Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 07/85 - scanned

THE FRILLS BIG BOYS FAIL TO SELL

I suppose we're all guilty in a way of making hay while the sun shone. The PC business has been so buoyant over the past few years, we've tended to get stuck in and sell as many systems as we could without being terribly concerned about the wider issues. As no doubt you will have noticed, our annual growth has dropped to some ten percent which, while respectable, falls somewhat short of expectations. Many users, having got to grips with personal computing, now want more, much more, than we are currently able to offer. The result is a slowing down of investment in computing systems while the technology and software catches up with the users' real needs.

Of course, if we'd asked corporate users two years ago what they wanted of a personal computer, they'd have muttered about their own personal needs - spreadsheeting, word processing and so on. They wouldn't have cared too much about the guy in the next office. He could make his own decisions. After years of being dictated to by slow and cumbersome MIS and data-processing departments, users found the freedom offered by the PC irresistable. Now of course they see things more clearly. Every corporate PC user is part of a much larger system but, by taking the PC route, they have temporarily isolated themselves from the corporate information system.

Now that they've used their spreadsheets and created their own memos, they want to access corporate information. Instead of using their personal dot matrix printers, they find they want to share an expensive laser printer. Instead of sending printed memos and making internal phone calls they have discovered a need for electronic mail. I honestly don't believe that the users would have discovered these needs without first buying masses of personal computers but now they've been educated they feel frustrated and a little disenchanted with our failure to keep up.

I've always had problems with the business/leisure classification of this industry. For my own thinking, I find that 'supported' and 'unsupported' is a clearer way of distinguishing our markets. Boxshifters and home computer suppliers can then be bracketted together regardless of what kit they're actually shifting and to whom. I'm going to focus on dealers who provide support. Such dealers want business from companies with money to spend, selling products with sensible margins. The best organisations in this respect are banks, finance companies, government and insurance companies. Regardless of the prevailing economic climate, these outfits all seem to thrive.

To attract the corporate user and to have a chance of keeping the business, we all need to immerse ourselves in the lore of corporate information systems. We need to be able to take a much broader view than we have done during the past few years. We will find ourselves involved in local networks which hook together personal computers and expensive devices. At a higher level we are probably talking about networks of networks as each department hooks up to the corporate network and finally we're looking at the link-ups between these personal computer networks and the corporate minis.

Unless we can take the trouble to involve ourselves in these developments we will be left behind. The wheel has now turned full circle: control of computing developments is falling back into the hands of the MIS and DP departments, and we will have to learn to deal with them again. This is wonderful news for the major manufacturers who have probably been a bit unnerved by the goings on of the past few years. Now they can get back to what they're good at and used to. You could say that the outlook for dealers is bad. Local small businesses may not bring in enough trade to ensure survival. It may look as if dealers are going to be squeezed out of existence. But I don't think this is true. You've heard of the pilot fish which follow a shark around, eating quite well off the scraps falling from the shark's mouth. Well I see a similar role for dealers. Major corporations will go to computer manufacturers and squeeze loony deals out of them based on the total value of business.

Once the manufacturer has done its bit and got the main system up and running, the customers discover they need a printer in a hurry, a few software products, a bit of training or another PC maybe. The original supplier will not get terribly excited at such requests nor can it possibly employ enough staff to service these needs. Enter the local dealer, who will probably find the business very attractive and fairly hassle-free since he will be dealing with 'computer-literate' people. It could well be that the computer manufacturers' increasing involvement today could lead to a rosier future for the dealers tomorrow.