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Taking On Rivals, Oki Data Rewrites Managed Services Plan

To seize channel market share in the managed print services arena, Oki Data Americas is relaunching its MSP strategy to boost solution provider margins and hit back at perceived weak points in rivals' efforts.

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The Mount Laurel, N.J.-based document hardware company said last week it would require no up-front investments by channel partners and would be hardware-agnostic in permitting solution providers to recommend products to customers.

Company executives said the official launch of Oki Data's Managed Services Channel Program last week followed several months of talking with members of its solution provider advisory council.

Hallmarks of the program include providing profit margins of between 8 percent and 25 percent on managed services engagements; training and education; use of an Oki Data software tool to examine customer document and workflow efficiency; and what they say is more flexibility and easier enrollment than competing MSP programs.

"I think it's a great opportunity for anybody to partner up with Oki in this process," said John Hawthorne, sales manager at Automated Plus Systems, an Austin, Texas-based solution provider. Hawthorne said he has been an Oki Data partner for about 18 months, and also is a Hewlett-Packard solution provider.

Hawthorne lauded Oki Data for the flexibility of its new managed services strategy. "It really gives you an advantage over most anybody else I've ever dealt with," Hawthorne said.

Other aspects of the Oki Data program include the following:

&#149 A Managed Services "Lite" version of its program that solution providers can use to quickly evaluate a customer's document output costs, which Hawthorne said lets him show a one-page, top-to-bottom overview of a customer's output environment.

&#149 New tools for solution providers, including Webcast training, sales and marketing collateral, "buddy calls" to Oki Data technical experts, special response services for requests for proposals and additional pre-sales support.

&#149 Program rules that enable the solution provider to maintain the primary face-to-face relationship with the end user while receiving customized support.

Oki Data unveiled its first managed services offering through the channel in April 2004, but since then the market has expanded with rivals including Xerox, Greenwich, Conn.; HP, Palo Alto, Calif.; Lexmark International, Lexington, Ky.; and IKON, Malvern, Pa., all offering aggressive competing services. Oki Data's new program takes aim at Lexmark—which requires channel partners to make investments before joining its Certified Solution Provider Program—and HP, whose CEO, Mark Hurd, has made channel loyalty and top-to-bottom HP-branded solutions a priority.

Dell, Round Rock, Texas, also has recently launched managed print services as a line of business—and has signed a deal to offer assessment, consulting and products to Seattle-based Boeing, the aerospace giant, under a partnership with Lexmark.

Said Ron Bassett, director of customer satisfaction and services for Oki Data Americas: "Our program was built to maximize flexibility for [solution providers]. There is no risk to them. There is no charge to them. This is all done in concert as a partnership with them to help them build relationships with their end users."

While several HP and Lexmark solution providers have told CRN they have no issues with either vendor's respective program requirements—some enjoy HP's compensation for top-to-bottom solutions and some like Lexmark's investment requirement as a way of deepening a partnership and weeding out the non-committed partners—Oki Data executives said other solution providers were looking for alternatives.

Bassett said that in listening to solution providers, Oki Data executives heard that channel partners did not want to be steered into providing one-vendor solutions to end users; as such, the new managed services offering from Oki Data will provide assessment tools and consulting and integration on a hardware-agnostic basis. He said he believes that in establishing vendor-solution provider-customer relationships with the managed services offering, customers will opt for Oki Data hardware and printing solutions.

To show that it would integrate with other vendors while it competes with them, Oki Data last week said it would support HP's latest version of Web JetAdmin version 8.0, a document management application. Oki Data is providing free plug-ins for partners to integrate Web JetAdmin 8.0 with several of its printers, including the B6000 mono printer, and the C5000, C7000 and C9000 color printers.

"When it comes time to refresh, we believe that the end-user customer of that reseller will automatically come back to that reseller," Bassett said. "We hope that Oki Data will be the product selection of choice."

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