By Carly Lombardo
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Systems Union is looking to make it big in the Americas as the company ramps up a more than decade-long effort to develop its United States channel.
With more than 200 channel partners in 76 countries, Systems Union has revamped its channel program, and recently hired a new vice president of sales and marketing to support its efforts in the Americas.
"We currently have 88 resellers in the Americas. More than 30 of these are located in the United States, and we want to add 30 more," says Al Dudhia, director of channel and OEM product development. "We're looking for resellers that are full-service firms--firms that can work on sales generation and service the product line."
Systems Union has undergone a lot of changes over more than a decade in attempting to build a U.S. reseller channel. Despite that long-haul effort, it's still not terribly well known in the U.S.
A major change occurred in May 2000 when the company then known as Systems Union was acquired by freecom.net, which immediately changed its name to Systems Union Group. Under the new management, the company shed staff, closed three offices including its long-time U.S. headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., opened two offices in different cities, and moved to Miami under new CEO Mark Wolfendale.
Based in the United Kingdom, Systems Union markets its SunSystems financial software to more than 18,000 customer sites across 194 countries. SunSystems Version 5, the main product line launched last year, includes financials, order fulfillment, professional services automation, and analytics.
The company banks on its multi-platform capabilities (it runs on Windows and Unix) its multiple language functionality (30 at last count), and its multi-currency support to distinguish it from mid-market competitors.
SunSystems also appeals to U.S. companies that have overseas sites, and the company pitches the system to organizations for whom globalization is an important issue. The typical price of a SunSystems installation bottoms out at about $100,000., although last year Wolfendale predicted the expanded VAR channel will allow the company to be more effective in installations of $50,000 to $100,000. System 5, he said, would also help recruit VARs because it is more suited to their needs than were previous versions.
The company has a mix of direct and indirect sales. The first authorized reseller for SunSystems was appointed in 1982, and the network now comprises approximately 112 solution partners abroad and 88 in the Americas. Channel partners account for about 70 percent of sales, says Britta Steele, newly appointed vice president of sales and marketing
Resellers pay a $5,000 sign-up fee which gives them access to a wide array of support and services including software training, sales/marketing assistance and planning, access to the certification program, and the Channel Partner Toolkit.
The SunSystems Alliance Program facilitates various types of partnerships. The first level in the channel includes Referral Partners, most small firms that identify opportunities, but are not authorized to sell SunSystems software. Referral partners receive a 10-percent referral fee. There are also Qualified Implementers who perform consulting services for installations.
SunSystems prides itself on Global Alliances. "We are always looking for partners in vertical industries with expertise so we can integrate," says Dudhia.
An example of this is SunSystems PSA solution. Built around SharpOwl, it's provided by a European company that tailors the PSA module--including project and expense management--around SunSystems accounting software.
However, the majority of the channel consists of regular VARs and Principal Channel Partners, resellers with high sales who receive the top margins.
Margins, which range from 10 percent to 50 percent in the new program, are determined by criteria such as type of channel partner involved, historical sales performance of the partner, and whether or not it is a development partner.
So far this seems typical of most channel programs, so what sets SunSystems apart?
"SunSystems meets users' demand for software and services that deploy globally, and can be managed locally, all in a single instance and at the lowest cost of ownership," says Steele.
SunSystems offers a standardized range of services called Professional Quality Implementation Services (PQIS), delivered direct and through partners. In addition to Qualified Implementers, selected partners qualify as PQIS Accredited Service Providers, to provide services on all continents.
"Our program is global and we work with a quarter of the Fortune 500. We always have to keep in mind how to deliver the product. Our software is scalable and can grow with a company. We have partners in Zambia, and partners in the United States--they can both do implementations of our software," adds Steele.
Joel Lerro, president of Eclipse Computing's U.S. operations, has been a SunSystems reseller for ten years. Eclipse, which employs 350 worldwide, has operations in several countries.
"SunSystems is ideal because we can match our experiences in a certain part of the world with their experiences," says Lerro. Based in Wood Cliff, N.J., Lerro's U.S. operation serves 50 clients, mostly financial service companies in the New York City area. Lerro continues that SunSystems supports his operations through a dedicated team.
"They do more than answer questions and provide brochures. SunSystems will coordinate resources for pre- and post-sales, assist with corporate negotiations, and they can come into a client's office and present well. Most software vendors have no experience in the real world," adds Lerro.
Lerro also says SunSystems reputation makes it an easier sell. "Customers want to know who else is using this product. With SunSystems, we can show them Fortune 500 companies. This provides potential buyers with a level of comfort."
Lerro's margins range from 20 percent to 50 percent, depending on the country and the size of the installation.
"We can make substantial profits with SunSystems, and the more unique our expertise, the better the margins," he adds.
SunSystems offers a variety of partner training programs. These programs are available onsite, through the Internet, or in state-of-the-art learning centers.
"Knowledge transfer is an important aspect of our channel program. We are rolling out computer-based training (CBT) worldwide. We want our partners to be able to get up to speed on the product quickly, and CBT makes it easier to communicate," says Steele.
The company also offers a Global CBT program for both customers and partners. This program provides partners with customized Web-based training and real-world simulations, modeled on the company's data and the look and feel of their Web sites.
Rolling out this quarter is SunSystems' Certification Program, which will be broken down into three sections: sales, services, and support.
The program begins with partners successfully completing CBT training. Once this is done, they must receive a passing grade on the certification exam. From there, they can advance to classes held in a classroom, and can choose within the software suite which area, such as financial or order fulfillment, to be certified in.
"Our channel relationships ensure that SunSystems can be effectively adapted to fit individual needs, whether they are language versions, local accounting requirements, industry specific applications, operating systems, or databases," says Steele.