Portal Links IBM Buyers and Sellers

Visitors to can use the software portal to research, locate and demo a host of IBM software products to find one that meets their needs. What they can’t do is buy it.

“VARs see it as a threat when we come in and say we’re a software company providing software online,” says Charlie Harter, president and COO of, explaining the company’s unique business model. “But when they really look at the model, they see that this gives them the freedom to act as a consultant to their end-user, rather than a commodity broker.”

Rochester, Minn.-based is a Web portal focused on providing Web-based business application software to the midrange marketplace. IBM recently announced an agreement with the online company to connect ISVs with IBM mid-market customers in the United States and Europe using AppsMall’s portal.

A major component of the company’s site is AppsExpert, where customers can submit a query describing their business technology need in everyday language and receive an automated list of options in return.

“(Customers) have a business problem that they want to solve with technology,” Harter says. “We start with all the IBM technology, all the business partner technology and allow the customer to ask specific questions to make specific statements so that at the end of the process they’re left with one or two key solutions. What we’ve built is an infrastructure that allows them to get to a solution very quickly.”

It is that infrastructure, not any sales outlet, which is the basis of the AppsMall portal. According to Harter, the goal of is not to sell the software, but to connect ISVs with local VARs, who deal directly with customers on a person-to-person basis. Customers are directed to both solutions and resellers who can provide them with the product, information, and installation and other consulting services. The agreement between IBM and AppsMall provides for authorized IBM reseller to use the AppsMall site at no charge.

This arrangement benefits all sides, Harter argues. For small and start-up ISVs, it gives them a chance to reach a broad network of resellers who can promote their products. The portal can be an enormous help to companies that are technically solid and innovative, but may be too small to have an extensive sales and marketing force. For VARs, increasing competition, including competition from online marketplaces, has heightened the need to find new ways to show customers the advantages of buying from a reseller at all, let alone differentiate themselves from their VAR competitors.

“All the VARs are struggling to add value to their customer,” Harter says. “We’ve taken care of the initial marketing, and that leaves the local VAR free to take the time to give customers the value – the added service that their customers are beginning to demand.”

Harter believes this model will be successful in helping VARs maintain and expand their customer base. For the customer, he says, most find it worthwhile to sacrifice the convenience of buying directly over the Internet in exchange for the personal attention they can get from their local VAR in terms of installation and consulting services.

“With the types of products that we sell in this market ... before they can really make a decision to buy it, they need the support of their local VAR to come out and hold their hand,” Harter says.

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