation in the United States but doesn't hold the same status in the other countries where it actually has offices. That means its discounts aren't the same, depending on where the product is being shipped, Trillhaase said.

NEXT: More on contracts and other multinational business issues

Avaya actually took steps last week to make it easier for VARs and solution providers to handle multinational network deployments. Its German subsidiary has inked a deal with Global TelecomTechnology (GTT), a multinetwork operator with headquarters in McLean, Va., a presence in 50 countries, and offices in New York; London; Paris; Dusseldorf, Germany; and New Delhi, India.

The deal will allow Avaya's German sales channel to serve multinational accounts with an end-to-end communications network with a single invoice, but it also works the other way, said Chris Britton, executive vice president of GTT EMEA.

"The problems today lie in knitting everything together. You're getting an integrated network solution," he said.

That, in essence, is the problem Meridian IT is wrestling with. Being larger actually has made things more difficult, Trillhaase said, since Meridian often buys direct from its vendors and even the most conscientious U.S. channel manager often doesn't know their counterpart in different countries, so it's hard to get answers. (Trillhaase would rather not name the vendors involved.) The company sidestepped its lack of an in-country presence for some locations by creating a detailed deployment guide.

Trillhaase challenged vendors to step up to the plate and create multinational partner advisory councils to help debate these issues and create some standard policies.

"I don't care if my biggest competitors in the world are there. We are all making the same mistakes," she said.

Frank Garrelts, a former reseller executive who is the founding president of the ITCA, said this is the spirit behind the organization, which already represents dealers and resellers from 64 countries. One thing ITCA hopes to improve first is communications, by encouraging online collaborative communities that let solution providers share ideas and get questions answered—straight from the source.

"America is a country where you have the first contact to the vendors, to the main office of the vendors," Garrelts said.

Getting access to the source of the original ideas is also important for Umesh Wadhwa, president of eDirect, a seven-year-old, 19-employee solution provider from Warsaw, Poland, that originally had ties to an organization in the United Kingdom.

Wadhwa was an attendee of the inaugural XChange Eastern Europe in Budapest, Hungary, put on by CRN parent CMP Technology. An event focused on western Europe is planned for November in Barcelona, Spain.

"You have to be adaptive to new ideas," Wadhwa said, saying he will definitely attend future events and hopes for a more regular dialogue. "It doesn't matter if the idea comes from the United States or Sri Lanka."

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