The full picture

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IT Reseller spoke to Socket Mobiles senior vice president, Bob Zink (pictured), about the companys move from peripherals supplier to full systems solutions provision, and the resultant benefits to the channel.

Over the past decade, Socket Mobile has been a successful provider of mobile computing peripherals such as local- and wide-area wireless connectivity. It has also supplied more consumer-based solutions such as scanning devices, PDAs and laptops for more vertical market applications. However, last year the decision was made to move more towards full systems solutions provision for a specific set of vertical markets, together with greater global penetration. Bob Zink joined Socket Mobile in May this year, and immediately set out to establish just such a strategy.

We wanted to bring out a number of new programmes and services aimed at the reseller community through effective distribution and through solution providers to complement our broad range of products, said Zink. We wanted resellers end customers to be aware of the benefits of the A-to-Z, cradle-to-grave type approach we can now offer, and we wanted our resellers to feel very comfortable in implementing our products, including our new hand-held computer recently launched in the US and Europe.

Fresh approach

With this fresh approach in mind, Socket Mobile has realigned its partner strategy and established a VIP programme, where its reseller partner community has been segmented into three groups, based on their particular services, products, solution sets, expertise and technical support capabilities. The programme comprises, silver and gold levels, each of which has its own special features such as volume discounts and various other services. This programme enables us to more effectively focus our energies specifically on what our resellers want and what their product offerings are, Zink pointed out.

Vertical focus

The Socket Mobile VIP programme focuses on five primary vertical markets; Hospitality, Healthcare, Retail Management, Transportation & Logistics, and Manufacturing. Within each one of these markets, there are a number of segment markets, as Zink explains: For example, within Healthcare, we have segmented it as Patient Care, Hospital-type applications and Life Sciences. Some of the solutions that we offer to this sector include RFID, as well as barcode scanning, and wireless solutions.

Socket Mobile has also split its customers into resellers that resell hardware as part of their solutions offering, and ISVs (Industry Software Vendors) that typically sell applications but do not have a business model to resell hardware. Socket Mobile itself has separated its Sales & Marketing Group into field sales organisation work and system support, focusing on the resellers and also on its business development; a large part of which concentrates on alliance strategies with software integrators. The key is in making sure our products are very easily integrated and supported as part of the wider software solution set, commented Zink. To support the channel in Europe, the company currently has three regional managers in the UK, Germany and France. We cover France, Spain and Italy out of our France location, and all the German-speaking countries and Eastern Europe are covered by the German location, while in the UK our site covers the UK and South Africa, explained Zink. We will also shortly be adding a regional manager for the Nordic region and two field systems engineers in Germany and in the UK. From a services perspective, we will also be adding a repair facility in Germany and then in the UK.

Highly intuitive

In terms of the products and solutions themselves, Zink stresses that they are highly intuitive in terms of installing applications: We have software development kits (SDKs) that we use to train our reseller partners; however, I think one of the strong points for Socket Mobile is that were not just a hardware provider. These development kits allow all of our peripherals to be installed in our devices as well as other devices. We are still very keen on our hardware peripherals supporting other hardware providers such as HP, Palm, Casio, Fujitsu tablets and so on. Resellers can install our SDKs on these devices and then essentially our peripherals will automatically install, boot up and be operable and be very easily linked in to the applications. Some of  Socket Mobiles software tools, however will be specific to the SoMo handheld computer.

Geographical expansion

In terms of wider distribution reach, Socket Mobile recently expanded to the former Soviet Union region. It has also been actively expanding in the Middle East and South Africa, and now has a well established distribution network in Asia and Australia. Socket Mobile also plans to recuit a channel business manager within the next few months, and there will likely be a Socket Mobile sales team established in Singapore shortly. Socket Mobile currently has three business management teams in the US, with a further two being added next year. Also, in late 2008, Socket Mobile plans to add another for Latin America to bolster its existing distribution operations in the region.

Demand creation

Socket Mobile is also investing a sizeable part of its overall budget in marketing, promotion, trade show activity and webinars, and will be making personal sales calls via its channel business managers direct to end users in order to secure lead generation and demand creation. Socket Mobile is shifting from the distributor customer base more towards where we can rely more and more on our resellers to create demand at the end user level, concluded Zink. Our resellers are critical to our success, and we are very much channel partner dedicated as a company. And we certainly have much to offer our channel partners through this full systems solution approach that we are currently creating.

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