Ingram's Murai: MSP Offerings Bring New Value To VARs

partnership with LPI Level Platforms

That's the message Ingram Micro President and COO Kevin Murai sent in his keynote address at the distributor's VentureTech Network Fall conference, held this week in Palm Desert, Calif.

Solution providers said they like the managed services message from Ingram Micro and said the distributor's new offering is coming at the right time.

Shawn Reilly, a sales rep at Lincoln Computer Services, Hicksville, N.Y., said Ingram Micro's relationship with Level Platforms is a way for VARs to offer another value-added service without a large, up-front investment. "It takes a lot to be able to offer a managed service," Reilly said. "Now we can leverage a big company."

Lincoln had offered managed services in the past, but that part of the business took too big a hit after the Sept. 11 tragedy, Reilly said. His company recently decided to try again and had already signed up directly with Level Platforms before it knew about the new Ingram Micro relationship.

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"We will see what happens now. We have a good relationship with Ingram Micro. It's hard for a small VAR to get into managed services. We may potentially invest in our own NOC [network operations center], or we may use Ingram Micro," Reilly said. About 60 percent of Lincoln's business already comes from services, including technical, break-fix and maintenance services, he said. "With Ingram Micro, we can extend our services."

Gia McNutt, CEO of Special Order Systems (SOS), a Rocklin, Calif.-based solution provider, said Ingram Micro's move to add managed services comes at just the right time for her company, which in the past offered services using the N-able platform but found it too expensive.

"This offers VARs a way to get in [on managed services] without a big investment," McNutt said. "It's a smart move for Ingram Micro. It lets us try it out without a big capital expenditure. It's very relevant to what we want to do."

McNutt said SOS has been at the forefront of IP telephony over the past couple years. "But that's a project-oriented, cyclical business," she said. "We've been needing this [managed services] to smooth out our business. Otherwise, we're working our tail off for the peaks and valleys."

Murai followed the introductory presentation about the Level Platforms partnership given by Justin Crotty, Ingram Micro's vice president of North American services, with perspective about how the partnership fits the distributor's overall goal of helping solution providers evolve their offerings to meet new IT market trends.

For instance, a couple years ago, Ingram Micro saw significant growth in data capture and point-of-sales in the retail and manufacturing markets that could be exploited by the channel, according to Murai. "There were opportunities you had to leave on the table in the past because you didn't have that experience," he said. As a result, Ingram acquired Nimax, a distributor of automatic information and data capture (ADIC) and point-of-sale (POS) solutions in July 2004 to make those solutions available to a larger base of channel partners, Murai said.

Some legacy Nimax solution providers are attending the VentureTech conference with the aim of partnering with other solution providers that have identified customer requirements for AIDC and POS solutions but lack the experience to bring those solutions to market on their own, he added.

Ingram Micro also saw huge opportunities in the evolving convergence of the IT and consumer-electronics markets for its solution providers and acquired AVAD, an alliance of regional home/custom electronics distributors, in July 2005.

That acquisition enabled Ingram Micro to open up the market for high-end electronics products from such manufacturers as Bose, Panasonic and Harmon Kardon to the IT channel. It also brought Ingram Micro a new base of more than 8,000 dealers that can partner with its solution providers. For instance, Murai said, solution providers can provide networking services to those dealers' customers or work with those dealers to bring high-end audio/video products to the solution provider's own IT customers.

The new LPI Level Platforms relationship comes at a time when the market is looking closely at managed services, creating a new opportunity for solution providers that haven't previously been able to offer managed services, according to Murai. Working with LPI Level Platforms, Ingram Micro can offer VARs a standardized managed services platform plus the training they need -- as well as a new portal, the Ingram Micro Seismic Success Support Portal, to help them take advantage of the opportunities, Murai said.

To help solution providers offer managed services, Ingram Micro plans to launch its own network operations center in the first quarter of 2007, Murai said. This eliminates the need for solution providers to invest in their own NOC. "Working with Level Platforms, we let you be able to immediately deploy managed services," he said.

Moving to add managed services to their product offerings also will help boost solution providers hardware sales as customers turn to their trusted VARs to develop the infrastructure needed to take advantage of those services, Murai added.