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Healthcare plan = big bucks for VARs


While many VARs may not agree with the now-approved healthcare legislation, those with a healthcare bent see it as a potential goldmine. This according to one member of the Advisory board. Here are the top five takeways from yesterday’s quarterly advisory board call:

 1: Business is back!

Let’s lead with the good news for once: Several board members said they are seeing brisk business after quarter after quarter of dismal results.

“Last week was our best week in 63 weeks” in terms of services, said Database Solutions’ CEO George Brown. “People are coming back to custom apps work. We’re recovering but slowly.”


Luke Wignall, CEO Common Knowledge Technology, LLC, had to beg off this quarter’s call because he was so busy. (We forgive you Luke. This time….)

 Alvaka Networks lost a lot of good competitors over the past year, according to executive VP Kevin McDonald. “We saw a lot of the competition die and we’re getting a ton of resumes.”

And, despite talk about salaries and jobs rebounding, smart IT pros who once pulled down $180,000 are accepting jobs for $65,000, he said. That’s a positive thing for those VARs who are hiring but clearly not at all good for those that went belly up.

A big caveat to the business-is-brisk meme: Watch out for new taxes. Several panel members warned of the push by several states to enact new sales taxes on services. Yes, including IT services.

California has already rejected such a tax twice, but it could be back, said McDonald. Jason Sparks, vice president with Xiologics, said Oregon and Washington state both passed such sales taxes.

Now’s the time to speak out, McDonald said.

 2: Healthcare VARs are in the catbird seat.

Setting up healthcare organizations to comply with HIPAA regulations and/or to attain “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHR) across 23 categories, is not something “you just do,” said McDonald. “It takes time to get up to speed on the law and regulations.”

Very basic questions must be answered. For example, the push to arm doctors with portable tablet devices raises security concerns. What is more easily lost than a tablet in a busy doctor’s office? How to protect that patient data from intruding eyes? Options include proximity switches and biometrics.

Healthcare IT has to to beyond HIPAA. Healthcare VARsalso  have to be up to speed on the Federal Trade Commission’s Red Flags rules to prevent identity theft. And don’t forget industry PCI mandates covering wireless transmission of credit card and other data. And then there are the 40+ states with their own rules.

3: Interest in unified comms is real: Actual purchases not so much.

Customers are interested in new technologies like unified communications but the vendor hype still far outstrips real demand.

Business customers “want to do it but they don’t want to pay Cisco prices, so they’ll play around with the Google stuff” and see what they can do without risking budget, said one panel member.

Pete Sclafani, founder of 6Connect agreed that there are a lot of conversations around UC.  “It looks cool but then they realize that their business processes and personnel are not synced up to this and they’ve been burned by implementation issues in the past,” he said.

 4: Mobility remains HUGE!

Android phones, especially the Google Droid, are stealing Apple’s iPhone thunder. Droid just needs to stockpile applications.

“There’s no fundamental difference between the iPhone and Droid. I bought a Droid for $99 and i can buy a whole lot of apps for the$400 [I saved],” said McDonald.

And what about the BlackBerry, RIM’s popular handheld seems to have lost its mojo in recent months, but McDonald and Brown  said all it will take for the BlackBerry to recoup is “one good malware scare” in the Android universe.

The jury’s still out on Microsoft’s new Windows 7 phone edition, but most were so underwhelmed by Microsoft’s previous attempts that they’re hesitant to bless the new release.  Past Windows Mobile iterations “are right up there with Microsoft Bob” in terms of reputation, said Brown.

Microsoft must mend relationships with carriers that were burned by its past ho-hum releases but its plans to share revenue could sway them.

5: Virtualization is for real–yes on desktops too

 Virtualization is happening “faster than I can keep up with it,” McDonald said. And that includes virtualization on the desktop where the end of support for WIndows XP is forcing desktop decisions that often include DVI,  said Brown.

 Sclafani said customers are really drilling down into potential savings and implementation niceties before taking the DVI plunge, however. “They want to know the financial benefits of virtualization, we have to lead the sales pitch with that. There’s a lot more fiscal input on the buying decision now.”

ROI details are key.  “New clients literally want to know ‘ how much will I save per user? How many hours of IT time will I save? How much user productivity will I gain?'” McDonald added.

 Security is also a concern. Many companies deploy VMs without thinking about the security implications and this is one area VARs can really help.

 Citrix remains the company to beat in desktop virtualization and it “owns” healthcare with its terminal services, said McDonald. Similarly, VMware retains its hold on server virtualization. And yet no one was prepared to rule out Microsoft on either the desktop or server virtualization scenario. “By version 3 or 4, Microsoft will catch up. It’s never out of the picture,” said Brown.

 Bonus: BPOS takes hold and Cisco firewalls are MIA

Brown reiterated his new-found enthusiasm for Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite, something  he had blasted before. The service opportunities around the Microsoft-hosted applications have been under reported and smart VARs can make a lot more than the 18% referral fee on the first year if they work with multi-site companies to deploy BPOS, he said. The suite also gives VARs something to counter Google Apps in the field.

Also: Several members reported difficulties sourcing Cisco firewalls, especially at the low end.  “They’re just not available,” said one panelist.

And finally, someone on the panel has the world’s best hold music. You really can’t hear Don’t Fear the Reaper enough these days. (Although Heather Clancy requested more cowbell.)

For more from the advisory board, click here.

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