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Hardware should not be a dirty word

Billy MacInnes

It is refreshing to see someone in the industry stand up for hardware sales, as Morse chief executive Mike Philips did in a recent interview with MicroScope.

To some in the IT world, hardware has become something of a dirty word, in much the same way as "banker" has become a term of abuse for most of us.

But those people forget too quickly that it is hardware which has helped them to build businesses that are now in the position to offer so-called value-added services on top.

As Philips discovered, for all the talk of being a consultancy business or a professional services firm, Morse still generated an awful lot of its revenues from the deeply unfashionable hardware business - 50% in fact.

There may be some observers who think this reveals the failure of Morse to move away from its hardware roots fast enough. Others might accuse the company of selectively highlighting the more superficially attractive and trendy parts of its operations at the expense of boring old hardware.

But the salient point is that hardware, for many companies in the channel, is the bedrock of their business. It may well have reached the point where it has become such an embedded part of the business that the importance of hardware goes un-remarked, but that should not detract from its importance to a lot of companies.

It is hard to sell services, for example, if you cannot demonstrate familiarity with the hardware they are wrapped around. It can also be hard to sell services in isolation without the hardware, or a partner who can handle that side of the deal for you.

In addition, hardware is often the door-opener or the ticket to the ball that enables companies to bid for value-added services and support.

A lot of reseller businesses have established a service relationship with customers on top of their existing hardware arrangements. Indeed, there is an argument to support the view that the process is organic in that services often grow around the hardware.

Furthermore, many companies find it easier to wrap the two together rather than unbundle hardware from the services because it gives them an opportunity to make margin on both rather than just on the services. It is also worth remembering that supplying hardware at the right time and to the right place with the right configuration is something of a service in its own right. And it is one that deserves some kind of remuneration.

Not that you would think so when the business of supplying hardware has so often been labelled as "box-shifting", a term which is used in the pejorative, rather than out of admiration. There is a sense in which resellers who refer to selling hardware or box-shifting have become "old school".

But while this may have been seen as a negative not so long ago, it is quite possible that having the "solidity" or "stability" of coming from a hardware background could resonate more powerfully with customers.

It is forgotten, for example, that in a time when customers are determined to sweat their assets further, knowledge of how to support and service the hardware becomes even more important when you are trying to keep a PC or notebook alive and viable for five years rather than three.

On the subject of negative labels such as "box-shifter" and "banker" and in a bid to avert any possibility of the word "columnist" joining the list as a potential insult hurled in my direction, this is my last column for MicroScope.

It has been a long time since the first - too long some might say - and I have enjoyed writing them (and cashing the cheques). But every good thing must come to an end, unless it is Fred Goodwin's pension (given the harm he has done, I feel entitled to strip him of his title even if the government hasn't).

Goodbye and good luck.

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