SMBs want IT vendors to be 'genuine partners'

Changes in client-vendor relationship means, besides issues related to cost, scalability and reliability, small and midsize businesses also want their IT suppliers that go through "thick and thin" with them.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are moving beyond simply "buying a box" when they roll out IT implementations, and now seek "genuine partnerships" from their tech suppliers. Trust, in particular, is an important element in such relationships.

In an interview Tuesday with ZDNet Asia, Phil Mitchell, executive creative director of digital media agency Infinite Frameworks, said key factors he considers when looking for a technology vendor are cost, scalability, longevity, relevancy and ease of maintenance of products offered, as well as support offered by the IT vendor.

Freddie Yeo, general manager of Infinite, added that the company also looks for "genuine partners" where engagement and trust are key in the business relationship. Both executives spoke to ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of Hewlett-Packard's Elevate 2011 Solutions event here to announce the IT vendor's latest slew of offerings for enterprises and SMBs, including the ProBook 4230 series, EliteBook 8460p, Imaging Barcode Scanner and Pocket Whiteboard.

Yeo noted that the "relationship between the technology, vendor and client has evolved and changed so much" over the years.

"In the old days, we talk about buying boxes and that's that. Now, we're looking at partners that will be involved very early from the onset, to see what are the possible solutions and most cost-effective way to do that," he said. "That level of engagement is key."

"As a user of [the vendor's] IT equipment, we want to feel that we have a genuine partner who's going to come in with us through thick and thin whenever we hit certain issues and problems. Hence, trust is key," he added.

Infinite, which has about 250 employees in its two offices in Singapore and Batam, Indonesia, has been a customer of HP since it was founded in 1997. Yeo said the relationship has "elevated" since the start, when it was "very piecemeal" and there was no visibility into where digital media was heading then in Singapore.

In a separate interview with ZDNet Asia, Dennis Mark, vice president and general manager of personal systems group at HP Southeast Asia and Taiwan, said: "SMBs in Singapore should see HP as one brand that is growing with them."

Mark, too, emphasized the important of trust in any vendor-client relationship. Companies must be able to trust their IT vendor to grow with their business and rely on their support networks, for instance, when they venture abroad or move to different industries, he said. "HP started off as a SMB, and we know the pain of growing up as an SMB."

Pointing to HP's recent launch of a R&D lab in Singapore, he added that such initiatives indicate HP's commitment to conduct business and invest in Singapore.

SMB cashflow problem
Mark said a significant challenge SMBs face, one that goes beyond technology, is cashflow--or rather, the lack of, which prevents businesses from growing faster. He added that HP aims to address such challenges by offering financial or leasing schemes so businesses can focus their expenditure on running their business and inventory.

Cloud computing is another technology that SMBs can leverage, he noted. Just like switching on a tap to get water, he said cloud services allow businesses to pay for what they need and consume technology based on a utility pricing mode, which help resolve the cashflow challenge as well.

As an SMB's business grows and expands, technologies they adopt have to be scalable and manageable as well as provide adequate security to support the increasing volume of company data and information, Mark pointed out.

Through its SMB and enterprise offerings, he said HP aims to provide a platform that is reliable "so businesses don't need to bother about the technology that's behind the machine they're using, and can be fully immerse in their core work which makes them as productive as possible".

Infinite's Mitchell concurred: "IT is not our core business. It's the support that enables us to do our business as effectively as possible.

"The biggest benefit [from deploying IT] is that we can effectively forget that the [workstations] are there; they don't get in the way and we are able to focus on being creative without worrying about the machines crashing. That's the most you can hope from a machine," he said.

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