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Siemens Inks Major VAR In Push Toward North American Enterprise

Looking to bolster presence outside of its European stronghold, Siemens Enterprise Communications reels in a sizable networking solution provider.

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The deal, which is for five years and which Shared will sell on a seat license basis using Siemens' OpenScape platform, is a big win for Siemens in that it will give the vendor instant access to a massive enterprise customer base.

"We see an opportunity with Siemens to complement what we've done over the last several years," said Tony Parella, CEO of Shared Technologies, Coppell, Texas. "We spent several months in 2009 evaluating what we could do to make that happen and we found that far and away, hooking up with Siemens would make a lot of sense. We don't just make a decision and hang a shingle out for someone -- we do a frightening amount of homework. Entry into some of the largest enterprise customers of the U.S. seems to be a soft spot for Siemens right now, and we bring an opportunity to them, too, that I'm not sure anyone else can."

The move by Siemens is the latest in a series of channel advances designed to remake the vendor's indirect sales strategy. In May 2009, Siemens named Denzil Samuels to be its senior vice president of worldwide channels and alliances, and in December confirmed a new CEO, Hamid Akhavan, who will replace interim CEO Mark Stone on March 1. In a November interview with Channelweb.com, Samuels described how Siemens had added indirect sales channels in 27 countries and had begun a channel makeover that starts "from the top."

While Siemens has long had a VAR channel, the company's exposure in Europe dwarfs its penetration in North America, where it doesn't as effectively compete with titans like Cisco and Avaya. Adding Shared -- which as of last year was Nortel's largest North America channel partner -- is a substantial entry into the market.

"We'd had contact with each other in previous years, but I think they'd also seen the changes that were going on. They saw we were embracing channels," Samuels said Friday. "When we sat down with Tony, I was surprised how quickly we went from an initial discussion straight into potential solution scenarios for customers. When you can get to that point in a matter of days, from a specific solution set discussion to a specific architecture discussion to a specific pricing discussion, it's no wonder we were able to work this out in a matter of weeks."

There's synergy in Siemens and Shared in that they were both doing, as Samuels puts it, "the Nortel dance." It was Avaya that won Nortel's enteprise portfolio -- the acquisition closed on Dec. 21 -- but both Siemens -- and Shared -- were among the other bidders for the Nortel assets.

"More than a third of the Nortel base in North America sits with Shared," Samuels said. "If we wanted to be considered as an alternative for that base, we had to have Shared as a partner. They have credibility in the market, and we felt very strongly that a relationship with Shared was a must-have for us to be taken seriously."

Parella suggested a lot of "pent up demand" following a year of turmoil in the Nortel channel. Nortel filed for bankruptcy in January 2009 and spent most of last year selling off pieces of the business. The importance of Siemens' OpenScape architecture and SIP-based solutions, he explained, is that they can help customers with legacy Nortel environments migrate to richer, more-up-to date unified communications infrastructure without compromising those environments.

"My awareness of Siemens and their product portfolio dates back a few years. I was in discussion with Siemens before and three years ago it was not a good fit," Parella said. "But from where Siemens is in a product development base now, my eyes were opened. It's abundantly clear the Siemens is going to be very good fit for us. They're channel friendly and they understand that without the channel, they aren't going to get where they want to go. When you're needed in the relationship, you're going to be treated as such."

Parella cited Siemens' open architecture -- specifically the ability to bundle multiple communications platforms -- and also Siemens's reach into highly opportune vertical markets like health care.

He added that Shared's new deal with Siemens should not be viewed as a downplaying of Shared's solution provider relationship with Avaya.

Shared added Avaya as a vendor shortly after Nortel declared bankruptcy, but Parella told Channelweb.com at Avaya's Americas Partner Conference in October that he was in a "wait-and-see attitude" with regard to how Avaya's Nortel-integrated product roadmap shakes out.

"It's a fair question. A year ago I take on the Avaya line and here I am a year later," Parella said. "Am I sending a message to Avaya in this relationship? Absolutely not. My relationship with Avaya is very, very good. But I would be remiss in not doing what's best for my customers to stay on the leading edge of technology and bringing in as many solutions as needed to help them do that."

Samuels said that Siemens will continue to try to grow its North American customer base, but would not be seeking additional channel partnerships on the size and scale of Shared in the short-term.

"We do not want to go down the path that our competitors are going down -- the path where we have too many players," he explained. "We agreed a long time ago that we were going to be very selective in terms of what we do in each region. There's a chance for us to really get it right with Shared. What I'm not going to do is dilute any progress by going after organizations the same size as Shared."

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